We love hearing advice from successful startup founders. In a recent Q&A hosted by MassChallenge, a serial entrepreneur and an enterprise expert joined forces to share their insights and offer guidance to an audience of hopeful cloud startup founders.
Kris Robinson worked at HP and a startup before joining Oracle as a global Key Account Director. Guy Mounier cofounded Aptivio. Together, they answered startups’ burning questions about how and when startups can sell into SMBs, midmarket, and enterprise customers. Here is what we learned:
Big companies are ‘thirsty for innovation," but navigating the org chart and establishing relationships at an enterprise level is "the secret sauce," said Robinson. She believes skepticism is a virtue for startups. After working with a startup, she discovered that even good conversations with people within big organizations often didn't end with a transaction. Robinson advises entrepreneurs to ask themselves, “Does this person really have the tools to make this thing happen? Are we getting the sufficient sponsorship across the organization around this business case?”
Mounier, a founder himself, added that startups should look for a champion within a target enterprise, and should profile individuals in the same way they do companies. “You’re looking for someone with a level of influence - ability to influence others - who is open-minded and sufficiently curious,” he said.
It’s essential that startups show they understand their prospects' needs. Robinson said, “You have to step back and think, what am I going to sell to the company to give them an advantage in the marketplace, allow them to scale, and do something they're not able to do?”
Mounier echoed the idea, suggesting startups also understand their champion’s needs. “If you can also empathize with what an individual is going through to make change happen within an organization… you sell disruptive tech,” he explained. “Business is personal. If you do not have that champion anchoring that account - who's almost working on your side of the table with that account - it's very difficult to get through.”
Establishing a fruitful relationship is difficult, but the Market Connect benefits offered by Oracle for Startups can help. “Sometimes it’s easier to have a partner to help you navigate through that rather than starting from ground zero,” said Robinson. She works closely with the Oracle for Startups team to help introduce small companies to SMB, midmarket, and enterprise customers.
Mounier agrees that being acknowledged by large companies can be tough when your startup doesn't have brand recognition, but leveraging warm introductions and referrals can help. As well as finding referrals to gain high level access from personal contacts, leaning on a program like Oracle’s to form strategic partnerships is beneficial.
Aptivio co-sells with major vendors, including Oracle Customer Experience Cloud. “The acceleration it adds to your time-to-revenue is very noticeable because you're both telling the client, ‘I run on the marketplace, so I comply to their data security,’ [so] it's plug and play,” Mounier explained. Executives within Oracle's sales and product organizations regularly tell their clients about interesting startups that can help solve a problem or complement an existing technology stack. “So, all of a sudden, you're embedded in that brand through what you're doing via Oracle, a trusted brand.”
He added, “If you have something relevant, the Oracle account exec wants to make your product shine. They will introduce you to a client to have a demo. They want to see usage and the client be successful,” he explains. Creating connections between Oracle customers and startups is a mutually beneficial endeavor. It’s a huge win for the startup, but also for the client who gains innovative technology.
Successfully scaling startups usually have a good understanding of their target market and competitors. Robinson recommends expanding the scope of understanding to include partners. She advises startups to understand their partners to the same degree they would a customer.
She focuses on maintaining relationships across 15 unique product pillars while working within Oracle, which she describes as ‘a complicated beast.’
“Understanding where you fit [within Oracle] and where you have the best traction, and understanding where your team is driving the partnership program to do that, is a big deal,” she said.
Since startups are often still finding their way into the best product/market fit, the process of extrapolating and explaining their technology and vision becomes invaluable. Mounier recalls how Aptivio made two pivots to find the best fit within Oracle’s suite of products, understanding that if the product clashed with an Oracle offering, sales teams would hesitate to evangelize the technology to their customers. On the other hand, Mounier said, “If you do something highly complementary, they'll walk you into an account where they know there is a pain point tomorrow.”
Market Connect offers introductions to startups to customers, investors, and expanded audiences. It's one of several benefits - along with free and discounted cloud, free migration, and mentorship - available to eligible startups who join Oracle for Startups.