As an early stage enterprise startup, you have to be aware of things that can be detrimental to your success.
The advantages of focusing on bigger enterprise customers include the big budgets at their disposal, the instant clout of having a big name on your customer list, and the opportunity to have your product improve the way thousands of people work.
There are lots of risks though and if you aren’t aware of what can hurt your business, you can end up out of money and surely feeling like an idiot.
Below, I’ll outline some of the major things that we have learned along the way.
1) Do everything you can to become an expert about the businesses you are targeting: The good news is that this is relatively easy since big companies are usually required to report lots about their operations if they are publicly traded. Even if they are not public, there is usually plenty of content out there about their goals and vision.
Take your time to really get to know their businesses inside and out. As soon as you get the opportunity to meet with someone from BigCo, make sure you spend the time asking insightful questions about what they do on a day-to-day basis (i.e. avoid being a crocodile salesman). This is a great opportunity to mention some piece of news that you read about the company’s strategic direction and ask how that is impacting what they are focusing on getting done. The benefits of this are two-fold: you will sound educated and they love talking about their companies. Win-win!
2) Surround yourself with investors and advisors that know your target customers: The good news is that big companies employ lots and lots of people, so there are probably tons of folks out there who would be willing to help you along the way. This of course requires you to be savvy and convincing in selling your vision, but if you can’t do that, you have bigger problems that I can’t possibly address in a blog post.
Identify some key leaders in your targeted industry and find a way to get to them. If you can do it right, you can jump ahead light years in your ability to get in doors and encourage the confidence of your potential customers. Once you get a solid advisor it will mean that your work has just begun. Do everything you can to engage and challenge the advisor to get the most out of their contribution. For instance, our advisor and investor Sergio Zyman has been a real help to us.
3) Use your startup-ness to your advantage: There are some things about being a small startup that will make you seem like a risk to big companies, but do everything you can to move the focus to the great parts of you being a startup. As someone sitting on the cutting edge of technology, you are in a great position to build a position of technical expertise.
Educate them about how the technology works and build your credibility as someone who has a deep knowledge of technology. Word of warning – keep in mind that many enterprise decision makers (especially those outside the IT department) are “normals” so it is critical that you learn to communicate using regular language. But if you are willing to walk them through your product and make sure that they really understand the benefits, your target will be in an even better position to champion your product.
Further, keep in mind how great it is to be at an entrepreneur. Many people at big companies are super interested in the startup life and want to learn more about how it all works. If you are interesting and working on a product that is valuable to them, they will be even more excited to work with you.
There are many, many other important things to learn along the way, but these three lessons have been super helpful for us as we have gotten on our feet.