Wisdom from a startup veteran

Samir Bodas is the CEO of iCertis a Bellevue WA based company providing SaaS based contract management software.  Recently, he gave a talk at a TiE event on Scaling a Startup. The interactive questions took us to areas other than scaling.  Few of my observations:-

  1. If you want to do a startup, just do it. 9/10 people don’t even start despite having an idea. 9/10 people who start something don’t succeed. Don’t be in the former camp. You will learn a lot by doing, even if you fail.
  1. Try to create a wave or ride one. Creating a wave is tough and requires the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. If you are riding a wave, get onto it early. Have a reasonably good idea that it will be a big wave. iCertis bet early on the cloud in 2009. Betting on Azure was pivotal in getting into the Microsoft ecosystem.
  1. Serendipity plays a crucial part in startup success. Many talented folks have not succeeded in building a successful company and many hardworking folks have failed too. Going back to #1, you will not know until you start something.
  1. Focus your startup by going deep in an area. In the original theme of “ERP Surround Software”, his company tried other areas such as transportation logistics but decided to focus on contract management. Once they did that, it was easy to raise money from VCs.
  1. In enterprise sales, respond to RFPs. Common wisdom is that this is cumbersome and costly process for startups, but could be an extremely valuable opportunity.
  1. It’s not necessary to have a full product before starting sales. Project confidence in your abilities and do the demo. The customer has likely not checked your competitor’s full capabilities.
  1. During early stages, have the Engineering team work extremely close with the customer. They were able to have 6 week turnaround time from customer ask to delivery.
  1. A sign of scale is when you can sign deals without seeing the customer. Their last 2 deals in Europe was signed, all via remote interactions.
  1. Getting your early customers into a customer advisory council is powerful. They are usually your strongest advocates and want to see you succeed.
  1. A company’s culture is captured in its values. Values need to be written down and adhered to across the board and consistently for true scaling of the company. Don’t get surprised if your customer asks you about your company’s values.
  1. Keep sales folks hungry. Compensate them enough to survive, but not enough to give them luxury of waiting for next year. Be maniacal about targets and don’t be wimpy about firing people that don’t meet it.
  1. Samir gets invited to all sales calls. His calendar is full of sales calls. Important thing is to listen for tone from the customers. As CEO, don’t be afraid to engage at the level of each sales call.
  1. With SaaS, it is not necessary to build a large remote sales force or have Satellite offices, unless situation demands it. Due to lack of skilled sales people in Seattle, iCertis has offices in Dallas, Philadelphia and Bellevue.
  1. If you can pull it off, having relationships with Industry Analysts is invaluable. Usually, analysts will look for you to have at least 20 customers, unless you are doing something completely differentiated in the space. They are a great source of leads.

These stood out for me. Overall, great stuff from Samir and thanks to TiE for organizing the Startup on TAP event.

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