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Pivots are usually for consumer ventures. This is what I learned leading an enterprise software pivot November 22, 2013

Posted by bernardlunn in Uncategorized.
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The company had built a product for a market that evaporated after we had made a few big sales. I was given the job of finding another market. We had a great product that I could position as a framework, some superb developers and a management team committed to going the extra mile for clients (because company survival depended on them being happy).

All I needed were some problems to solve that were relevant to the technology we had.

A wise fellow suggested I go to the City of London as they have lots of money and lots of problems. That is still true today.

It worked. We found a market, closed a few deals to establish credibility in that market and rebuilt the company around that market.

I started with the usual “what keeps you up at night?” line of questioning. Through this I stumbled on a “blue ocean” market that was just emerging (blue ocean means that no other vendors were targetting the market, as the market did not yet exist, but a simple trend analysis indicated to me that a big market would emerge and it did).

I learned three things from this:

1. The technical killer feature was not what we all thought it would be. I came back from the first meeting a bit despondent, because the problem that the client had – which he had freely admitted was very difficult to solve as per all the tech advice he was getting – was not the problem that I had thought best suited to our platform. I was dejectdly chatting about this with one of the developers and he said “oh, that would be easy”. As the client had told me that he considered it tough to solve, once I had a solution the sale was relatively easy.

2. Once means nothing, twice is coincidence, three times is a trend. The first sale just showed what we could do technically. The market did not yet exist – it was only a gleam in the eye for a few people. So we simply delivered a custom project using our framework. The second sale was closer to the market that was emerging. Also on the second sale we turned it into something more like a product, by the usual productization techniques. The client was recognised as an innovator – “a name to conjure with”. Yet we still needed the third client, a more mainstream one, to prove to the market (which was starting to be perceived as a market) that we had a product. Also on the third deal/project we knew enough and were confident enough to really create a product. Then we launched and scaled from 3 clients to 30.

3. When you hit the mother lode, throway the pickaxe and find the money to get a backhoe. This was where we went wrong. We were a boostrapped company. We did OK, became #2 in a good market, got acquired. We scaled from 3 to 30 clients, even the next 10x to 300; but we stumbled at the next 10x. This is where today in America you get calls from Growth Equity Funds. This was in Europe and before Growth Equity was mainstream. We might have been first in the market, but another venture saw the big picture opportunity and seized it (they are now a multi-$billion public company).

Its harder today. There are lots of software ventures with sophisticated frameworks and great developers. The key is still the same – find a problem to solve in a blue ocean market, get three customers ready to rave about you, then scale to meet the opportunity.

Why I am addicted to Twitter but never got the Facebook habit November 21, 2013

Posted by bernardlunn in Uncategorized.
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1. No social pressure. You are not upset if I don’t follow you. The social scene in school kinda sucked, who needs that forever?

2. Funny. The hashtag humor around fast breaking events often make my day. It is a new art form.

4. People I wish I had gone to school with. I went to school/worked with some cool people, but sorry guys the Dalai Lama and Yoko Ono have more to say.

5. Lists. To quickly research a new subject, Lists are the best productivity tool since email.

6. Brevity is good. Nuff said.

7. The sense (false but still fun) that you are eyewitness to history (I woz there in Tahir Square from the safety of my armchair).

8. Filler

9. Filler

10. The journalist habit of 10 point lists dies hard.

Negotiation Ninja says “don’t throw away the cards that have no value to you”. November 6, 2013

Posted by bernardlunn in Deal-making, Enterprise Sales, start-ups.
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As a sales rookie I was reviewing the key issues before a major contract negotiation with my boss. We made a list of a) showstopper issues and b) “not a big issue for us” clauses.

During the meeting one of the “not a big issue for us” items came up. My boss said;

“Hmm, that is difficult. Do you mind if my colleague and I step out of the meeting to discuss this?”.

I walked out thinking WTF; why make so much fuss about a clause that did not matter to us? When we were alone my boss said:

“So what do you think will happen in the cricket today?”

We spent 10 minutes talking about cricket. The idea was simply to make them sweat about a point we were willing to concede so that we could trade it for something we wanted.

Wix, Drupal, WordPress. What my DIY hack taught me November 6, 2013

Posted by bernardlunn in Uncategorized.
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I am hacking together a site for a startup non profit sporting event. No budget to hire a developer so I drew the short straw (volunteered, yep, I am an idiot). I have never written code but thought I could hack together something using a mix of:

WordPress
PayPal
Eventbrite

The good news – it works.

The bad news – more painful than I had hoped. More painful for end users but also for your humble hacker. I mean humble. I Am Not A Developer.

Sites like this will thrive by ever deeper integration, increased functionality and superb UX that hides complexity.

Its topical because Wix is doing an IPO. I did not try Wix, I had not heard about them. I also did not try Drupal, too daunting for a non-techie DIY. If I had a budget and my developer wanted to use Drupal I would have said “great”.

So my default was WordPress. I have used it for blogging since 2007, love it. The site I am building is not a blog – that will be one feature in future – but I could set up on my domain and also use Pages. Anybody could see I hacked it with WordPress, not an issue in this project.

WordPress SEO is great. That matters. It plays well with Eventbrite and Paypal (and Wufoo and everything else, WordPress seems to thrive by being a team player).

Eventbrite was great. Toyed with Eventbee and Wufoo, but once again “familiarity breeds contentment” ie I know how to use Eventbrite.

Everybody says “Paypal is a pain” and they are right. Wanted to use Stripe but I am in Switzerland and that was a story of “nearly ready is not good enough”.

Its the programmable web and it works – sort of – and is improving all the time.

There is a quadrant here. Wix and WordPress are in the simple but functionally limited box. Drupal is in the steep learning curve but functionally powerful box. The magic quadrant is still empty.

One observation is that Wix trades on great themes and HTML5. The themes marketplace is cross platform ie I can now choose a theme and implement on Wix or WordPress or Drupal. HTML5 is clearly cross platform.

End note: written on Notes and posted to WordPress by email.

Why Enterprise Software Sales is like Chess (with elements of Poker) November 4, 2013

Posted by bernardlunn in Enterprise Sales, SAAS.
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Many cerebral developers have an image of sales as a game for smooth talking silver tongued devils who are not over-endowed with grey matter.

Coding is very hard intellectual work. So is enterprise selling. Enterprise sales is like a game of chess with opening moves, middle game and end-game:

Opening moves in chess are fairly well-defined. You cannot win through brilliant opening moves, but you can lose quite quickly through some dumb moves. The same is true in enterprise sales. People over estimate the value of an introduction. It is not much more than Pawn to Queen four. You need to get through the door to sell, but its what you do when you are through the door that matters. Its not just the credibility of your introduction (first move) but also how you position your value proposition on first email, call and meeting that will determine how well you do when you get to the negotiation phase.

Middle game is when the sales support guys make all the difference. The process of proving product fit to the specific enterprise requirements is long and complex with a track running from demos to gap analysis to proof of concept. Then the process of aligning stakeholders towards a specific proposal can take place. You cannot plan more than two moves ahead, the best players mix analysis with intuition (“sight of the board”) as well as some time-proven maxims (such as “control the center of the board”).

End game is when the closers score. Some sales guys are no good in the opening moves (they expect the company to set them up with lots of qualified leads) and they are hands-off during the complex hard work of the middle game. This may annoy the hard-working folks in marketing and sales support, but they can get away with it because they are great closers. Watch out for these guys at your Gorilla competitors. A naive start up can align people around a perfect demo, gap analysis and proof of concept only to find the deal snatched away by salesman sammy at Bigco who trashed you with a well timed comment to the decision-maker over golf or cocktails.

The reason that winning at enterprise sales is so much fun is that it is cerebral but it is not only cerebral. You need good EQ as well as good IQ. Or, to put it another way it is a mix of chess and poker and as Bond says in Casino Royale “in poker you don’t just play the cards, you play the person sitting across from you”.