BOSTON – Monday was the start of the second annual Startup Boston, a week full of events dedicated to the startup community in the Boston area. Known a year ago as Boston Startup Week, the event aims to build on the success of last year, with a big goal being to get people together in the space.
If Monday is any indication, it will end up being a roaring success in both regards.
Put aside the substance of the events, which we’ll get to. And put aside the nice numbers, such as over 50 events and several thousand registrations for them. (The last event of Monday had a wait list about 100 people long.) A big goal with these events is networking, and that has happened in spades. Most noteworthy is the accessibility of the speakers – all of them were more than willing to engage attendees afterwards and in the future. They were hardly untouchable. While speakers at professional events are rarely that to begin with, and we should not view them as such, this is on a different level – they were more than happy to have conversations and invite attendees to connect outside the confines of the event.
This is one of the big features of the startup community that has been much talked about recently. While Boston has never been known as a tight-knit city as a whole, the startup community is showing itself to be very different. That may be a big reason for its success of late, and it is a big part of why the economy there will be fine even if Amazon does not select it as the home for HQ2.
While events such as What’s Next: Emerging Trends in Tech, What Makes a Good Founder (and co-founder)? and the opening night party and keynote with entrepreneur and former Localytics Co-Founder and CEO Raj Aggarwal were all good ones, a big highlight of the day was the first one after a welcome event got things going.
Enterprise Sales for Startups: Finding Your First Customers featured a panel of four and a moderator. Oscar-Wyett Moore, an account executive at Scalr, led the panel and clearly put a lot of good preparation in to drive the discussion, along with engaging the audience with questions they had on the subject. Many great insights were provided, especially for someone who is decidedly not a sales professional by nature or training, even aside from the specific focus involved.
Certainly, a startup trying to sell to a big enterprise can face an uphill battle in theory. Big companies tend to be bureaucratic even with sections that may not deal with highly regulated industries, which means selling to them will never be as simple as getting them a product and getting a cash, check or credit card payment going right out the door. Doing so is not impossible, though – it has been done – but is not trivial.
Moore noted three themes to drive the discussion: selling to an enterprise is different, building relationships is critical, and one must sell authentically.
One of the complexities noted right away is that your customer may not be the end user of your product, a point made by long-time startup mentor and angel investor Greg Smith. As you work to understand a customer’s buying process, you may come to find out that your customer is really the manager of the end users, a director, even a Vice President or someone quite unexpected – but all the same, not the end user of the product.
Moore and Mary Rogul both had a similar core idea that came out along the way. Rogul, a serial sales executive, was quick to talk about how we must be human during the sales process, and Moore built off that idea in talking about how we have lost the ability to be vulnerable. One great way to get the sales process moving is to ask someone for a few minutes to talk about what you are doing and get their thoughts on it. Let them tear your idea apart if need be. In the end, you get valuable feedback from someone who could be a customer, because now they have more of a relationship with you and know about what you are doing.
Sravish Sridar, who has been in several startups and has an interesting career arc that has taken him from being an engineer to a sales ace, offered a lot of observations. One that stood out is similar to something that job seekers are often implored to do in a similar sense, as he noted that a big mistake made in sales is not asking for the sale – not unlike how a candidate may not ask for the job during the interview.
Lastly, as one more reminder of how much sports serves as a great metaphor for so much in life, including business, the subject of putting a sales team together came up. Included in it was the notion of building around young, energetic go-getters or those with years of experience who know how the game is played and have a proven track record. Barry Hinckley, a co-founder of Bullhorn Software who is now CEO at Yotme, did not seem like a fan of the latter. While building a team takes time, hiring a big-time sales person is expensive and fraught with risk. It sounds a lot like the idea of building a team from within through the draft and/or a great farm system, or signing big ticket free agents. While the hometown Red Sox have undeniably hit a home run with J.D. Martinez on the latter, they have struck out too many times recently on that front (see: Crawford, Carl, as only the most notable example) for anyone to think that is a panacea by any stretch.
The overwhelming idea of networking was stressed on more than a few occasions, with a great question at one point being asked as well: is LinkedIn – a great tool many times for something where networking comes into play – still the best tool to find a person within an enterprise for this? It is a great question that is not easily answered, but one worth pondering.
The event used up about the entire two hours, and all of the panelists engaged attendees up until the next event was ready to go. It was one of the highlights of a great opening day.