Building a go-to-market team and launching a company and product inside of about six months was amazingly fun, challenging, and rewarding. A few things I learned along the way that will help me if I ever have to do it again are:
In every initial assumption about the product I was pretty much wrong. I actually had very little idea of how our system worked and what it could do, and really had no idea of how to sell it or position it – there was a lot to learn. To fix this gap we planned a couple of weeks of intensive customer and partner briefings: the theory being for two to three weeks do 20-30 briefings and expect to get your teeth kicked in a few times, adjust, learn, try again, rinse, repeat, modify, tune, and then magically after a while you start realizing that what you are saying seems to work well. Stick with that for a bit but don’t be afraid to re-visit assumptions.
Almost all of the customers the exec team brought to the table turned out to not be the best fit for initial insertion. It was rather funny to realize that while we knew lots of Wall Street CIO types and people with fancy titles — but their normal workflow is to check out your offering and if they like it pass it to someone to actually action it within their sphere of influence. This is great, but often delays a sales cycle and you need to ensure you have the buy-in from the people who will actually be implementing and operating your product or service or you are setting yourself up for failure. No tech professional really loves when ‘management’ comes to them and says ‘here is a tool you need to use’ – they must be part of the decision.
Now we found out what did take off quicker for us were mid-market and small-medium enterprise customers that our sales teams brought to the table. A smaller shop often has more empowered management who can make decisions more quickly and move into POCs, Beta testing, and then limited production deployments. We’ve seen faster uptake into product environs from universities, semiconductor development, conservator banks, and law firms than large/global financial institutions so far. Also, our sales leaders ‘noses’ were better at this type of truffle hunting that us lofty exec types were 🙂
Channels: you cannot underestimate the importance of the reseller channel. I remember a great sales leader once telling me that I’d have a higher margin business through the channel than direct: I didn’t believe him until the numbers proved he was 100% correct within 6-9 months. Lesson learned.
Awareness that the security market it is a channel-led and channel-dominant space: largely because the pace of change due to nefarious individuals and organizations lends itself to the necessity of the channel as a trusted advisor to the operators. This isn’t a fulfillment-only channel, it is an actual high-value add where the channel has significant pull on whether or not your system/service/solution will reach the customer in a way that engenders the outcome desired.
Hiring: we did an early headcount plan that included mid-senior level individuals for each functional area that we knew was critical to launching the company, plus a forward investment into customer success to smooth on-boarding of new customers. (We have always believed that a few hours of training and education will save countless hours of technical assistance calls or your product ending up unused on a shelf somewhere. No one wants to build shelf-ware, it’s probably more lethiforous for an engineer than vapor-ware.) That being said we kept a philosophy of: identifying a set of capabilities we need to build that we can choose to delay the talent acquisition for until after the launch. Doing so gives us a stronger corporate platform and enables access to a more diverse and experienced set of individuals than if we simply hired only the people we knew. We effectively adopted a ‘minimum viable product’ model for our announcement and talent acquisition until we had proven the product and strengthened our corporate awareness.
That changes now: now we know we need to build out our sales and systems engineering, our marketing and demand generation, and continue our investment strategy in customer success and all engineering disciplines in order to accelerate our growth.
More to come, we are still learning more every day and continuing to build out our team and organization.