Scrappy tactics for non-US founders targeting the enterprise market
We were lucky to have Gaetan Gachet, Chief Strategy Officer at Algolia & Florian Douetteau, CEO at Dataiku, come spend some time with the founders of The Family’s batch this week. Their stories were interesting for many of the startups we are working with because while most of them are based outside the US, for many the early addressable market is there.
Act like a US firm from Day 1
This comes with some obvious applications. Your website should be in English by default. If you’re mostly focused on selling to West Coast firms, don’t narrow your sales hours to the 2-3 hour window you share, work on PST times. It’s hard, but worth it.
Both pointed out that as soon as their personal networks had dried up, US customers represented almost the totality of their revenue until their annual recurring revenue passed the $10M mark. That meant a lot of flying back and forth, but now Zoom sales can make these first deals a bit easier!
Be where your customers are - even if they don’t expect it
Even if you’re taking a bottom-up approach, you’ll need outbound sales when you reach a certain scale. In the early days, however, generating inbound leads increases velocity significantly & in sales, velocity is key.
For Florian, that meant attending almost every recorded talk he was invited to give - data science was starting to be a recurring issue for corporations but there was still very little content for them. It paid off: their first out-of-network customer was a major pharma company, who reached out after one of their execs saw a YouTube video of a talk Florian gave in Spain. So while they didn’t get any Spanish clients from the event, the content got in front of the right people. Online conferences on platforms like Eventmix make it even easier to get your name out there early on.
At Algolia, a key early win was becoming the search bar for Hacker News & Product Hunt. This had two advantages: first, being at the heart of communities focused on cutting-edge new products meant that any resulting leads would be keener to take a risk on new products. Second, it gave everyone a taste for what faster, more accurate search felt like.
Giving a taste is key, and it’s why Dataiku had an easy, publicly usable demo version of their product on their website very early on. Even if you are selling to large companies, you are still selling to people. And it’s a lot easier to convince people if the product does the talking; so let them use the product!
Find your champion & make them love you
Your first buyers are taking a risk by signing with you. You need to find the person in the target company that is best suited to promote your product internally and then build trust with them. At Algolia, for instance, Gaetan would bring founders Nicolas and Julien along for technical meetings with big clients in order to build up a rapport.
Dataiku bootstrapped for quite some time, generating revenue with some data science consulting. The money was obviously welcome but it wasn’t the focus: they did it to learn who the key decision makers were and where the budgets were allocated inside companies. That let them fine tune their sales approach “from the inside”. When they learned what they needed, they stopped all service activities and focused solely on the product.
Early sales teams are entrepreneurial
Both Florian & Gaetan pointed out that none of their early salespeople had any prior experience in sales. Despite their very different backgrounds, they shared a strong sense of ownership & responsibility; if deals didn’t close, it was on them. They were entrepreneurial and had a keen ear for customer problems. Rather than just executing a pre-existing sales playbook, they were helping to write it.
Early sales are hard, especially if you are in ecosystems where software buyers are less likely to take risks on new products. At The Family, we love helping founders as early as possible, and sales is typically something we love to work on; if you’re just starting out you should really consider applying to our next batch!