Answering the Million Dollar Question: How Do You Scale?

growth

You’ve raised some money (or if you’re really lean, you’ve bootstrapped) and you’ve found Product/Market Fit in a growing and disruptive market. Now the big question is how do you attack that market and take share? In other words, how do you scale?

Scaling the business is a pivotal undertaking in a startup’s life and while we do not have direct experience scaling an enterprise here at C:V., we do have experience supporting some of enterprise technology’s most successful sales teams and have offered our input on how large company sales tactics can apply to a startup looking to scale.

*Editor’s Note: This post will feature examples tailored for larger deals and longer sales cycles as that is our background. While the specifics may not necessarily relate, we hope the concepts will.

Demonstrate your Value:  Most posts about scale would simply say “Sell, Sell, Sell!” and while we are not discounting that method at all here at C:V., we believe that the Enterprise Technology sales model is shifting from a need-based, “point and purchase” model and moving towards a more consultative, “solution selling” approach.  Therefore, we believe that in order to scale effectively, a salesforce must not only know what problems they currently solve but also how they can add value across a range of outcomes to successfully partner with their client and not just provide a resource.

Partner:  The decision to become a multi-channel salesforce is one that can be challenging to startups looking to scale because concerns over quality of service may arise (i.e. fear the Partner may not know the product as well, or will not offer the “White Glove” support we do) when dealing with an indirect sales model as opposed to a direct only salesforce that most startups employ at the outset of their life.  While this is a valid concern and a company must address this issue before deciding to Partner, we do believe that properly structured strategic partnerships (i.e. teaming up with larger players in your industry) can be an extremely effective way for smaller companies to scale their offerings quickly and efficiently.  In addition to getting your product into the minds and hands of more customers, partnerships can also offer an additional level of credibility to your company vision that can help you get those “Lighthouse” customers that all companies crave.

Get a “Lighthouse” Customer: Much like an Anchor store is to a mall, getting a few big name customers is a huge benefit for a company trying to scale.  Having these “beacons” (hence the lighthouse name…) of support for your product and company can be a huge asset and will draw other ships to your company’s shore (still staying nautical…).  You can use these customers as testaments to your product and vision as well as a reference to future prospective customers.  Just think of how much more serious a prospective client will take you if you can say your offering is currently in use in 5 of the Fortune 50…

P.O.C.:  The Proof Of Concept or “P.O.C.” is a time-tested model that initially does not provide revenue, but gets your offering into the hands of customers with the idea that if they like it they will buy it later.  This “trial period” model, can be very effective when trying to land that “Lighthouse” customer when they are still hesitant to buy even after you have “Demonstrated your Value”.  Also, the P.O.C. method can be a very effective way to reach a huge subset of your customer base relatively cheaply, and as long as you convert a large percentage of these opportunities, it can become a very viable model to grow the enterprise.

Find the RIGHT Champion:  We hear about a lot of deals being lost because the account manager has not lined up the proper Champion in the business and as a result cannot get the sign off on funding or approval from the CIO.  The Champion is a huge asset to your sales process as they are the person at the prospective client’s company who will be spearheading the initiative internally. The key is to find the RIGHT champion for your product in the prospective client’s organization. Find the person who can be what their nickname describes, the CHAMPION of your product who not only buys into your value proposition, but also has the ability to maneuver the deal to the appropriate levels of management within the organization.  This is obviously easier said than done, but through the correct “Demonstration of Value”, you should be able to find the right match. The reason the RIGHT Champion is so important is that it will allow you to establish a network within the client organization as well as provide a platform for future opportunity (upgrades, other solutions, etc.).

 

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Round of the Week – SoFi

Student Loans from Select Colleges and Universities + Lower Rates than Sallie Mae + Social Community with Alumni support = SoFi

SoFi or Social Finance has followed the above equation and found great success in the Student Loan refinancing market. As a result, they have raised yet another $80M in a C round to expand their footprint and dive into other loan markets.

Name: SoFi

Website: https://www.sofi.com/

Funding to Date: $161M Equity, ~$400M Debt (Full Details here)

Deal Notables: Part of this funding will be for SoFi’s first foray out of the student loan business and into other lending verticals (mortgages, etc.).  This could be a daunting task for most startups for fear of growing too big too quick, but given SoFi’s track record of successful loan refinancing with a committed investor and applicant base, we see them having a strong case for exploring expansion.

This round was for preferred equity (we presume) but SoFi is the first company we have featured here on C:V. that has debt (And a large chunk of it!).  There does not appear to be any additional debt raised in this funding, but we do admire the fact that SoFi can play in both markets simultaneously so effectively.  Check out the piece in Time on them too!  Great read about how they are transforming the lending industry.