Thursday 13 December 2018

West Coast Week shows the way for Irish startups

One day was dedicated to discussing how to scale your company, with Irish companies including Roomex, Luzern, Taxamo, and Soap Box Labs attending. Stock image
One day was dedicated to discussing how to scale your company, with Irish companies including Roomex, Luzern, Taxamo, and Soap Box Labs attending. Stock image

Maire P Walsh

During West Coast Week, an initiative from Enterprise Ireland's Silicon Valley team, senior thought leaders and executives from Silicon Valley's tech and investor community shared knowledge and offered advice, while being exposed to Irish technology and innovation in Dublin.

My colleague Sara Hill led a connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) and mobility seminar, while Hannah Dobson directed a forum on creative technologies, followed by insights on the future of content.

One day was dedicated to discussing how to scale your company, with Irish companies including Roomex, Luzern, Taxamo, and Soap Box Labs attending. Discussion focused on real-world strategies and tactics for supercharging growth, including questions like how to secure funding, grow your customer base and insights into what tech companies seek when acquiring companies.

Here are some of the day's key takeaways that can help Irish tech companies continue to flourish.

Simon Leesley, VP of Strategy at Stitch Fix, shared overarching scaling advice, advising startups to have a big, bold vision and a clear roadmap, to invest time in hiring the right people and develop a diverse team, as well as an advisory board.

Cathy Halligan, an independent board director, shared keys to growth, which include having a big addressable market, understanding your target customers, and starting with a product that is easy to implement but can be quickly extended through the product roadmap.

If you are seeking funding, Lev Mass, managing partner, Crux Capital, wants to see €1m monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and a presence in the country where you are seeking investment. He asks four key questions: Who are your customers? Are your current customers recognisable in the US? What does your founding team look like? What is your main reason for market entry?

The business development team finds acquisitions for Microsoft. Tamara Steffens, Microsoft general manager, explained how they analyse everything on a build-versus-buy basis. "When we are looking for partners, we look for technology that addresses specific needs that we don't have in-house, or technology in emerging spaces."

When creating a channel program, know it's a long-term investment, advised Sharrifah Lorenz, head of business development and partnerships at Asana, who did a lot of research upfront. Lorenz recommends you start by figuring out and leveraging what your partners are uniquely capable of doing and what you cannot, to extend sales and services. You should also remember to consider what value you can provide to the channel partner. Don't view partnerships as solely channel revenue; partners can help to differentiate your product and allow you to be relevant to solve customer needs in other sub-sectors too, advised Niall Wall, SVP business development and partnerships at Box. He cautioned that incentives to sellers matter - don't sweat who gets paid what and if in doubt, pay them twice. Profitability is not as important as paths to revenue, a prime example of which is the success of Uber. Wall also advised startups to be programmatic - have one contract and one channel program.

Creating an inclusive culture was a common theme. Halligan advised nominating an executive that is accountable for vision, values and culture. If you hire poorly, you will constrain growth. "Always be growing people, but don't always be hiring," she urged. Rahul Vijay, tech deal-maker at Uber, talked about the value of having an advisory board, and advocated for willingness to share equity. He stressed the importance of being where you want to sell.

Lev Mass reminded people that, for venture pitching, you must explain your unique selling proposition in 30 seconds, have a deck of eight slides, and know your addressable market size. Ask for a warm introduction, so the VC pays attention to the ask. Next year, we will hold similar events. All Irish companies are welcome to attend and participate.

Máire P Walsh is SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland's Silicon Valley office

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