Krishna Kolluri at KASE’s Success Stories from Serial Entrepreneurs

Written by Francis Adanza. Posted in Startups

Last Tuesday, October 3, was the first of four seminars in the KASE Entrepreneurship Academy.  One of the featured speakers of the evening was a serial entrepreneur by the name of Krishna “Kittu” Kolluri.   Kittu was Co-Founder of Healtheon/WebMD, an on-line resource for heath information.  While at WebMD he was responsible for key operational and business development roles. Kittu was CEO of Neoteris, the leader of SSL-based Application Security Gateway market.  Under Kittu’s leadership, Neoteris excelled and grew considerably despite adverse market conditions.  Neoteris was acquired by Netscreen and Kittu became GM of Netscreen’s Secure Access Products.  Subsequently Netscreen was acquired by Juniper Networks and Kittu became VP and GM for the Security Products Group at Juniper Networks.

From Kittu’s presentation, I learned:

  1. The Importance of a Strong Vision & Values
  2. The Value of Marketing
  3. Understanding Your Customer’s Needs

The Importance of a Strong Vision & Values

In order to succeed, start ups must develop and follow a sustainable, strategic vision, and they must offer compelling value to customers.  All technology driven companies need a compelling value proposition.  Compelling value is determined if your technology is revenue enhancing or cost cutting.  Furthermore, you must deliver a “must have” solution and demonstrable return on investment.  Three questions that can help you determine if you solution is compelling is:

  • What is your benefit?
  • Can you give your customer a reason to believe?
  • What is the dramatic difference?

The Value of Marketing

Most people think marketing is designing colorful fliers and brochures.  Collateral is an important aspect of marketing, but start ups need to understand that strategic marketing is mostly about trial and error.  Kittu asks, “where do you add value and how will you evolve?”  Often start ups try to sell to Fortune 500 companies, but they lack credibility.  Put yourself in your customers shoes.  They fear you will not be around the following year.  Furthermore, they know that nothing new ever works, so they want validation from another customer who can verify your technology.

You can overcome the challenges of building credibility by influencing the influencers.  Influencers are analyst, trade press, business press.  Talk to start ups in your target market.  You will most likely find people intrigued by new technology and that are willing to help you refine your product.  It might be that you are targeting the wrong people in the company.  If you are not getting the traction you anticipate don’t give up on the company, try the actual end user.

Understanding Your Customer’s Needs

How will you best service your target markets? Take care of the customer. Give them what they need, a product that works on its own and seamlessly with other applications.  World class customer care is vital, make customers feel like they got more than what they paid for. Kittu states “customers will tolerate mediocre technology, but will not tolerate mediocre service.”  The customer is the ultimate stakeholder.  You must have a clear channel of communication within the company.  This means vertically within teams, and horizontally across them.  Make it easy for the customer to contact appropriate team members and obtain accurate information.

It is hard to take criticism about your baby.  Inventors pour hours into developing technology trying to make the perfect application and forget to talk to prospects.  Instead of designing something you think some one will buy, go and ask potential customers what they want to buy.  Entrepreneurs, you can’t fall in love with the technology and ignore the marketing.  Get out there, talk to strangers, and focus on customer care.

Beyond Microsoft Office: New Tools for Marketing Productivity Event Mon-Oct-9

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events

Mark Duncan has put together a great talk on “Beyond Microsoft Office: New Tools for Marketing Productivity” for the next SDForum Marketing SIG, next Monday Oct 9 at DLA Piper Silicon Valley.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
Abraham Maslow

Mark offers a rich set of examples beyond documents, spreadsheets, and slide decks as the only tools at your disposal. His talk provides a rich overview of new software tools and on-line services for increasing marketing productivity both for teamwork–communication, coordination, and collaboration–and for gathering, organizing, and presenting information.

Whether you are an individual contributor in a small startup or a manager in a large firm, these applications will enable you to accomplish more with less time and effort.

The meeting starts at 6:30 with networking, Mark’s presentation will be from 7-8:15PM. I have had a chance to preview it with him and it looks very good.

Just a brief note on the SDForum Marketing SIG, our promise is “Practical tips and techniques for anticipating, identifying, and satisfying customers needs for emerging technologies profitably.”  We are guided by this quote from “Management: Task, Responsibilities, Practices” by Peter Drucker on the importance of marketing:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only these two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Update Aug-8-2008: Mark’s slides are now available here:

Mike Van Horn on “Are You Ready for Growth?”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, Startups

Mike Van Horn has a lot of good articles on his small business website. One in particular that’s worth reading is “Are You Ready for Growth?”  Here are some highlights:

  • The better teams you can build… the faster you can grow.
    People who grow companies rapidly know how to put a good team in place, then move on to the next thing. They become a leader of independent teams.
  • The better you use your time–the faster you can grow.
    Invest your time strategically; be less concerned with saving time or managing time.
  • The more you think things through ahead of time–the faster you can grow.
    That means planning, including strategic plans, action plans, and project plans, with built-in review and accountability.
  • The savvier your advisors–the faster you can grow.
    You let go of the “lone ranger” approach to running the business. As your business grows, get advisors who are one step ahead of you.
  • The more you insist on top performance… the faster you can grow.
    Do not let mediocre performers dictate your rate of growth, whether they are employees, customers, vendors, or professionals.
  • The more knowledge you can get out of your head and the more systematized you get–the faster you can grow.
    Create manuals, checklists, and training seminars that teach employees all the magical things that you think only you can do. Then you and your people can focus attention on the big, creative challenges.

The first rule is “The more you can let go, the more you can grow.

I Always Google Too Late

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb

Triggered by “Google Me This, Batman” I will try and make some different points. I don’t know how many times I have come back from an meeting (or event or trade show) with business cards or notes on my 3×5 cards and run the people and company names through Google to discover things that would have helped me if I had known them a few hours earlier.

It’s not that hard to use Google, I probably spend an hour or two a day following links from searches I have run. But I tend to start from other on-line articles I am reading and not research in anticipation of who I will be meeting. LinkedIn is probably the second most useful search tool if you are trying to get a context on someone.

Two hours a day in Google? That’s a bet you could have won from me ten years ago. Our TV picture tube died about a month ago and I find I have about ten to fifteen hours a week of extra time (funny how much time is taken up by only watching “a little” TV). I think the big win has been missing commercials. But my DSL went out and I had phantom limb pain for my missing Internet connection the next day, I didn’t realize how much I had come to rely on it.

Anyway, I now try to

  • spend at least five minutes reviewing the Google results (for web and groups) of people or companies I anticipate encountering.
    • if it’s a company, notice what ads come up as well
    • if the company has a website see what publications they list as covering them and search the archives for other articles.
    • check who else is linked to their site using the Google link: command (or use Advanced Search, pages that link to this page)
  • check and see if the person has a LinkedIn profile.
  • Read the last half dozen entries (at least) of their blog, if they have one.
  • Depending upon the industry it may also be worth a few minutes searching some trade publication archives that may not be deeply indexed by Google (e.g. EE Times for semiconductor and EDA firms/players).

I would welcome any comments or suggestions on what you do to prepare for potential or likely conversations.

Welcome Entrepreneurs!

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Startups

Welcome Entrepreneurs

This blog is dedicated to entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey:  as individuals, in teams, and collectively.  We all hope to create a better world for our customers, our employees, our stakeholders, and our children.

Our Focus: Finding Early Customers For Emerging Technologies

Our focus is helping startups find early customers for emerging technologies. This is very different from the traditional sales and marketing at established firms. Correctly identifying early customers who can be references to others is key to introducing emerging technologies.

Although emerging technologies change the rules and often enable far reaching growth most early adopters are focused on near term risks and benefits, and it is to those concerns entrepreneurial teams need to speak to get a foothold. The decision to act as a “beta” software site or early user of new software tools often resembles a hiring decision (does the prospective customer want to “hire the team”) more closely than a technology adoption decision.

Emerging technology marketing is a distinct domain from classical product marketing, most of the traditional market assessment techniques are not effective: focus groups, surveys, etc…

Emerging Markets Require Key Commitments

Emerging markets require a strong commitment by the founding team to

  • appreciating the prospective customer and customer’s view,
  • rapidly evolving the product specification in response to feedback and customer experience,
  • ongoing refinement and delivery of customer focused solutions.

A Blog Is a Dial Tone For a Website

As to why I am adding a blog to this website I was very impressed by a blog entry I read in August of this year by Tim O’Reilly titled Round 2: Dial Tone

New applications often start out requiring operators, but eventually move towards dial-tone. For example, you can look at blogging as the “dial tone” equivalent of creating a web site. For ordinary folks (not most of my readers, but non-technical folks), creating a web site was something that required an operator. You went to a web design shop or an ISP and had them do it for you. The blogging revolution, the wiki revolution, the MySpace revolution, the CyWorld revolution, are really about providing a kind of self-service dial-tone for creating a web presence and community.

I think a blog also acts a dial tone for a website in that it signals a commitment for interaction and participation on the part of the authors. And that’s certainly the case here.

O’Reilly describes his Round 2 series as occasional postings around the theme that patterns and ideas recur. He closes the “Dial Tone” post with:

Once you frame the problem in this way, you understand that one of the challenges for IT departments and companies used to the IT mindset is to get the operators out of the way, and to build new processes that let users do the work for themselves. You also can ask yourself, where is dial tone going next?

I like that “Round 2” captures the sense of recurring business trends that can act as guides: you do not need to innovate in all aspects of your startup, making the technology work can be differentiation enough. I welcome your comments and a chance to learn more about your startup.

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