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:
- The Importance of a Strong Vision & Values
- The Value of Marketing
- 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.