Before Working With Corporates, Build Efficiency And Scale At The Bottom of Pyramid

[Editorial notes : Guest article contributed by Santosh Panda, founder of Explara, online ticketing platform. In this article, Santosh shares a few key learnings the team had while dealing with big businesses/corporates. For entrepreneurs who are still finding it difficult to wade through big corporates, #StartupLessons from Santosh will help you understand this better.]

When we were building Explara during 2008-2009, fortunately we started with small customers, so small that sometime it is 2 people organization looking for a simple solution. That helped us to get the MVP (minimum viable product) out.Acquire Big Fish Small Fish

But as we went on serving several of them, we also started getting large scale customers which distracted us a lot on product, operation, marketing and sales side. This blog post is to share our learning.

I first travelled to a client meeting with my sales manager during 2009; we went to meet a biggest new year event organizer in Pune. Client asked us to do extra things such as product tweaking and special marketing solution for their event.

Somehow, we had to say yes, as we wanted to win, considering 2009 was the first year.

Result: The client remained our customer only once during New Year events for 2009, 2010(just 2 events)! That’s end of business.

Know your customer segment well and if you are thinking that meeting a client will win their heart and mind, its not! They might belong to different segments and hence you are wasting your time.

During 2010, a big entertainment event organizer promised he would open the door to several high profile event organizers. Both sales team & I were eager to grow and we got wooed to meet him in person in Delhi. We wasted a lot of our efforts (including money)  to travel to Delhi and meet him.

Result: His event was total flop and that one flop damaged his reputation. No body can open a floodgate, it takes time to grow your pipeline, therefore contain your ambitions.

During 2011, that was peak time of Explara as product was getting matured and we wanted to win a very big organization for their mega event. Our sales manager traveled to meet them in Chennai, I called client several times from London.

Result: This Mr. Big client team was so bureaucratic that they had least appreciation for product efficiency and more about ‘Whom we Know’.

During 2011, we were also called by one of India’s mega sports event team; we spent hell lot of time in establishing an entire working model. But client’s management team thought we wouldn’t be able to deliver, as we don’t have a brand name! There is no value of solutions for some big customers; it’s just brand only to start with!

Result: We lost to a fairly popular competitor who had promised a lot, under- delivered a lot. The panic situation was before 3 days of the D Day match, Client’s manager called me all the way in London to talk to my competitor’s operation head and help them running my laid out working model.

The client knew we have done excellent groundwork and could deliver, but mental barriers are tough to change.

During 2012-2013, we stopped going to large-scale events, even if they called. We ensured we are not spending time, money, product tweaking, any of that but just meet as a reciprocation of relationship. We have been growing hugely on small & medium event organizers.

Our renewed belief to focus on bottom of the pyramid helped us to scale faster and also enhance the customer feedback loop->product development->operation efficiency. Not winning big customer then was blessing in disguise.

However, I am not advocating not to do business with big companies, it is just you need to figure out when and how you should do.

Recommended Read: Sanjay Swamy has a fantastic talk on How Startups Can Do Business With Big Companies.

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