We are using the Microsoft name to open big doors – we’re organising carefully curated meetings where the startups will meet with potential enterprise customers relevant to them. It’s not about pitching and networking, but rather a biz dev. infusion to the companies’ veins.– reads the official blog of Microsoft Accelerator about its First Global Startup Roadshow.
In this spirit, the Accelerator hosted 15 startup CEOs (out of +500) from its global portfolio for a five-day event in Silicon Valley and Seattle in June. The aim was to help these startups in their mission to penetrate the US market and help them strengthen their presence and scale up. In addition, Microsoft also hosted Silicon Valley investors for 1:1 “speed dating” with the CEOs who are about to disrupt their industries. Startups also got the opportunity to leverage Microsoft’s internal resources for face-to-face meetings with Microsoft executives from various fields including business, marketing and sales groups.
The selected group of 15 startups represented its industry-diverse portfolio (IoT, Cyber Security, Marketing, Retail, Productivity, HR, Enterprise Devtools and more) from locations all over the world such China, India, Germany, UK, France, Israel and the US. Out of these, two were Indian startups- iBotControls – which is an IoT platform of choice for connected products and the industrial Internet world and the other was ShepHertz – an omnichannel enterprise platform for digitisation.
We spoke to Ravi Subramanyam, founder & President, iBot and Siddhartha Chandurkar, Founder & CEO – ShepHertz, to understand what the experience like and did the road show fulfil what it promised? Here are the excerpts:
Inc42: What did the roadshow comprise of? Who all did you meet?
Ravi: The objective of the road show was divided into two parts. Firstly, we had the opportunity to explore what’s in store for us in terms of business in the Silicon Valley. Secondly, we also got a chance to meet and connect with the ecosystem of customers, partners and investors who wanted to know more about our innovations. This opportunity allowed us as a company to benchmark ourselves amongst other competitors in the US market.
We spent the first two days in San Francisco – Silicon Valley and the next three days in Microsoft’s Redmond HQ in Seattle. Day 1 started at Sand Hill Road which is located right in the middle of Silicon Valley and is also known as the cradle of VCs in the Bay area. Our journey kick-started at the Quadrus conference centre. We met with Bernice Paris, Head of Operations and Portfolio-Microsoft
Nagraj Kashyap – Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Ventures who is the head of recently formed Microsoft Ventures (Fund) gave us an overview of how they plan to grow Ventures and how it is going to position itself going forward. He also gave us a download on how VCs look at investments in the tech area.
The second part of the day continued with one on one interactions with about six to seven corporate VCs – Juniper Ventures, Cisco Ventures, Intel – to name a few in a speed dating format. They spent about 10 minutes with each of us, where we mutually tried to figure if we would be a good fit in the areas of our interest.
Day 2 started off with us moving between different agencies trying to get a sense of how the technology industry works in the US. We then moved on to visit TechCrunch’s headquarters, where we met with Jason Calacanis – an angel investor in the Bay area and a serial entrepreneur himself. We got a chance to interact and pitch our business ideas with him. We also had the opportunity to get a first-hand feedback as to what he looks for in a company or a business idea as an investor.
Jason also spoke about his blog TWIST (This Week in Startups) which is read by thousands of VCs in the Bay Area. Jason did a session of ‘Ask Jason’ with us for his show ‘This Week in Startups’. This helped us in creating visibility in the US market.
Day 3 was in Seattle. A speed dating session was arranged at Redmond, with around 20 – 30 of Microsoft’s large enterprise customers. This was a very beneficial session, as we were given a chance to engage and exchange ideas with potential customers. Of the six customers, we met, three of them are on board with us today as a result of this particular session.
Day 4 was focussed on meeting with the internal teams at Microsoft Accelerator such as the Industrial IoT, Visual Studio, sales and startup engineering teams. We also had a couple of education and learning sessions set up on relevant topics like how Microsoft looks at sales, how they work with partners and customers etc.
Day 5 began with us meeting Steven Guggenheimer – Corporate VP of Microsoft’s Developer eXperience & Evangelism (DX) group along with Scott Guthrie – who manages Cloud and Enterprise and eventually a roundtable session with CEO Satya Nadella.
Siddhartha: Startups in India are driving massive technology and business-model disruption that venture investors and enterprises are striving to harness. The participating startups collectively had over 200 meetings with VCs and potential customers over the course of the road show, which turned into a host of business opportunities. The entire objective of the road show was divided into two parts –meeting with top executives from Microsoft, Enterprise customers and investors in the US and a chance to showcase our work with other Microsoft Accelerators present at the roadshow.
We got a chance to meet with almost all the top Microsoft executives like Scott Guthrie and Steve Guggenheimer. We also met with a lot of big enterprise customers. In fact, we closed one of our biggest enterprise customer deals within a month of returning from this road show.
Last but not the least, the meeting with Satya Nadella was very encouraging. The startups present at the roadshow were all B2B companies. In today’s times where all the attention of the audience is on B2C and hyper-local kind of start-ups and solutions, it is very difficult for B2B startups to break the clutter.
Inc42: Which was the interaction that impacted you the most?
Ravi: The roundtable with Satya Nadella was extremely insightful. We understood the value proposition of iBot while explaining our business to him. The validation we received for our work in terms of trying to democratise IoT across the world was truly encouraging and inspiring.
The roundtable with Satya Nadella was extremely insightful.
Siddhartha: The speed dating sessions with the enterprise customers were extremely beneficial for us as a company as we got to pitch our solutions to them on a real-time basis. We met with large enterprise clients across industries. Microsoft introducing us to these customers was of immense value for ShepHertz. Adding to this was the discussions we had with the Microsoft sales teams, who talked about tips and tricks of the trade in the enterprise world.
Inc42: What was the most significant thing you learned about your startup through the road show?
Ravi: It was very interesting and reassuring to know that the services and solutions we provide to OEM manufacturers and customers are unique to only iBot world-wide. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that our innovation is indeed unique and extremely valuable to the ecosystem.
Siddhartha: ShepHertz is already an established company, so we have our basics covered. But I definitely had a lot to take away from the various people I met through the course of the road show. It was an extremely targetted event which focussed on the various aspects of a business in terms of investments, sales etc. Having discussions with the other participants at the roadshow on how they plan to scale up their business definitely taught me a lot. As CEOs of a company, we do not get to spend the amount of time on discussing business as much as we would want to. The road show provided us with a platform to do so very effectively.
Inc42: How do you think this will help your startup?
Ravi: We always had something to take from every session that was arranged for us throughout the event. More than 50% of our discussions at these sessions have eventually turned into business today. The road show, in fact, has helped us immensely in connecting with a lot of US customers. It has also helped us to partner and work more closely with the accelerator team in Seattle.
Siddhartha: The entire event was very business-centric. Introducing us to some of the big enterprise clients was of immense value to us. As a result, this event was very different from any other startup events which take place throughout the year. We also got a chance to understand how business works in countries like Britain, Germany etc. This was definitely a great opportunity for younger companies to get the required exposure in newer geographies.
We closed one of our biggest enterprise customer deals within a month of returning from this road show.
Inc42: Based on your experience, what are the challenges you foresee in strengthening your presence in the US and scaling up your business?
Ravi: Physical presence in the US is one of the key challenges we foresee in the market in terms of people and offices. But, through the course of the road show, I have revisited all the connections and translated most of these conversations into business today. The roadshow has helped iBot boost its presence in the US market.
Siddhartha: In terms of sales in the enterprise domain, one of the biggest challenges lies in finding a good partner to introduce you to potential clients. A knocking door approach does not work in these markets. For companies to enter the US market, we need to have a reputed channel partner or a remarkable sales person who knows the tricks of the trade in a given market. It is difficult for small companies to run a business without these criteria in place. The roadshow provided a sort of gateway for smaller companies to enter the US market.
In a similar initiative this March, five Indian startups were taken to UK under the ‘RocketShips to the UK’ initiative launched by the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in association with iSPIRT, giving them networking opportunities and mentoring sessions from experienced industry leaders, veterans, venture capitalists & mentors, and access to vital resources. Similarly, NASSCOM under the Nasscom Innotrek program, takes a delegation of Indian startups to visit Silicon Valley to learn, connect and get inspired by the world’s oldest and most successful technology ecosystem. All these initiatives act as a bridge to enter foreign markets and forge the right connections with potential customers. For Indian startups to go global, this sort of curated networking and exposure is just the right kind of boost needed to get the show rolling.