Ludovic Neveu: Sell Confidence and Vision
Ludovic Neveu is a long-time StartupYard mentor, and since last year, an investor in StartupYard as well.
With over 20 years of sales and marketing experience in US software companies such as Symantec, Borland, CodeGear and Embarcadero, Ludovic brings a depth of experience to his mentoring at StartupYard, and has become a dedicated and active mentor. He is currently VP EMEA at Embarcadero technologies and is responsible for all sales and P&L in Europe, Middle-East and Africa.
I caught up with Ludovic this week to talk about his experience with mentoring startups on strategic partnership and sales: here is what he had to say:
Hi Ludovic, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Why did you get into sales, and how did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I’m a self-motivated Executive, I feel challenged and alive when I have the leeway to work as hard as I want. I feel pretty lucky with the position I have of running EMEA and also get the opportunities to travel to many places and meet extraordinary people, however, let’s make no mistake about it, I started to be lucky when I started to work hard.
I started my career in organizing marketing events and this was a great way to learn the reality of work life, and not counting hours, being a master of multi-tasking and being on top of details and all of this with tough deadlines. I then moved to regional marketing roles and very quickly, the boarder between marketing and sales functions became very thin. I found out that in software companies, you reward sales people when things are great and you blame marketing people when things don’t go as planned. I have now been running direct and indirect sales teams for the last 16 years.
I am a deep believer that people make an organization successful, so I highly suggest to everyone to get the chance to drive their own career and their own life. StartupYard is the right example, it’s all about people that want to make a difference in their own space; they believe in their idea and they work hard to make it happen
You’re an investor in StartupYard, and a popular mentor. Why do you work with startups? What do you gain from being a StartupYard mentor?
Primarily, I wanted to be a mentor to share my experience. As I see so many companies making mistakes or reinventing the wheel, which in my opinion is a pure waste of time.
Very quickly, I realized that my energy level had doubled after a mentoring session. It’s quite amazing to see the enthusiasm and the motivation that all the startup founders have. They have an idea, and whatever it is, they believe in it so much that they decided to change their life and work hard for it. If you can dream it, you can achieve it!
Additionally, I think that if you want to be a better leader, you need to have a broader view of what you’re doing, look at other businesses, and experience other approaches. Ultimately, this has been very positive and I am also enjoying the networking with other mentors or investors, all very smart people!
Last year, I decided to go one step further and invest into the 2016 cohort. I really like this idea of investing into businesses that make a difference. if you’d have more people doing this, I am convinced we could solve part if not all the biggest issue of our modern world–which is unemployment.
I really want to encourage companies that want to drive innovation, disrupt the way business is being done and drive positive change.
Sales is perennially an area of difficulty for CEE startups. Why do you think that is, and do you see that situation improving with time?
To be successful in sales, you first need to sell yourself, you then sell your company, and then you sell your products. And if you look at startups, most of these 3 points are weak. Let’s take them one by one
When you sell yourself, you build trust. People buy from people. Some of the founders can achieve this but many are product guys, and would need to improve their interpersonal skills.
When you sell your company, you sell confidence and vision. Well, many might have an idea, but the vision is not clear yet, and the company doesn’t have any history.
Lastly, you sell your product, your features…but most startups only have a proof of concept, or just an idea, so no wonder it’s difficult.
I recommend all startups to find the right combination between selling a vision and what you have today. Just one or the other is not enough. And to build trust, give confidence, increase your company valuation, you have to do all it takes to get your first sale(s).
Please, stop delaying sales to have a better product. A sale today is better than a sale tomorrow.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as this is one of the benefits you get from the acceleration program at SY. All 9 startups gave great pitches, and you could see that they had all become more sales oriented.
Your mentoring is especially focused on strategic partnerships, right?
I am a deep believer in partnerships. A problem I have often had to solve in my career is was how to achieve more with less. How can you leverage your efforts? How can you be global without having a very heavy and expensive structure? How can you get experts in a field or local knowledge to work for you?
The response to all of that is partners; you can find sales partners, which are the most obvious, but you can also find partners to do your accounting, to help you in marketing, or to outsource R&D. Having a partner model also helps you to keep your base costs as low as possible. Financing is a major blocker for all startups. Partner margins have to be looked at as your cost of sales and not as a discount on your product, and remember, I’d rather give 30% of €100k than 10% of nothing!
On the topic of partnerships, what do you see as the most common mistakes on the part of startups who are looking to cooperate with corporations? What advice do you end up giving most?
In general, partnerships work when both parties win. If it is not balanced, it fails. It’s about a willingness to do business together. It’s important to sign a legal contract, but then, if you need to look too hard at it, this means your relation is broken.
My advice to the startups is to work on the same level as corporations. Believe in what you have or what you could have (obviously realistically!). Don’t beg, don’t feel inferior and find what your mutual interests really are. Understand your benefits and the benefits you bring– because they are there.
From the corporate side, what are some of the biggest mistakes corporations make when looking to cooperate with tech startups? What can they do to fix these issues?
A: The challenge from the corporate side is that they are either not open enough or stuck in their business models, giving them few openings to be “creative”.
If your focus is to deliver Ebitda; if your licensing model is old due to VSOE issues, if your 3 years plan is set in stone, it’s going to be very difficult to integrate a new business model.
Additionally, most of the time, startups disrupt old ways of doing business and embracing change is challenging.
My advice for corporations is to integrate startups or startups projects as a separate business unit with its own rules. If it doesn’t fit into your normal structure, then you extend that structure; you don’t have to alter it completely.
You’ve got a lot of experience working with corporations and startups in CEE. How has the landscape changed in the last few years? What’s still missing from the region, when it comes to corporations and startups working together?
Over the years, many corporations have become more structured in CEE, but I am still amazed to see how many companies out there are still not doing business in the region. An easy benchmark is that your EMEA business should represent around 35% of your worldwide revenue if you’re a US company. Many US companies still have EMEA revenue representing only around 20%. Right now, the Russian and CIS situation is challenging, however countries like the Czech Republic are doing very well.
Startups should also have this in mind, your business should be global and not local. A bright idea and a great execution is not dependent on a country
Hiring sales people is one of the biggest challenges any of our startups face in their early stages. What do you tell a young startup that is looking for a sales leader?
A: Totally agree, by nature sales people know how to sell themselves so it’s one of the most difficult hire as the reality can be very different from the pitch. I’d suggest to look for the right set of mind and personality. This can be found with people doing sports, challenges. Look for their extra activities, responsibility outside of their job, in associations, clubs…
I was able to increase the success rate of new hires by over 30% by putting them in situations during the hiring process. Ask them to make a presentation, to behave in a different environment… you will have lots of surprises!
Understanding people’s strengths will also increase your success rate – check http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx for example
What has been your favorite experience with StartupYard, and why?
The overall diversity is great. Everyone has different experiences and priorities. Every meeting is different, and you need to adapt quickly to new situations, and behaviors. Although I’m open minded, I’ve occasionally had friction with some startups’ business models at the beginning, and some reminded me how old fashion I was. Some of those companies aren’t around anymore; whether you’re a startup or a corporation, some fundamentals don’t change.
The most challenging job as an investor is to choose the investment which has the biggest potential. Overall, I always come back after a mentoring session with more energy, and I want to change the world!
The next step for me would probably be a board member position, to help startups be successful after their acceleration program.
What do you think StartupYard should do more, or differently, to advance startups and corporate/startup relations in the CEE region?
Every year, StartupYard’s process and work is better and better, and we get more quality startups and more investors are looking at them, so this is great.
I see 2 potential directions, one which is to put some structure around business angels and push more people to invest. Many people would like to invest in startups but don’t necessarily know how to do that.
The other direction is “Uberization,” and the next step for SY is to provide shared bandwidth for startups- employees who work as needed for different companies. Earlier on, we discussed the benefit of having your first sales, and you could imagine a model where startups could use a sales person on demand for a couple hours or days a month. I started that discussion with Cedric and other mentors and this might be a new way forward.