The Benefits of Managing a Venture Capital Client Unit as a Startup Founder

Before joining Maersk to create its at-risk customers unit in April 2022, Camilla Ley Valentin ran for more than a decade a SaaS startup she co-founded called Queue-It, which developed a waiting room service virtual to control traffic spikes on websites and applications.

Unlike some of his colleagues from business customers, it gave him a unique perspective on the needs of startups looking to conduct proof-of-concept (POC) projects with large enterprises — and most importantly, how to improve the founder experience.

She said she was motivated to join Maersk Explore – back at the company where she started her career in the 90s – because she wanted to make the biggest impact possible.

“I was thinking about what the most important contribution could be that someone could make, and I thought that if we don’t fix the climate, the rest of the goals that we have as a planet don’t really matter,” she told Sifted. . As one of dirtiest industries, shipping adapt to the law.

When she joined Maersk she had a small unit doing proof of concept projects with startups, but with the blessing of senior management and under the leadership of Ley Valentin it was expanded to a formal unit and world of at-risk customers. She is now trying to improve the founders’ experience when working with companies – which are sometimes blamed for moving at a snail’s speed compared to small and nimble startups.

His team is looking at startups that have moved past Series A — early stage and Series A startups are typically invested directly by Maersk’s HVAC arm — and that could help address a pressing issue facing the company in the immediate term. , in each business unit.

The founder’s point of view

As founder, Ley Valentin says she’s often dealt with large corporations without a risk customer unit — “it’s not easy,” she says. “It’s so important to have these large multinational clients, it means the world to the small business starting up, and vice versa. But these two worlds are not easy to connect.

She has experienced first hand the difficulties budding entrepreneurs face when dealing with multinational corporations.

“I experienced this as the founder of a SaaS startup that had very large enterprise customers in many countries. Most of Queue-It’s customers are large e-commerce companies in the United States. So I definitely have a lot of experience on the founders side.

What is difficult

From a founder’s perspective, Ley Valentin set out to solve several problems with the Maersk Explore program.

“One of them is really, really simple: it’s so hard to find the right path in a big organization,” she says.

“Getting a hotspot as a startup is very tricky. Because companies are so big, even if you have a very specific solution, it’s not obvious which business unit to approach or how to get in touch with the right person.

Even if you find the right person, it is not obvious that they will give you the time to present your solution. And if you get a commitment, the next headache begins.

“If you’ve managed to find the right people to contact, you often have meetings with over 100 business stakeholders – which, at least in my experience, is not unusual – and you need to navigate between these stakeholders.”

On top of that, she says, startup founders need to keep in mind that business processes evolve at a glacial pace compared to venture capital-backed startups.

Finally, there’s also the legal sourcing process, “which can also be quite overwhelming the first few times you try it as a startup. You might be in a rush, you might feel overwhelmed, you might not have the legal resources to absorb it,” she says.

Boot Comments

Other at-risk customer unit managers Sifted spoke to were pretty blunt about the most important KPI for their programs: business impact.

Ley Valentin, while also focusing on finance, has another measure that she takes very seriously: “I am extremely concerned about what startups think of us as a risky customer.

“Our reputation at Explore reflects on our team and vice versa. And sure, we’ll make mistakes, and the startups will make mistakes, and the joint team will make mistakes, but the startup community is small and everyone talks, and a bad case can easily spread.

Having lived as a founder, Ley Valentin brought to Maersk the idea that managing expectations and communicating with startups is key. “There are a lot of things that, just because of the fundamental cultural differences between startups and businesses, can be viewed completely differently on both sides. And […] I, in all modesty, have seen both sides of the table for several years now.

here to help

Concretely, Ley Valentin and his team try to be as open as possible with startups.

“We can do all the branding we want, but the experience happens in the proof of concepts that we run together. When we run one, we make sure the startup understands their competition and that there might be challenges ‘other startups in the POC phase. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes there is internal competition,’” she says.

In this case, the Explore team helps both the startup and internal teams communicate what they’re working on transparently so everyone is in the know. “I don’t think anyone has bad intentions, but sometimes things are not very clear, so I think full transparency on everything is key here. Even if it’s not as simple as it seems .

One of the challenges is the perceived power imbalance between a large company and a small startup. “That’s where my team needs to have the ability to support the startup and be their advocate within the organization. I think in general the startup probably needs a bit more support than corporate on this particular aspect, and that’s a very important part of our role,” she says.

“We need to be respectful and understand the position where the startup is coming from, help understand if it has a critical observation, and then make sure it’s analyzed and presented in the right way.” When something goes wrong, it often turns out that there was just a misunderstanding that needed to be clarified rather than a deeper issue, she adds.

How to define success

With Ley Valentin’s focus on the startup experience, the startup’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) is at the top of the KPI list.

“Are we bringing value? And is the startup satisfied with the collaboration? – In addition to the more numerical KPIs, these are two critical questions that Ley Valentin believes are essential to the Maersk Explore program.

Another more left-leaning measure of success is that the team doesn’t look at the number of POCs resulting in a signed contract. “It would be obvious to say that if a supplier contract is signed after the proof of concept and we become a customer of the startup then that is a success, right? And while that is certainly one of the results that we are looking for, of course, we don’t do it as a major KPI,” says Ley Valentin.

The reason is that his team puts learning before numbers. “We are not saying that we will do X POC and that we will have to sign a number of them because it will generate bad motivation in the team.

“Now we’re talking on our side, aren’t we?” Of course, the startup probably would have liked the contract. But maybe there are good reasons why we shouldn’t after all, and then it’s important for us as a group, i.e. the larger company, to understand ok, what have we tried? Why wasn’t that a good idea? Didn’t we think that was the best idea ever?

“And now, can we apply those learnings in the future in our decarbonization journey, for example? So it’s important that we do the autopsy of all those POCs. And then the value of the business comes with the learning from what we have done.

Move on

Ley Valentin tells Sifted that the idea is that most projects will result in contracts with the startups they work with. From the start of the program, his team tries to prepare startups for the last step in this process: procurement.

This was the case of Notilo Plus, a French startup that produces drones for underwater inspections, and gnani.ai, an Indian startup that builds an AI-based customer service tool.

“The way we’re trying to improve that experience for the startup is that we have a pretty simple contractual framework for the POC, which is about eight to ten pages, which is nothing for a company our size,” says Ly Valentine. This contract includes some of the key terms which are then carried over into the final supply contract, which is more extensive.

His team also plays a decidedly more psychological role in the process. “We mentally prepare both parties for this during the POC, by actually talking about it. We also engage with our procurement and legal team on all POCs before they are completed so they know what is coming. »

Even though the companies Explore works with are normally more mature, Ley Valentin says this preparation is crucial to making the process as smooth as possible. “Just to expect it to be a lot more comprehensive than what they saw signing the POC, and to give them a chance to find legal assistance if they don’t have it in-house to the extent necessary “, she says.

Alejandro Tauber is a freelance tech and business writer based in Amsterdam. He tweets from @AlejandroTauber

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