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Sapphire Ventures Pick 5: Top-line Takeaways From Our Inaugural CEO Summit

Okay, we’ll admit it: Everyone here is still buzzing over the success of our first-ever CEO Summit and our relaunch as Sapphire Ventures on October 15–16. Most importantly, we’re glad to have spent time with our portfolio companies and close friends in our network. We also got to learn a lot. A major theme for our first ever summit was strong content and subject matter expertise. To that end, we had the pleasure of hosting senior executives from companies like Tesla, Juniper Networks, Johns Hopkins University and SAP, as well as former CEOs and world class entrepreneurs.

Here are five key takeaways from the CEO Summit, which we think all startup leaders ought to know — whether your scaling today or looking to grow rapidly in the future:

1. Want to grab a “tech titan’s” attention? Empower its customers. Often times entrepreneurs and startup CEOs engage “tech titans” with partnership ideas, supported merely by product portfolio analysis. Rarely will this ever work. The successful tech companies view every technology through the lens of their customers’ needs. That’s why tech companies that focus on solving business problems or improving the experience for an enterprise’s customers will achieve more and quicker traction than companies that focus on a problem within the enterprise itself. Frame conversations in terms of how your technology enables the customer to win. Enlist example customers who will benefit — and try to include them in the pitch.

2. Don’t skip the CIO on your way to the LOBs. Discrete lines of business within enterprises have become new focal points of entry for many business development strategies at startups. However, a couple of the CIOs on our Customer Perspectives on Tech Trends panel warned against pulling an end-around, or playing an LOB against the CIO. “We CIOs and LOB heads do talk to each other…just about every day,” chided one CIO. “Plus, they still need me to implement whatever they buy.” The best way to get inside the enterprise and achieve serial renewals is to build long-term relationships with both.

3. Predictable revenue and right-sized infrastructure spell “Go IPO.”CEOs are always searching for a magic metric to tell them that their companies are ready for the next step — whether it be expansion, an acquisition or going public. However, the expert panelists in our Scaling for Success executive breakout session pointed them away from growth rate or services vs. license mix. Instead they emphasized capabilities like forecasting accuracy and predictability of revenue, and having a strong accounting and administrative infrastructure in place as more reliable indicators of IPO readiness.

4. The war for talent starts at home. As competition for top talent intensifies in the software space, companies can gain critical advantages from within their own walls first. If you plan (and are able) to grow rapidly, start by building your own recruiting function in-house, because after all, your own people understand your culture, your needs and who’ll “fit” better than any outsider. Also, be creative and analytical: compile data on your top performers and then use those data sets to identify matches from the candidate pool.

5. In going international, CEOs sweat the big stuff and the small stuff.The CEOs in our Internationalization executive breakout session swapped insights and experiences on significant strategic issues such as when to turn an unexpected “pull” from a foreign market into an organized “push”, and the pros and cons between partnerships, licensing agreements and joint ventures with foreign partners. While viewpoints diverged across the various verticals represented, the CEOs did share a common desire for more tactical help from their VCs. The wish list ranged from recommendations for local lawyers and accountants to cultural “do’s and don’ts” for various countries to temporary co-working space.