SiSense is one the newest big data analytics companies you might have heard about recently. Over the past few weeks, the company, a Microsoft BizSpark startup, was elected Top 10 Big Data Startup by CIO Magazine, Top App To Try by Inc. Magazine and was selected Top Innovative Company by the Under The Radar Conference.
Their product, Prism, is now in production in 49 countries. Customers like Target, Merck and ESPN use the company’s business analytics stack to find actionable insights in the sea of Big Data.
SiSense revenue grew by 520% last year, and the company recently concluded a $10M financing round led by Battery Venture, one of Silicon Valley’s hottest Venture Capital firms. The company officially launched in October last year so, I caught up with Bruno Aziza, the company’s marketing chief, to find out how his company made all that happen in less than a year.
Bruno Aziza, VP -- Marketing, SiSense
1. You’ve received a fair amount of attention recently for growing so fast and being funded. What advice can you offer bootstrapped entrepreneurs who are really trying to achieve scale quickly, so that they can begin to fuel their startups with revenue?
It’s true – we been fortunate to be covered multiple times by some of the best in the world, from Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, GigaOM, Inc, CIO Magazine and many others.
Growing a startup is not easy and I’ve found that startup memes these days take entrepreneurs attention away from what matters most when running a business. Call me traditional, but entrepreneurs should focus on one thing and one thing only: customers. They should make sure they understand who their customers really are, what solution truly solves their problem and what exact value customers put on “removing” whatever pain they are suffering. Getting funding should not be perceived as a goal in itself, it is a milestone that is reached to accelerate your ability to execute on your mission.
I often tell entrepreneurs “funding shouldn’t be your goal. It’s an activity. Your job is finding customers who are willing to pay you to solve their problems”.
2. Funding obviously wasn’t the goal for building the company, but what did you tell investors about the way you were growing that seemed to make sense to them and convince them of building that relationship?
There is no secret here. We have disruptive technology and a game-changing approach. That’s what explains why we have so many customers and grew by 520% this past year.
We play in a field - the Big Data Analytics space - that hasn’t seen a lot of innovation for decades; most vendors have legacy technology that prevents them from serving customers in the most effective way. So, when investors see that you have the product, the team and world-class execution, the discussion is much more interesting for the entrepreneur and the investor. It’s a win-win.
The key to success is building a strong product and show that you have the ability to meet mass demand quickly. Anyone that meets our team, interacts with our product can tell that we are built on very solid ground and that our engineering is generations ahead of what’s available today. Investors like to see this. To tell you everything, I had investors who flew just to come meet us at our events and offer to be part of our round. When this kind of attention occurs, you know you are doing something right.
So, my advice is pretty straightforward. It has 3 key points:
1) Focus on building a strong product that solves a big problem. The challenge of our times is not that we can’t build products. It is that we can build anything! As a consequence, too many people end up building products that solve no-one’s problems.
2) Go Big or Go Home. Don’t just build something that’s a little better than what’s available. Your approach needs to be at least 10 times better than what’s available. ‘A little better’ doesn’t cut it.
3) “Vive La Difference”. Embrace your difference. Challenge conventions. And don’t just talk about it – prove it. When we showcased our 10x10x10 challenge, most people thought that our performance was impossible to attain. When they saw the solution, hundreds of prospects rushed to find out how we did it – which earned us the right to explain and get their business.
3. What challenges developed as a result of getting funding – in terms of operational challenges, or business challenges as you grew in size – and how did the team tackle them?
Our company culture is to drive faster and faster, always. Funding didn’t create challenges for us. It created opportunities to amplify our vision. We are expanding quickly, in all departments and have to hire fast. One of the biggest challenges any startup has though, is to “hire right”. This is very important. As team grows, you have to be ready to not just hire more because you need more bodies. You need to be careful in hiring people that truly fit your culture. This is not easy to accomplish.
As a result of our notoriety, we have been crumbling under resumes. People from all types of background have knocked at our door. We feel very fortunate that so many brilliant people want to be part of our incredible adventure. However, I advise every entrepreneur to make sure they and their team have a clear understanding of their company values and mode of operations.
So, don’t feel pressure to bring in more people because your hiring plan says so. Hire right. Do whatever it takes to bring in the right talent. Even if it takes months. It will only be fair to your company. And it will be fair to whomever you hire.
4. At what point in the growth of the company did you find you had to change something fast? What was it and how did you do that?
We constantly have to adapt fast. Sometimes we need to adapt to new industry opportunities, sometimes its internal changes. The key here isn’t really a tactic – it’s more a “how your team works together” type of answer.
One of the most important changes we made was about 9 months ago when we deployed world-class sales and marketing systems. Our business was accelerating and we upgraded our sales practices and systems. This required major attention because, as my CEO often says, we needed to build for “galactic scale”, not just for the next phase. The key to our success here has been the fact that our team works, without second thoughts, without territorial attitudes or hidden agendas.
Hard to believe but some startups still deal with politics, at a very early stage. You can’t afford to do that. Doing a startup is about working with people you love, people you can trust, just like your family.
A friend of mine used to joke: “there is no “I” in team”. That’s true. But if you look hard enough, there is a “ME” in there. You’ve got to start with yourself. Trust your team unconditionally. Believe in the mission and the company. Drive as hard as you can, visualize the best scenario you can imagine and crush it!