Benefits of managing an enterprise project client unit as a startup founder

Prior to joining Maersk to establish her investment client unit in April 2022, Camilla Ley Valentin for more than a decade ran a SaaS startup called Queue-It, which developed a virtual waiting room service to control increases in app and website traffic.

Unlike some of her colleagues in corporate project customer, This gave her a unique perspective on the needs of startups looking to run Proof of Concept (POC) projects with large companies — at least how to improve the founders’ experience.

She said she was motivated to join Maersk Explore – back at the company where she started her career in the 1990s – because she wanted to make the biggest impact possible.

“I was thinking about the most important contribution someone could make, and I thought, ‘If we don’t fix the climate, the rest of the goals we have as a planet don’t really matter,'” she told Sifted. As one of the world The dirtiest industries and shipping Fit the bill.

When she joined, Maersk had a small unit proving concept projects with startups, but with the blessing of senior management, and under the direction of Ley Valentin, it was expanded into an official, global projects client unit. It is now trying to improve the experience founders have when working with companies – and it sometimes is He blamed it on moving at a snail’s pace Compared to small and smart startups.

Her team looks at startups that have gone past Series A — seed and group 1 startups are usually invested directly through Maersk’s CVC arm — and that could help solve a pressing issue facing the company in the near term, across every business unit.

Founder’s Perspective

As a founder, Ley Valentin says she has often dealt with large companies without a legitimate client unit — “that’s no easy feat,” she says. “It is very important to have these multinational clients, it means the world to the small company you started, and vice versa. But connecting these two worlds is not easy.”

I have experienced first-hand the difficulties that budding entrepreneurs face when dealing with multinational companies.

“I have experienced this firsthand as a founder at a SaaS startup that has very large institutional clients in many countries. Most of Queue-It’s client base is large e-commerce businesses in the US. So I definitely have a lot of experience on the founder’s side.”

what’s hard

From the founder’s point of view, Ley Valentin set out to solve many problems with Maersk Explore.

“One of them is really, really simple: It’s very difficult to find the right path to a large organization,” she says.

“Getting an access point as a startup is very difficult. Because companies are so large, even if you have a very specific solution, it is not clear what business unit to deal with or how to contact the right individual.”

Even if you find the right person, it is not clear that they will give you the time of day to present your solution. And if you get a reaction, the next headache will start.

“If you can find the right people to contact, you often get into meetings with more than 100 stakeholders from the company — which, at least in my view, is not unusual — and you need to navigate those stakeholders.”

Furthermore, she says, startup founders need to keep in mind that operations in companies are moving at an icy pace compared to venture-backed startups.

Finally, there’s also the legal buying process, “which can be very confusing the first times you try this as a startup. You may be pressured, you may feel overwhelmed, and you may not have the legal resources to accommodate it,” she says.

Startup notes

Sifted’s other project client unit managers have spoken that they have been very vocal about the most important KPI for their programs: business impact.

While Ley Valentin also focuses on finances, she has another metric she takes seriously: “I’m very concerned about what startups think of us as a legitimate client.

“Our reputation as Explore reflects on our team and vice versa. Of course we will make mistakes, startups will make mistakes, and the joint team will make mistakes, but the startup community is small and everyone talks, and one bad case can easily spread.”

After Ley Valentin lived as founder, he introduced Maersk to the idea that managing expectations and communicating with startups is critical. “There are many things – just because of the fundamental cultural differences between startups and companies – that can be visualized very differently from both sides. And […] I have, in all humility, seen both sides of the table for several years now.”

here to help

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

“We can do all the branding we want, but the experience happens in proof of concepts that we run together. When we run one, we make sure the startup understands its competition and that there may be other startups in the POC stage. This doesn’t happen often, But sometimes there is an internal competition.

In this case, the Explore team helps both the budding and in-house teams communicate what they’re working on in a transparent way so everyone is in the know. “I think no one has bad intentions, but sometimes things are not very clear, so I think complete transparency in everything is the key here. Although it is not as easy as it seems.”

One challenge is the perceived power imbalance between a large company versus a small startup. “This is where my team needs to be able to support the startup and be its advocate in the organization. I think the startup, in general, probably needs a little more support than the company in this particular segment. This is a very important part of our role” .

“We need to be respectful and understand the situation the startup is coming from, help understand if it has a critical note, and then make sure it is analyzed and presented in the right way.” She adds that when something goes wrong, it often turns out that there is just a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up rather than some deeper issue.

How do you define success?

With Ley Valentin focusing on startup experience, Net Promoter Score (NPS) ranks high on the list of KPIs.

“Do we deliver value? And is the startup happy with this collaboration?” — Aside from the numerical KPIs, these are two important questions that Ley Valentin says are key to the Maersk Explore programme.

Another measure of success on the left is that the team does not look at the number of POS that led to a contract being signed.. “It would be clear that if the vendor contract is signed after the proof of concept and we become a startup customer, that works, right? And although this It’s definitely one of the outcomes that we’re striving for, of course, we don’t actually do that as a key KPI,” says Ley Valentin.

The reason is that her team puts learning before numbers. “We don’t say, ‘We will do X POC and need to sign a certain number, because that will generate the wrong motivation in the team.

“Now, we’re talking on our side, right? Of course, the startup would probably like the contract. But maybe there are good reasons not to do it after all, and then it’s important for us as a group, the bigger company, to understand very well, what We tried? Why wasn’t this a good idea? Didn’t we think it was the best idea ever?

“Now can we apply these lessons to our journey, for example, decarbonisation? So it is important that we do a postmortem autopsy on all of these POCs. Then the value of the company comes with learning what we did.”

moving forward

Ley Valentin tells Sifted that the idea is that most projects will lead to contracts with the startups they work with. Since the beginning of the program, her team has been trying to prepare startups for the last step in this process: procurement.

Such was the case for Notilo Plus, a French startup that produces drones for underwater inspections, and, an Indian startup that is building an AI-powered customer service tool.

“The way we try to improve this startup experience is that we have a fairly straightforward framework for a POC contract, which is eight to ten pages, which is not something for a company of our size,” says Ley Valentin. This contract includes some key terms which are then carried over into the final purchase contract, which is more comprehensive.

Her 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’s coming.”

Although the companies Explore works with are usually more mature, Ley Valentin says this setup is needed to make the process as seamless as possible. “Just to set an expectation that it would be a lot more comprehensive than what they saw them sign off on a POC, and give them a chance to find legal help if they don’t have it at home to the extent necessary,” she says.

Alejandro Tauber is a freelance business and technical writer based in Amsterdam. Tweet from Tweet embed

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