FintechTO Roundup: Swapping Unicorns for Cockroaches and Being Happy About It

While listening to Vahid Mirjalili, co-founder and COO of Owl speak at yesterday’s FintechTO event, I thought, “It would’ve been way easier to sell software to, like, Alexander the Great or Napoleon.” 

A little context’s required. 

Hello? Hi? ‘Scuse Me? Do You Have Any Power? Finding the Decision Maker in a Corporate Maze

Mirjalili, who runs a KYC company, was speaking to the audience of tech enthusiasts, founders, and entrepreneurs about the importance of knowing your customer. Not for AML purposes, but for sales purposes. People familiar with buyer personas or account-based marketing (ABM) tactics understand the benefits of identifying the right person.

But what if you’re selling to enterprises?

Anyone who’s tried to get anything done within a corporate environment can speak to the agonizing experiencing of finding the real decision-maker, so good luck to the outsiders trying to sell to them. Mirjalili, who correctly calculated that addressing “KYC” from a sales perspective rather than a compliance perspective would land better, provided guidance for navigating a corporate maze.

According to Mirjalili, it’s about identifying the sponsor and then building a relationship with your champion.

How do you know who the sponsor is?

It’s not an easy task given the various stakeholders, the overlapping remits, and the overall inaccessibility of people who actually hold any power. Mirjalili says you can tell you’ve got the right person if they’re solving a problem big enough to require an external vendor (small improvements are usually tackled internally).

Another good sign they’re the sponsor? They have exactly zero time to speak to you. 

Cue the champion. 

The champion is someone trusted by the sponsor, who has access to them, and who has likely been tasked with sourcing solutions. The champion’s job is defined by talking to all kinds of problem-solvers and presenting the most compelling answer. 

Once a company understands this, they can spend less time chasing the “un-chase-able” and more time building a relationship with the power behind the throne. 

Which brings us back to Alexander the Great and Napoleon. I don’t know what need Macedon or the French Empire would’ve had for a cloud-based expense tracker or e-commerce platform. But if they did need one, there’s nothing like a big shiny throne to tell you who calls the shots, vague org charts be damned.

And if I wanted to get to Alexander the Great or Napoleon, you better believe I would’ve made a few BD calls to my champions, Olympia and Talleyrand. 

“You’re Asking a Former Uber Guy About Profitability”: Properly Walks The Walk on Authenticity

Earlier in the night, co-founder and COO of Properly, Sheldon McCormick, talked about building trust with your customers. When you occupy a field characterized by commissions and closing cost horror stories, it’s hard to get people to warm up to you.

Properly understands this firsthand. To prove this, McCormick shared negative comments the company received on Facebook. When asked how Properly would build trust with its customers, McCormick referenced the company’s “starts from within” approach. They hire employees who value customers, conduct all-hands meetings where customer needs are discussed, and everyone within the company talks to customers regularly. 

Perhaps the best moment of the talk was when an audience member asked about Properly’s future prospects, citing the struggles of a similar company. While McCormick had an optimistic answer, he prefaced it with my favourite line of the night. I’ll have to wait for the video for the actual quote, but it was something along the lines of “First off, you’re asking a former Uber guy about profitability”.

Keeping it real is definitely one way to build trust.  

Kudos To Whoever Came Up With The Name: Knowtions Talks Innovation Battle Scars

Christina Cai, co-founder and COO of Knowtions, spent her chat talking about the battle scars of running innovation projects for large enterprises. 

Her big takeaways?

Understand who your stakeholders are, whose P&L you belong to, whose KPIs you affect, and where you can present the most value. 

If you don’t know whose P&L you affect, you’ll encounter resistance and struggle to find the source of it.

If you don’t know whose KPIs you affect, you’ll be talking to people with little incentive to listen.

Finally, Cai recommends understanding where you can make the most impact. When you’re energetic and innovative, it’s easy to fall for your own press. In the process, entrepreneurs forget that many enterprises have been chugging along with existing processes for quite some time. The key to making an impact is finding that 5 percent of the company where you can provide 10x value. 

From Unicorns to Cockroaches: Disrupting Buzzwords During a Fireside Chat with Wave’s Kirk Simpson

Wave co-founder and CEO, Kirk Simpson, joined TechTO co-founder Alex Norman for a fireside chat. Wave’s recent acquisition by H&R Block presented ample opportunity for reflection. Running a startup included both highs and lows, and by lows we don’t just mean having a difficult week. Simpson discussed laying off employees, being weeks away from insolvency, and even questioning the company’s product at one point.

While he definitely thinks there’s a fine line between “never giving up” and “putting a second mortgage on your house”, Simpson encouraged entrepreneurs to focus on surviving another day, another week, another month when the going gets tough. In his case, sticking it out led to a successful $537 million exit

This “I refuse to die” attitude prompted Norman to compare Simpson and his company to cockroaches, marking perhaps the only time in history the word “cockroach” has been used as a compliment.

Norman was unfazed. As he put it, unicorns can die, but cockroaches stay kicking through it all.

Fair enough. Fair. Enough.

Featured image via Unsplash

 

Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

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Featured image via Pexels