Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants
Credit where credit is due – I stole the ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ concept from one of my former consulting colleagues and she got it a few years ago from Bob, the same VC guy from New York that threw me out of his office. Standing on the shoulders of giants was Bob’s way of describing corporate social climbing; where you manage to attach your business brand to a larger more established brand. Imagine if Haystack got signed up as a pre-load App on Telstra or Vodafone for example. The preloads would be great of course but the brand association would be awesome. Finding a giant or two for Haystack has therefore been in my thoughts for while, and being thrown out of Bob’s office in Trump Tower hadn’t dented my determination to do this.
I realize in hindsight that I was almost blindly optimistic in the ability of myself and my brothers Matan and Nir to conjure up a world beating App from the many ideas and half built bits of technology we had assembled. Looking back at how little we really had after two years work compared to where we are now though, I’m almost embarrassed that we allowed ouselves the luxury of thinking about marketing at all.
For as far back as I can remember, I told anyone that would listen that building a world class App was only half the battle and it would be our marketing efforts that would be the difference between success or failure. I repeated this a lot because Nir and Matan each brought ‘wow factor’ technical ability to Haystack and I didn’t want them wondering too much about what I was bringing to the party. I researched a lot, and I networked a lot, and I worried a lot. I believed that no matter how good the App, we would need to mount a serious marketing effort to reach global scale. Deep down, I wondered if we could ever afford it. At some point, I had calculated that we would need at least $2m to guarantee half a million downloads. This figure haunted me for over a year and dominated my thinking around the amount of capital we would need to raise.
I put my estimate of $2m for download marketing on the table in one of my first conversations with Brian. I remember he just nodded. I didn’t know whether it was a good nod, a bad nod or a ‘why have I invested good money with this lunatic’ nod. From a technology perspective, Matan and Nir had accepted my projected marketing budget with big shrugs – the kind of shrugs that say – if you want to spend that kind of money on marketing – go ahead but you will have to find the cash to do it. Something that would not cost me $2m though, was my ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ strategy. First I had to find a friendly giant.
Most developers of new technology like to see themselves as outsiders and somehow removed from corporate life. But sooner or later, new technology does eventually need a bit of money and corporations are where the real money is to be found. Six months ago, it at last seemed more probable than not that we would have a real Haystack product to take to market. Our $2m download strategy would come later but first I needed a giant company to partner with and that meant engaging once again with the corporate world I had stepped out of over two years ago. I decided to approach the Australian end of a global technology company (let’s call them BigCo) where my old flatmate worked. Hopefully BigCo would partner with us in Australia to get their hands on Haystack for free. This was an opportunity for us to develop a relationship with a global brand that would give us credibility around the world – the ultimate ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ strategy!
My meetings with BigCo involved six different people, each with a different combination of the words Innovation/digital/cloud/marketing/strategy/leader somewhere in their job titles. My first meeting at BigCo didn’t go well. I flew down to Sydney for the meeting but the BigCo person I had travelled to meet had changed his plans at the last minute and had actually flown up to visit one of his customers in Brisbane. He called me by phone for our meeting. I was left to deal with the absurdity of me sitting in a BigCo reception office in North Sydney trying to talk through a demonstration of our Haystack to a BigCo exec sitting in an office back in my home town. My verbal description of Haystack didn’t go down very well and the whole thing was just an expensive waste of time. But a week later I had another crack at BigCo through another contact and this time I got some traction after a couple of follow on meetings. BigCo almost immediately started talking Big Bucks. Yes – BigCo was interested in investing in Haystack, Yes – BigCo would roll Haystack out to all their staff on the first week of launch and most amazing of all; Yes- BigCo could easily introduce us to the right guys at Telstra, Optus and Vodafone because BigCo was a big supplier to the Telco companies. It was all Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes from BigCo… queue mini euphoria at Haystack HQ.
I was doing all the chasing of course. Brian and I flew to Sydney and Melbourne to fit in with the busy diaries of busy BigCo people but thankfully they all seemed to love Haystack. We did meet the odd doubter though. One guy told us the success of Haystack seemed to depend on getting lots of people using it and that was clearly going to be very difficult (no kidding!). Each meeting seemed to move us a bit further forward but there was always just one more person to meet to get some more stakeholder ‘buy in’. After six meetings we had come full circle at BigCo and I was asked to give a ‘final product demo’ to the same guy that I had the Brisbane/Sydney phone call with. This time he was actually In Sydney when I flew to see him, but he didn’t seem any more impressed by Haystack now that he could actually see it. I should have prepared myself for the worst when I read this guy’s LinkedIn profile where he described himself as the “the nexus between the cloud and the customer “. I did my best to put on a great demo and at the end of our 90 minute meeting; Nexus Guy told me he could definitely see some potential. He then asked me to prepare yet more information and send it through to him asap and BigCo would get back to us in a day or two.
Two weeks later, I still hadn’t heard anything back from anyone at BigCo when I coincidentally sat down next to Nexus Guy in the Virgin Lounge in Sydney. I nodded a hello, but he didn’t recognise me. I realized I was grinning….. Grinning from ear to ear at the sheer relief of a decision made for me. For eight months, I had been desperately trying to hook BigCo. I had been running all over Australia to meet them and preparing document after document after each meeting. But sitting in the Virgin Lounge, I realized I was actually happy that BigCo obviously couldn’t care less about Haystack. I was free to abandon the chase without any lingering regret of a potential opportunity missed. I knew something Nexus Guy didn’t though, which was that twenty six BigCo employees had signed up to be beta testers of Haystack already! BigCo may not be interested in Haystack but some of their people clearly were – I still had to find that giant though!