Selling into the enterprise: How Slack and other startups get it wrong – TechCrunch

You have to make a million decisions when it comes to timing the launch, how to position your company in the market, who to hire, and when to raise additional capital. One of the most crucial timing decisions you might make is when to approach the enterprise. You might be missing a huge opportunity if you don't start to think about it now.
This was something I witnessed again and again when I worked with many startup CEOs at Greylock Partners. For early-stage teams, it can be daunting to approach the enterprise. Many founders wouldn't agree with me if I suggested it. It is uncomfortable, perhaps even counterintuitive. The common refrain was "We are not ready." It was too soon. We wanted to optimize our product first.

My experience shows that the reverse is true. Startups are constantly looking for ways to increase your learning. You will gain more knowledge the earlier you begin. Your go-to market is no different.

I'm here to tell you that it is possible to be both product-centric and to win over the enterprise.

A brief history lesson

Take Slack as an example. Slack was a darling of startups in the Valley and elsewhere. It has grown to be a must-have technology for many teams. Slack is a huge success, even by most people's standards. Yet, the company didn't survive independent public ownership. Why? Because it could not break into the company on its own schedule.

I'm here to tell you that it is possible to be both product-centric and to win over the enterprise.

Slack saw hypergrowth among startups but was beaten by Microsoft Teams in big deals. Microsoft used its enterprise credibility and deep distribution channels to stop Slack signing large companies that needed to operate within existing protocols and infrastructure. Although the user experience for teams might not be as stellar, it was able to meet enterprises where they were at the time and follow their buying rules.

What was the result? Salesforce bought Slack for $27.2 billion 12 year after its founding.

Slacks' acquisition, the largest Salesforces has ever seen, is not a bad result. Many startups wish for such an exit. However, it is unlikely that the company sought one due to its popularity and darling status. It was a catch up move to make Salesforce's weight work for them to compete with Teams.

It begs the question: Would it have survived as a public corporation if Slack hadn't sold into the company sooner?

Slack championed the bottom-up approach to growth. As a portfolio company CEO and as a founder of a startup, I have some tips to help you avoid common pitfalls.

You should start sooner than you think.

Today's most successful businesses engaged with enterprise customers long before they had products. This is done to gain intelligence about customers and how they would value their product. Startups may gain valuable information that can help them plan their future and make it easier to get their product ready for enterprise.