A year ago I returned from maternity leave with my second daughter, right in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. After months of homeschooling my older daughter while nursing an infant, I was actually looking forward to going back to work and doing what I loved.
My role at Aleph is focused on building business development opportunities for our portfolio companies. I was excited to continue hosting business delegations from abroad and organizing innovation sessions. But I quickly realized that almost everything I had been doing before my maternity leave — before the pandemic hit — was suddenly irrelevant.
Not only that, our portfolio had grown to over 50 startups and, as many of them were struggling to adapt to the new reality, they needed our support more than ever.
Covid forced us to change our business development strategy — and we were surprised by the magnitude of the positive outcome.
In the past year, we have assisted our portfolio companies with over 200 business introductions, more than 40% of which have already converted to advanced partnership discussions, POCs and commercial contracts. It’s now clear that processes that were initiated due to Covid constraints became major force multipliers, and will remain such going forward, long after Covid.
Here’s what we did — and plan to keep on doing:
Outbound state of mind
Looking back, our approach to sales enablement and business development had relied primarily on inbound interest from multinational corporations (MNCs). Most of the time, these corporations initiated contact with Aleph to meet Israeli startups and learn about the latest Israeli innovations.
While our actual interactions with the MNCs often resulted in online activities, such as our Virtual Briefing Sessions, the promise of a future visit to Israel and the opportunity to experience firsthand the vibrant Israeli Startup-Scaleup Nation significantly increased the motivation for these engagements. But no one was going anywhere anymore, or at least for a while.
In addition, pre-Covid, global corporations had more bandwidth for long-term value initiatives aimed at helping a specific business unit or even the entire company take a leap forward. But once the pandemic hit, with decreased capacity across the board, focus changed to only addressing the most pressing business needs.
We were at a crossroads. We needed to find a way to create interest in Israeli startups without the expected promise of a visit to Israel, while also trying to figure out how to provide accurate and immediate value to our friends at MNCs.
Over the past year, we have switched 80% of our activities with global corporations to a pinpointed outbound approach, guided by the principle of matching the business needs of our portfolio companies with the current needs of our MNC network.
Outbound at Scale: Presenting Aleph Connect
Providing value at scale has always been our goal at Aleph.
For our bizdev team, this means presenting our portfolio companies to all relevant business partners from our global network, while creating minimum noise for everyone involved.
In the past, we would regularly receive emails from portfolio employees asking whether we have contacts at a certain company they were targeting as business partners. Anodot, for example, would send us a spreadsheet with a list of their target customers and we would use Ampliphy, the platform we developed, to leverage the Aleph network and generate business opportunities for them.
At any given time, we could receive dozens of requests like these which we would need to manually query using our proprietary software. Although the process often generated successful results, it was flawed. The results of our queries were static and only true for that given moment in time. Relevant companies that were not specified would not appear. Plus, portfolio employees often felt uncomfortable reaching out multiple times. This was not an efficient way or scalable way to work with our expanding portfolio.
We wanted to provide our companies with the ability to browse our network independently, while being exposed only to relevant (and non-confidential) data. So Sagiv Malihi, our Engineer in Residence, built Aleph Connect, a new product on our Ampliphy platform.
Aleph Connect is an exclusive tool that creates visibility into our extensive network and lets Aleph portfolio personnel independently submit introduction requests to potential customers and business partners.
We review all requests and handle them on a case-by-case basis to decide whether an intro can indeed be facilitated, but the exploration is frictionless and executed directly by the companies.
The Coralogix sales team, for example, uses Aleph Connect weekly to search and request introductions for R&D leaders at various scaleups, which has already resulted in three signed contracts and three POCs (as of this writing).
Our portfolio companies no longer hesitate before asking us whether we have a connection at a certain company; they can simply check on their own. We no longer have to speculate as to the companies that can provide them with the highest value. Aleph Connect is the tool that helps us understand where we should focus our outbound efforts.
We can finally reach the scale we have been dreaming of: in Q4 2020 we handled 80 business introduction requests, while in Q1 2021 this number more than doubled to 157 requests. We are summarizing Q2 2021 with 215 requests.
After we scaled the top of the funnel — the initial requests from the portfolio — how do we scale the decision-making of which introductions to facilitate, and why?
We never do cold reach outs; instead, we invest time in talking to our partners at MNCs to understand their current struggles and carefully analyze market dynamics to ensure our outreach is precise. Rather than being focused on pitching products or hard sells, we are guided by our desire to provide genuine value and strengthen our global relationships.
Top priority in solving this challenge was cracking the way we evaluate our relationships — what we call modeling. How do we decide if it’s a good idea to reach out to a contact of ours and suggest a certain business introduction? How do we measure the strength of our relationship with any given contact to determine if the outreach is appropriate and will be well received?
To answer this question we need to accurately capture and analyze all of our contacts’ past interactions with Aleph and with our network (e.g. other portfolio companies). Have we ever managed to provide real value to this person? What are the indicators, if any, that we are fresh in their minds? Have they recently opened our newsletter or engaged with us on social media? Will the request be perceived as asking for a favor, or as offering a real value proposition to them? We are constantly aware that creating noise is disrespectful and damages relationships, and we strive to avoid this.
Once we model all interactions with every single person in our network, managing these relationships becomes possible. We log all professional email correspondence and track the people who open our newsletter, taking into account if someone did not respond to an email we sent. We also model the existing customers, business partners and investors of our portfolio companies. Once we have all this data, we can start to understand the strength and quality of each relationship and make more informed decisions on whether an introduction can (and should) be made.
There are many psychological nuances here: if we asked for a favor that ended up being a success, should we leverage that and re-engage this person, or should we wait and not exploit the relationship? If we managed to provide value recently, can we now ask them for help? When does that goodwill expire? We are meticulous with our outreach, to the extent that we may even decline introduction requests from our portfolio if they do not match the nuances of the relationship or are out of context.
Relationship building is a long-term investment and we are focused on making decisions and connections that will provide the most value in the long run. Our iteration process will not end anytime soon, but feeding everything we do into Ampliphy, which learns from these interactions, creates an opportunity to improve the value-to-noise ratio for all.
When I came back from maternity leave in the midst of the Covid pandemic, I was mentally prepared for a challenging time. In practice, the past year was the most fertile in the history of our team.
With Ampliphy, we facilitated 13 partnership introductions for Empathy while the company was still in stealth, generating ongoing conversations about six-digit contracts. anecdotes’ extensive usage of Aleph Connect generated 50% of their early-adopters pipeline, even at the peak of the pandemic when attention to new product offerings was scarce.
Out of a total of 200 business introductions we facilitated this year, nearly 80 are still in play or already resulted in signed commercial contracts.
Aleph Connect turned out not only to be very efficient but, more importantly, immanently strategic to our ability to support our portfolio companies, and hopefully in the future the entire ecosystem. Though we are eagerly looking forward to meeting our partners around the world again face to face, it’s now clear that our outbound approach will remain an integral part of our work long after the pandemic is over.
Thank you Revital Hacham for contributing to the development of Aleph Connect