“How to make the most of your accelerator: the Alsid’s story”, is a fireside chat which was given at B2B Rocks, by Anne-Sybille Pradelles (Head of Operations Alsid) and Matthias Fille (Acceleration Program Director Axeleo).
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Matthias Fille: So we’re going to have a fire chat about our past experience with Alsid. And Alsid indeed has raised the biggest Series A in Europe in cybersecurity which is about 13 million Euros ($14.7M).
So I’m really honored to have a chat with Anne-Sybille because we’ve been working along with them since the beginning of 2017. Alsid was co-founded like six months earlier by Luc and Emmanuel, former CEO and CTO of Alsid. And a couple of months later, Anne-Sybille joined the adventure as Head of Operations.
Anne-Sybille, I just would like to know what is your perception from the beginning when you saw the evolution of Alsid? In the beginning, you have to do everything by yourself, you have to get your first customers and it’s important to mention that Alsid is targeting big corporate. So it’s pure enterprise software selling to CISO, Chief Information Security Officer. So what was your perception of the evolution up to now which is about 50 employees and guys abroad as well?
Anne-Sybille Pradelles: Yeah, just to begin, I’m quite sure that almost no one in this room already heard of Active Directory or whatever before. But don’t worry, we’re not here to talk about very boring cybersecurity stuff. We’re really here to talk about how to build a company from scratch with an accelerator at your side.
And to answer your question, so what has changed in three years? Obviously, a lot of things otherwise I would not have been here today to talk with you. But back then it was four people sitting around a table and now, it’s almost 50 people.
But when I look at Alsid back in 2017, I remember asking myself this question quite every day, to be honest. How do you build a cybersecurity software company when no one in the team has ever done it before? And when you have no clue what a cybersecurity vendor looks like from the inside, you tell yourself it will be quite a challenge.
What was at stake at that time and why we’ve decided to get support from Axeleo, as an accelerator, was to lay a strong foundation since the very beginning so that we will be able to scale later on with healthy and the strong basis. Because, in the beginning, you don’t have the whole set of expertise within your company and that is what brought the network of Axeleo.
And I would also want to add that when your day-to-day job is to do things you’ve never done before, it’s a kind of relief to know that you’re backed by people like Matthias Fille, who first, knows the industry, and second, know what is it to start from scratch.
So now, it’s been around three years and so far, so good. I think it would have not been possible without the kind of relationship we’ve created with Axeleo and with Matthias and how we collaborated, hand in hand, on a lot of different key topics we will discuss later on.
Relying on an accelerator to hire talents
Matthias Fille: You were mentioning that back in 2017, you were about four people, and we all know that recruiting in cybersecurity is quite a tough challenge. There are a few resources available in the market, plus you are fighting against major companies, especially in the US and Israeli, with huge resources, and big salaries as well. What was the evolution of the recruitment process to get the clever guy to make that sell, a quite clever guy to gather a brilliant team? How did you tackle that challenge?
Anne-Sybille Pradelles: To be honest, it’s a kind of a day-to-day fight. It’s not even trying to attract the best talents. It’s just to try to simply find people. And at the beginning, we were nobody in this market and we didn’t have the same level of budgets as the big vendors such as Symantec and so on. It was a huge bang and it was really difficult to get the machine started.
But how did you manage to succeed in recruiting 50 people so far and how did we leverage in our cases the help of Matthias and Axeleo? So first, we walked together on strategy about recruiting people, we tried to figure out what kinds of key functions were needed for a cybersecurity startup company.
We were thinking, at that stage, sorry, which kinds of profiles do we need senior or junior people? At first, we chose to hire junior, smart, multi-skilled people able to tackle a broad range of topics and who will be able also to put the first bricks.
And I think what was valuable here was not only the broad network of Axeleo to find people to hire but also the commitment of the startup manager and his understanding of the business. Because when later on, the first person hired in the marketing team tells you that what convinced her to join the company was the speech of your accelerator. So your pitch in simplifying them about Active Directory, you tell yourself that your accelerator is a real extended arm of your business, especially when you are a small team.
And later on, as we grew, we get more mature, we decided to hire more senior specialists and to help us scale in the second part. And again, to give you a really concrete example, the sales, and marketing director today at Alsid, were brought directly by Axeleo and doing a very good job.
Accelerating business growth and building an indirect sales strategy
Matthias Fille: So we’ve talked about HR matters and if we switch to business model design about sales, how does that evolved over the last couple of years?
Anne-Sybille Pradelles: So, our first challenge as a startup I think it was the same as every startup here in this room, it was to earn your first clients.
Being part of an accelerator was again very valuable because we are including in a lot of different cybersecurity startup events with Yogosha, for instance, to share prospects and to gain some visibility within this industry. And another example I have in mind is also the business introduction you’ve made with VINCI Energies who is today one of our clients.
So in the beginning, when we were trying to sell directly to the end-user. And later on, as we were selling more and more, we realize that, in fact, selling directly to the end-user was not market practice in this industry. Every other vendor was selling to what we call a “two-tier channel model”.
You have to sell to a distributor and a reseller who sells to the end-user. It’s not that easy to pick and you don’t find anything in books, so you have to get some insights from people who already done it before and who knows also how is it to build this model in a small structure.
In that case, we worked with Pascal, to build and to lay the first brick of this channel model. And today, we are even replicating this model in other geographical areas and I think it’s quite a success.
Matthias Fille: So now, today’s challenge is actually to duplicate that model, that channel so in few words, in Scandinavia, UK, what else do you remember?
Anne-Sybille Pradelles: Now, we are replicating this model in Europe, in the UK, in the Nordics, in Asia also, in Hong Kong, Singapore, and maybe next year in the US. But each time, of course, you have to adapt this model to local specificities. But we rely on strong foundations, and even if you have some adjustments, in the end, it remains quite the same model.
How to do marketing as a B2B cybersecurity startup
Matthias Fille: Last point we’re going to raise is about marketing. Can you tell us the perception of how marketing is important in the cybersecurity and what kind of marketing product or what were you needed back then?
Anne-Sybille Pradelles: So again, in the beginning, we were a team with no one who’ve ever done marketing stuff before. I would like to talk about how we worked on the first brick of marketing because let’s be honest, we didn’t know how to tackle this topic. We didn’t know how to start and Axeleo helped us with that. We worked together with on the creation of “use cases” and really like practical stuff, like all the sales marketing kits.
I really want to focus on the most two important topics on which we worked together. It’s first, to understand our market positioning. Because, in the beginning, you just ask yourself, “Where am I on the market?” especially when you have a very innovative tech product and you are at the crossing point of a lot of different markets. And in our case, Axeleo brought us some framework and templates to understand where to start to understand this market positioning.
And the second element, it was to work on the best speech to end-users, to adopt all messaging tools, different kinds of persona, depending on personal users, buyers, stakeholders…
And why these two topics helped us a lot is because they contributed to understanding our value proposition within this market like compared to other competitors. And at the end of the day, we were better at just selling our product.
And today, if I have to talk about new challenges, it’s about how can we do good and exciting marketing on the product which can seem at first sight a bit not sexy? But believe me, when you know when Active Directory is, it’s quite cool. Today, it’s more about how to be better than the US competitors regarding our product and how do we sell ourselves.
Matthias Fille: OK. So yeah, the final point about your challenges. It’s going to be the US next year after going to Asia?
Anne-Sybille Pradelles: Yes, we are in Asia, we are in Europe, so the next step will be the US.
But I think as a milestone we would also like to be able to sell the product without having like the whole team being involved to sell the product. We’d like to use the least amount of internal resources.
Matthias Fille: Thanks a lot for sharing your story and feedback.
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