A conversation with Charles Foley, Talon Storage
Charles Foley, senior vice president at Talon Storage, is a seasoned high-tech executive with experience in enterprise computing, storage and storage networking, and software. A board member for both public and private companies, Charles has experience building and growing dynamic, fast-moving teams in the high-tech industry including fundraising and liquidity, strategic development, and positioning for long-term success. Charles took time to speak with Software Business Growth about how software companies can do more with less, making difficult resource allocation decisions, and more.
Q: What advice do you have for software companies that want to do more with less in creative ways to stretch budgets and resources?
Foley: There are many ways to do more with less but you have to search for and be willing to use them. One great resource is interns which can be recruited from local colleges, universities, and tech schools. They are low-cost, flexible, and you can have them do “grunt work” that will allow your most precious resources to do truly high-impact work.
Developing a network of partners that can bring sales/marketing/support resource to the table in exchange for margin points is another option. One of the largest and most difficult costs to define for a young software company is prospect acquisition, leveraging a network of partners with existing footprint and customers can cut that cost while speeding time-to-customer. You can provide marketing messages/content which they then distribute to customers within your reach, effectively cutting your cost of the whole spectrum in half.
Finally, not enough young companies spend time creating alliances with key players in the industry. This doesn’t mean they sell your product or you sell theirs. It means the key executives have asked the question, “If we win, who else wins?” Determine natural allies in the industry and approach them about joint messaging, marketing, etc. You may find you triple your reach into the market (and their customer base) with minimal incremental expense. Investing the time to form an alliance with companies such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, or Oracle can have significant side benefits such as low cost/no cost software licenses, cloud computing services, etc. that you would need anyway. Spending time to become a formal partner can save many companies significant OPEX in that way.
Q: Can you give an example of a time you had to make a tough decision about resource allocation, what you weighed, and the end result?
Foley: Young companies are always making trade-offs about resource allocation; it’s a fact of the business. The key is to maintain focus on “what do we really need in ‘x’ timeframe” when making these decisions and avoid being biased based upon short-term thinking and “heritage bias.”
For example, many senior execs that came up through engineering have a difficult time allocating value to a marketing initiative; the thought process becomes, “It’s $20k to do that show, but that’s one-third of an offshore developer we need to get the product out.” That may be 100 percent valid, but those that understand the science of pipeline building know that without making marketing investments things will be pretty tough a few quarters out. And this works both ways — I’ve seen many a senior executive with sales/marketing heritage fail to appreciate what it takes to get a quality product out and adopt a “just squeeze this feature in” attitude.
Recently, one of the companies on whose Board of Directors I sit was faced with the age-old tactical/strategic trade-off. They needed a resource to revamp their image/branding/lead-gen as well as a resource to get the next release of the product out on time. But there was only funding for one resource.
The exec team worked through what the short-term damage would be of delaying the new release (customers that needed/wanted it, projects that required it, sales relying upon it) versus the damage of delaying a badly needed injection into the company’s image and pipeline efforts. They came to the conclusion the short-term damage was identifiable and manageable (although painful), but the long-term damage of continued neglect to the pipeline could be fatal. All agreed — including the engineering/operations executive — that feeding the long-term picture was the right choice.
Q: Growth-mode software companies are faced with an avalanche of customer feedback and new feature development requests. How do you prioritize what is most important?
Foley: Remember: One sub, three torpedoes, and lots of stuff to blow up. This means you have to prioritize wisely. In order to do that, you need a PROCESS. I can’t tell you how many software companies eschew “process” with bubble-era quips such as, “We’re not big enough for process” or, “We move too fast for antiquated processes.” The fact is if you don’t have a process to capture, define, prioritize, and manage requests, you’ll flounder forever. It’s one of the key reasons that more that 70 percent of software startups don’t make it.
Define your process, and put someone in charge of it — and that better be an executive, not a lower-level manager. This is key to your company. Your process should make sure that in order to get out of the starting gate a request must have the following details:
Only when you have all that information (and if it’s not important enough to capture/document that information, it’s not that important) can you and the team review the workload required (engineering), the priority in light of other requests (marketing/sales), and then put it on the roadmap.