While startup companies tend to foster a laid-back, jeans and t-shirt culture, snagging Fortune 500 clients means donning a suit and leaving the hacky sack at home. For cloud services marketplace and management company AppDirect, that chameleon approach has turned an apartment-based business founded in 2009 into a global team of over 120 employees. AppDirect boasts Comcast, Staples, Rackspace and Deutsche Telekom as just some of its clients, and the company was named one of America’s Most Promising Companies for 2014 by Forbes.
AppDirect’s co-founder and CEO Daniel Saks got on the phone for an exclusive interview to offer advice for entrepreneurs who want to attract enterprise clients. “We have three differentiating criteria,” Saks said.
Be a chameleon.
The first is being a culture chameleon, which means when visiting a corporate client, Saks and his team wear suits and ties and come armed with research on the company’s culture. But for everyday work in the San Francisco office, the team wears jeans. “As a global business, we can’t just be one way but understand and adapt to whoever the audience is,” he said.
While the internet has made videoconferencing easier, Saks believes that being in front of the enterprise – in person – is key to expanding beyond a startup. “I’ve been known to take a flight to Australia for 24 hours because I value in-person interaction,” Saks said. “It’s really important for a new company trying to get enterprise clients.”
Be big and bold.
The third differentiating factor is to act like a large organization and have processes, procedures and a team that is qualified to work with large companies. Interactions with Fortune 500 companies need to be on their level, so AppDirect tries to act like a Fortune 500 company.
Attracting the Fortune 500 team with 5 key values
But those three criteria are worthless without the right team, and AppDirect uses 5 key values to attract the employees that project a Fortune 500-worthy image:
- Humility. Everyone at AppDirect must be able to listen before being heard and be open to others’ ideas.
- True north. This is the alignment to AppDirect’s long-term vision, and the company looks for candidates with histories at their past companies, not those that hopscotch from gig to gig.
- Positive mental attitudes. Working with large companies can be draining, so AppDirect assesses all candidates in interviews to find out if they have that positive attitude and entrepreneurial spirit that will keep them going during tough times. Candidates get asked questions like, “What was your happiest moment?”
- Intensity. AppDirect’s team pushes for speed, perseveres and overcomes difficult roadblocks. “We can sense that from people sitting at the edge of their seats, eager to attack problems,” Saks said.
- Ownership. The fifth and final value is ownership, taking full responsibility for actions and not making excuses. That comes through in interviews when candidates talk about past experiences.
“If there was one piece of advice I’d give for someone who wants an enterprise-focused company, it’s to define a long-term vision and build a foundation to make that succeed,” Saks concluded. That means evolving and reinventing the business to keep up with the changing marketplace and to know where the company wants to be in 5 years, he said.