“Every company has a challenge to raise money” – ZeroDB’s MacLane Wilkison on long sales processes

By Oliver Griffin August 16, 2016

Big Data may just be the least buzziest of all buzz-words in existence. Yet even with that hindrance, Big Data security startup ZeroDB can definitely be considered ‘cool’.

This is because ZeroDB’s end-to-end encryption service is seriously impressive. While it’s never good to gush over any one business, ZeroDB makes it difficult not to. Even Mother Board, the tech incarnation of notoriously cynical Vice media, says so.

ZeroDB Hadoop lets customers perform secure key rotation for encrypted data in seconds, rather than hours. It also removes latency bottlenecks between Hadoop clusters and the key management service (KMS), greatly minimizes encryption overhead, and provides cryptographically enforced access controls.

The sum of these benefits is that enterprises are able to move their Hadoop clusters to the cloud, all the while keeping encryption keys on-premise.

But while ZeroDB may be famous for a product that has got top banks salivating, the company’s handling of long sales processes is equally impressive.

“Every company starting out has a challenge to raise money,” explains ZeroDB co-founder MacLane Wilkison. “We were the same as pretty much every startup in that respect – we had to figure out how to get these businesses to buy into our vision.”

The challenge perhaps unique to ZeroDB and similar startups, is that their clientele take a long time to finalise sales cycles and therefore, to pay.

Large banks, which deal with regulatory compliance and multi-jurisdiction legislation, and other financial institutions, have to vet and check every process they implement. This is especially true for changes to institutional security, which could affect hundreds of thousands of customers.

“When you are a startup that has a head count in the single digits, and you’re dealing with a large bank that could 100,000’s of employees potentially, navigating that organizational structure can be hard,” Wilkison explains. “Especially trying to find the right person to have that first discussion with, that’s one challenge, certainly.”

Overcoming a long sales cycle

A long sales cycle, quite rightly, is a terrifying prospect for startups. With 90 per cent of startups ending in failure, many entrepreneurs would do well to avoid unnecessary delays in payment from clients. At a time when cashflow may be tight, a sales cycle of nine to 18 months is an inconvenience at best. However, there are ways to overcome this challenge.

“If you can get non-binding commitments – letters of intent – from potential customers early on, then that’s helpful in having that person or organization as a reference,” Wilkison says. “You can use them to go to other large enterprises and provide them with a contact to call. It puts you in a better position to tackle that long sales cycle.”

Other things that can help, Wilkison says – if the product allows for it – is build traction by selling to smaller companies and/or developers.

“You need a product that can also be useful to smaller companies or individual developers, not just large enterprises,” he says. “It’s a lot faster to sell to them and you can get a lot more traction early on. That obviously alleviates the cash flow issue, it helps you survive and it makes sure you’re better enforced to take on that sales cycle.”

But has he enjoyed it? “I definitely have, it’s been a pretty amazing challenge. The nice thing about startups, perhaps the most enjoyable part, is being able to surround yourself with people that are extremely talented.

“That’s part of the benefit of being in a startup – working on a very hard technical problem, you can attract people that have pretty unique and incredible skill sets. It’s great spending time, working with them.”


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