Fund/Build/Scale: Breaking in to Enterprise Sales (Transcript)

Here is the transcript (edited for space and clarity) of the conversation between Fund/Build/Scale podcast host Walter Thompson, Maria Latushkin, GVP of Technology and Engineering at Albertsons, and Jack Berkowitz, Chief Data Officer at Securiti.

Maria Latushkin  00:04

If you hit it right, the rewards are plentiful. You get to innovate, you get to figure out the roadmap together. There’s a lot of goodness in this. But you have to put in a lot of energy as an enterprise in order to make sure as you see it through. And so there will always be a very limited number of early stage startups that we would feel we can afford to engage with.

Walter Thompson  00:27

That’s Maria Latushkin, GVP of Technology and Engineering at Albertsons, the second-largest grocery chain in America. I interviewed her and Jack Berkowitz, Chief Data Officer at Securiti, to get an insider’s perspective on how enterprise-level customers buy software and services from early-stage AI startups. The most surprising thing I learned came early in the chat: spinning up a pilot program or a partnership with a startup creates tangible risks for enterprise customers, which means they can only afford to work with a few of them at a time.

Jack Berkowitz  00:57

Because at the end of the day, we only had so much energy. And so we would balance between established companies, and three startups maybe an actual execution. Maybe we were having discussions with others, it was probably two or three at any one time.

Walter Thompson  01:14

Maria and Jack each have experience working inside early stage startups., but their time working as C-level execs at public companies gives them a unique perspective on breaking into enterprise sales. In this episode, we’ll talk about sales strategies, navigating the procurement process, how to run a proof of concept or pilot program and other essential topics. I’m Walter Thompson. This is Fund/Build/Scale. More after this.

Walter Thompson  01:47

Fund/Build/Scale is sponsored by Mayfield, the early-stage venture capital firm that takes a people-first approach to helping founders build iconic companies. The podcast is also sponsored by Securiti, pioneer of the data command center, a centralized platform that enables the safe use of data and Gen AI.

Walter Thompson  02:12

If you could just both say, Jack starting with you, approximately how many vendors do you work with each year that are early-stage startups?

Jack Berkowitz  02:20

It’s a great question. Um, you know, in my last role where we were really encouraging startups to come because we were interested in the latest things in AI and ML, even then we were sort of limited, we probably only had three at any one time coming through the system. Because at the end of the day, we only had so much energy. And so we would balance between established companies and three startups, maybe an actual execution, maybe we’re having discussions with others, but it’s probably two or three at any one time.

Maria Latushkin  03:00

Same here. And the reason being is, whether you are like right now I work for a public company, real large public company, but even when I wasn’t working for a large public company, there’s a lot of responsibility you take on as a buyer, and you want to make sure that you do that well. So there’s a lot of energy, as Jack says, that needs to be put in, in shepherding a very early-stage company, there’s the rewards, if you hit it, right, the rewards are plentiful, you get to innovate, you get to figure out the roadmap together, there’s a lot of goodness in this. But you have to put in a lot of energy as an enterprise in order to make sure that you see it through. And so there would always be a very limited number of startups that early stage startups that we would feel we can afford to engage with.

Walter Thompson  03:53

I mean, it sounds kind of like a partnership, not just a customer-client relationship.

Maria Latushkin  03:58

It truly is. It truly is.

Jack Berkowitz  04:03

I’m sorry. Well, I was just gonna say it’s a two way partnership in a sens  because the startup wants to fail fast. And unfortunately for the executive for the team, failing fast on the enterprise side is probably not the best outcome.

Walter Thompson  04:23

How often are you someone’s first customer?

Maria Latushkin  04:28

Not in the company I’m at right now. Previously, we have been first customers, small companies I was at. And there’s a lot that goes into ensuring that you are safe, first customer and some of the things that you really have to think about and that would be important for the startup to be able to have answers to is how much risk do they introduce. For the person, depending on what it is that they’re developing for the person that is a buyer or the person that is piloting, how easy or difficult is it to integrate with the company, because the more you have to put in upfront, knowing that you’re the first customer, and it’s really more of an unknown situation, you want to make this a smaller decision for the person that is partnering with you. And so, the looser the integration, the less kind of upstart effort it requires, the better the company that being able to demonstrate that the risk is going to be mitigated, there isn’t ever a zero risk, but like to the extent that you can look under the covers, and see how they would help you mitigate the risk, that would be the important parts for us to consider,

Jack Berkowitz  05:52

Yeah, my last role, it was at a Fortune 250 company. We were never the first customer, never; it just wouldn’t hit our profile to be able to even deal with our procurement group and the insurance and the financing needed. What I would say, though, is when I was in smaller companies, five, six hundred-person companies, then yeah, we were happy to be the first customer because we had flexibility to be able to do it as well. And, you know, the notion for me buying at, or partnering at the Fortune 250 company is, “we’ll tell you what, who do you have already?” So if you got 10 or 15, then I’m comfortable, right? So 10 or 15, mid, mid-sized enterprises, before you go to, you know, one of the biggest companies in the world.

Maria Latushkin  06:45

It’s my advice, having been in small startups, my advice to startups would be not to target these really, really large companies, because the amount of overhead a companies that are large, established companies will present this startup out of necessity, not on purpose, but they have to do certain things. And they have to be able to guarantee certain things for their executive team for the shareholders may become too much overhead and may not actually be good at the end of it good for the company. So maybe taking careful who you want to target as your first customers or first pilot is actually really important. Yeah, when the company is quote unquote, smaller, you buy all of the needs that it would have.

Jack Berkowitz  07:33

Yeah, I was just thinking exactly the same thing, Maria. The killer whale hunting, you don’t want the whale to pull you under?

Maria Latushkin  07:41

Yeah. Yeah.

Walter Thompson  07:43

That’s a great analogy. I mean, yeah, that’s a great analogy, because everybody wants to land the whale. I’m getting all this Moby Dick imagery in my head, certainly. So what are some of the consequences? It sounds like you’re saying, you know, an enterprise customer can literally make or break your business, so what does it look like when things go bad? What are some of the consequences for you as a client, as a customer? If things don’t go well, if this partnership isn’t paying off, doesn’t bear fruit? What are you worried about going wrong?

Maria Latushkin  08:13

There’s a multitude of things. I mean, I’m not gonna go into the doomsday scenario, but I’ll just, you know, even on the surface some of the things would be — I mentioned risk, right? Depending on the type of the solution, depending on the partnership, managing risk is an important thing, is that something that can be introduced? Whether that’s vulnerabilities or it’s some other risks to your company that you have to think about? That’s one. Another one is the company’s solvency. If you have a business case, and presumably you were counting on something as a company that this partner will deliver in the case that they are not, what happens to that function, what happens to that need that you have as a customer? That is another thing that we always think about scale. If your pilot goes well, and then you’re trying to scale it to your whole operation, is that something that is going to work? Will they be able to scale with you both in terms of, you know, traffic volume, all of that, as well as maybe geographical needs, like other elements that scale introduces with it? Will they be able to continue to be a partner, or you will your crush them with your needs, like that’s also something that is very important, both for the company because the company doesn’t want to be crushed, and for the buyer, because the buyer also wants to make sure that that, you know, we’re able to deliver with a solution that we’re recommending,

Jack Berkowitz  09:50

And that can come into play, even if it’s a successful pilot. So you run a pilot, you run a POC, and you’re ready to go and suddenly, as a buyer, you’re having to fund the company? Or find people to fund the company. And so it really is a dance as you move forward to make sure that the company is stable and able to grow with the big enterprise. And we had that recently where, you know, thankfully, we were able to help one company get some additional funding. But, you know, in this environment right now, it was an interesting set of discussions, if you can imagine.

Walter Thompson  10:30

But there must have been some clear benefit for you at the other end, if you’re willing to extend yourself that far, I’m imagining,

Jack Berkowitz  10:35

Yeah, yeah, this system worked better than anything that we had seen and fit into our architectural approach. So it was worth it, for us to extend and stretch further than we normally would. Because of the benefit on the other side, for sure.

Walter Thompson  10:55

Jack, in our pre-interview, you said something that stuck in my head, I asked you when is it too early to talk to an enterprise customer? And you said, you know, well, you know, we can be brutal, as far as, you know, data and compliance in our systems and volumes. But you tempered that by saying, “you can talk to us, but don’t sell to us.” So what does that look like — someone’s trying to figure out how to talk to you, how to sell to you, but they’re not ready to do that yet? How do you want to experience customer discovery from your side of the desk?

Jack Berkowitz  11:21

So I’ve been thinking a little bit about this, you know, at the end of the day, my role level and Maria’s level work selling right now. I mean, we’re, that’s part of our job is to sell, right. But we don’t sell by going in and giving a 20-page PowerPoint pitch, we’re pushing and pushing and pushing, we’re selling through influence, selling through the ideas being there. So the conversation is really about the ideas. It’s much more important to us as a big enterprise dealing with a startup, what’s your long term vision? What do you actually see — I don’t care about your vision for making money or the fact that you’re gonna go work remotely, that doesn’t matter to me. But where do you see the technology space evolving? How do you see things evolving? Where are you going to play if things change in a different way? So really, I’m looking for that same discussion I might have with one of my peers, with my boss, with somebody in the business that I happen to be in, or in the technology business technology area that I’m in that conversation, that helps me understand the product. But if you come in with a list of features, and why you’re better than some other company, and then what you don’t do, I didn’t know you didn’t do that. And I don’t even know that other company. It’s more about for me, understanding where you’re headed and how you fit into, you know, a technology landscape that’s changing rapidly. I mean, today’s technology landscape didn’t even exist 12 months ago. And so that’s what I’m really interested in.

Maria Latushkin  12:59

To add to that, I would also say I love what you said, as in terms of the influence. And really this whole selling process being a conversation. As buyers, we understand that you if you talk to a startup we understand it doesn’t it’s not as bulletproof, as in a large enterprise that comes it’s given, we don’t expect that — we do expect vision, we do expect somebody to be innovative and knowing where the industry is going, where they’re going. And that would be something that we would benefit from. The other thing is my advice to startups would be to learn the customer. Unfortunately, too often I get into a discussion and with one or two questions, I understand that they don’t really understand our business, don’t know our business, and can’t solve — or they’re not even close enough to solving the business problems we may have. And that to me feels like the ones that did bother, they stand apart from the ones that actually learn the business. So try to learn the business to the extent that they can, like did their homework, did their research, and are trying to be relevant to us in that conversation. That’s important.

Walter Thompson  14:12

That’s weird, going in totally cold. Doesn’t make sense to me. But maybe it’s a volume game. They’re just kind of trying to hit so many of the people. Maybe they don’t bother to prepare, I don’t know.

Jack Berkowitz  14:21

I think the thing is, particularly the ones that have raised money from venture capitalists, and I, I’ve raised over $100 million as part of management teams myself, you get so wrapped up into the venture capital world, thinking that they’re they’re your buyer, and they’re your customer. And to be frank, they’re not. They’re bankers. Some of them might have actually worked in a company, but a lot of them haven’t. You know, and I literally just hung up from a VC — of course they’re getting information and trying to build things, but your customers are the technologists.To impress the table at your customers, and so you really need to understand who they are, and what’s motivating them. And what the company does way more important than the PC world.

Walter Thompson  15:11

So, domain expertise, it sounds like we’re kind of, you’re kind of dancing around that word, but perhaps  that’s kind of the middle of this, as far as if you’re going to, if you’re going to tell me you’re going to solve my problem, you need to have some understanding, some frame of context for my problem, and like, the causes and so forth. So how does someone get it? Am I wrong about that? That’s a question, I suppose? Or am I making an assumption here? How much domain expertise do I need to sell to you?

Jack Berkowitz  15:37

You know, my last firm, we did a lot with moving data and moving payments, and things like that. And so, for us, you know, coming in and talking about you know, streaming information on public internet is probably not the thing we were interested in, we’re moving systems into bankings capability. So understanding that at a time is important. 

Maria Latushkin  16:06

It’s always, in my opinion, it’s always better to have a successful first client, successful first implementation versus maybe the biggest one, right? And so picking the first one, or the first couple is really important. If I had to do it, I would go and I would try to find out where my chances of success maximized, and having domain expertise, being able to speak with from the point of like, confidence and authority to some degree about the problems that you’re solving for the customer, does put some, you know, winning points for you in in that discussion, in that partnership in that division and gives credibility. So I would work hard on trying to understand what my connections are, how can I get that domain expertise before I show up to that buyer?

Jack Berkowitz  17:00

You hit it, right? It’s about connections. It’s about networking to go find that information. So, you know, find businesses around the company, find businesses that have sold to the company, find people inside the company that can, you know, “hey, I’ll spend 10 minutes explaining to you what this process is, or that process is.”

Walter Thompson  17:24

Even if you’re not a buyer, there’s a stakeholder who has a problem.

Jack Berkowitz  17:28

Yeah, they’re influencing or they may not even be connected, but they just have context and are giving you context as to what you’re selling into, and what you’re about to get into. Even in that process, you may be like, “well, wait a second, why am I getting the idea that I’ve got this meeting with a C-level person, but we can’t actually help them?” You know, do everybody a favor: Don’t have the meeting, right?

Walter Thompson  17:54

I wanted to talk about creating a framework for enterprise product development for AI startups. Maria, my first question for you is, table stakes: What do enterprise customers want or need to hear before they sign with a new AI vendor in this environment?

Maria Latushkin  19:17

AI is especially interesting, I would say that everything that I mentioned before in terms of the ability to scale, the security compliance, all of the areas of “how will we not get in trouble?” apply. In addition to which, I will try to understand I will pay special attention as a buyer and I will pay special attention as the person that could start up it is in trying to articulate what is it that AI does and being able to show to the buyer the risk that it’s done responsibly and the best practices are in place. And that it’s, again, it’s a little hard to answer because AI is a broad term, and depending what it is they do approach I would have would be different. But if I had to like really, really up level it, it’s ensuring that responsible AI practices are in place would have been my number-one concern, as well as security.

Jack Berkowitz  20:23

And you probably don’t need to be the one who invents it all, you know, talking about how you can take advantage either of things in the company’s environment, or you’ve got partnerships with companies that build data governance, or data security, or whatever it happens to be, because you’re adding the specific things. Now, if you happen to be in a data governance product, that’s a different story. But, you know, do the pieces that make sense for you, and clear about the borders for you. The other thing is, one of the big areas that is concerned right now is intellectual property rights, even of the models, right? So OpenAI works great. Gemini works great. All these other things work great, but what are the intellectual property rights of your company? And how do those relate, that would be an important thing  to be understood.

Maria Latushkin  21:23

Add to that, and data as well, in general, all of the data governance, the ownership of the data origination of the data, especially as data gets transformed, between the companies, they, if there is any data sharing, or data creation, between the enterprise and the startup.

Jack Berkowitz  21:41

Remember, the procurement teams are going to be separate from the technical buyer or the business buyer. And in fact, most companies keep it separate. So don’t ask the business buyer, what the prices [are], don’t agree, because your current team is gonna have a different story, they will actually have a structured set of requirements that you’re going to need to meet, or you’re going to need to at least discuss with them, whether it’s liability insurance, if you have people coming on site, or you know, all those other things that are involved in risk management. And it’s best to get a relationship with their procurement team early, you can ask for it, you can ask the business buyer or the technical buyer, “can you introduce me to procurement upfront, even in the first meeting, because everybody knows that’s going to take time?” And I would suggest you do that, because that’s the checklist.

Walter Thompson  22:34

What does that process look like for both of you? I know it can vary, because we’re talking in most cases, with regard to AI startups, this is brand new, or emerging technology in some ways. So how do you kick the tires, and what does that process look like from the inside?

Jack Berkowitz  22:49

For me, we always will assign an individual responsible to shepherd and take the steps necessary for that company to come in. Sometimes there’ll be two people, one person on technical integration, and one more on technology and business evaluation. Sometimes those would be different folks. But there is always one person who’s going to have to be responsible for overseeing it otherwise, you know, in a big company, particularly, you might have 10, 15 people involved, and it will get focused as it moves forward.

Maria Latushkin  23:26

Same principle with the one person for the same reasons. There’s always this double if somebody takes the lead, but there’s always the second person to them. So sometimes maybe there would be a business lead. And there would be the technical lead, who is the second person, but they’re lockstep or vice versa? Maybe it’s a technical solution, but then you really, really ensure that from the finance perspective, the finance leader or business lead, depending on the situation, is there. And then they are the parties that have veto rights of sorts, right? You make sure that from a legal perspective, they check all the boxes from a security perspectivel m,. So there’s, there’s this one stream that’s pushing it through shepherding it, and the other ones that get involved to make sure that there’s kind of no harm will be done, right. So from the legal security and other depending on the situation, other areas.

Jack Berkowitz  24:22

And those groups to startups may seem that they’re trying to block things, but they’re not. Everybody’s in there to move their company forward. But they’re doing their job. And I think getting warm relationships with them as you go is only a great experience because those organizations are never going away as you continue to grow.

Walter Thompson  24:46

So ballpark it for me: how likely is it that a pilot is going to turn into a long-term contract, just you know, generally speaking,

Jack Berkowitz  24:52

In my experience, it’s about 50-50, about half the time the pilots will move forward. Recently, we just had an example over the past year where we did a pilot with one company, it was very successful. But what we found out was, we weren’t ready for them. And unfortunately for them, a second company showed up that we were better positioned to be able to handle. So that company hadn’t been in the pilot, but we never even needed to do a pilot with the second company. You know, the first company  objected, “well, how can you do that if you didn’t do a pilot?” It’s like, “well, we kind of did, it was as much learning on our side, about how we need to organize and what we needed to do.” And it’s unfortunate, but, you know, that was the case.

Maria Latushkin  25:37

The really important part for startups to keep in mind is that the pilot on the buyer side is not to prove our technology, it’s to provide the business model. And most of the time, on the buyer side, they actually are expecting technology to work. There might be a pre-pilot or POC or something you do on the side, etc. But by the time you get to pilot, that’s where, especially for large companies, they expect the technology to work. And it’s for them to provide the business model to prove that it’s the pilot for that company, to see if they can roll it up. To rephrase your question, if the company gets to that stage of the pilot when the technology works, and it’s a question of the business model, and it’s a question of the user experience, or whatever else needs to happen, then I would also say it’s about 50-50. Sometimes another company shows up with a better business model, or some other circumstances change. But at that point, if it did go through pilot and pilot proved to be working well, I’d say it’s probably 50-50. It’s difficult to get to pilot, I would say that out of the number of companies that we talk to, the number of companies that actually that make it to pilot, that’s the smaller number, because very often, you see that there is not a fit, or the tech is not ready, or something else you’re able to see quickly enough before getting into the pilot.,

Jack Berkowitz  27:09

And then as we were talking earlier, the opportunity cost to take something to a pilot, it’s just, you can only handle so much as a throughput in a company at any one time. Even if it’s the biggest company, it doesn’t have infinite resources and attention and everything else. And those people are doing other jobs all at the same time. And so, you know, it limits the number of companies that can get to a true pilot. A POC is not a pilot, a project is not a pilot, a pilot is, “hey, we’re going to instrument the United States, or we’re going to instrument California,” you know, massive places. Scale.

Walter Thompson  27:51

So for runway-minded founders who are looking at their bank balance — I know there’s no single path for this, but how long between getting a yes, to go into a pilot program, to them getting some money out of the back end, realizing revenue from that pilot?

Jack Berkowitz  28:09

In my experience, we don’t really want to have pilots run that long. And so, you know, you might only see a pilot run 90 days, and if they can’t prove what it’s doing in 60 to 90 days, then we’ve got an issue. In fact, you know, well-run pilots will have almost weekly cadence. And so you know, within a few days, if it’s working, you know, it’s important to have your, your sort of first land contracts backed in parallel. In fact, a lot of procurement agencies and groups won’t allow the pilot to start without having that backend agreed. I think startups should realize that land and expand is probably going to be a better way for any company also. So if the pilot has the scope of California, but the company does business around the world, they expect that the first project is going to be California, right? Because it’s easy to just roll in. And then you know, you’ll get later contracts as it goes.

Maria Latushkin  29:18

I agree with everything. And to add to this, I would always ask to the extent you can in the beginning, what the budgeting cycles are like, what does it take in a company to get further steps because I’ve seen being in a startup, I’ve seen sometimes is that you get to verify the pilot, but it doesn’t mean that this is the time for the contract. And it might be that elapsed time when we think about runway elapsed time between pilots. A pilot can be verified within 90 days, but then there might be elapsed time to the contract may be much longer. And it will depend on a variety of factors, and every company will have its own variety of factors. So for a startup working with the company for the first time, I would find that out not to be then put in a situation where I would be really anxious.

Walter Thompson  30:10

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks. The engineers I’ve talked to — just a few so far, but it seems that many of them really don’t like coding new features for a single client. But that’s something that seems probably likely to come up during a pilot program. Maria, is that a consideration for you? And how often would you be likely to ask for something like a special feature that you knew that would benefit you, but not necessarily their entire platform?

Maria Latushkin  30:33

I try not to do that. I try to explain sometimes they would not. Sometimes they are early enough, where they have not necessarily gone through my cohort of clients, clients like me, and I would [say], “you actually should do this, because there will be more clients like me.” I would, unless this is something so specific for our business, that is without which we can’t do it. The whole idea of partnering with somebody is not to have something really esoteric that can ever be upgraded, that’s done specifically for you. It’s to actually create a platform that would be general purpose enough. That’s like, full of best practices versus something that’s very bespoke and esoteric. Of course, there are cases when we actually your business requires it to be something different. But otherwise, I wouldn’t do it.

Jack Berkowitz  31:33

I think Maria, right. Would you agree? I not only wouldn’t do it, I want them to have other clients. I want them to grow their business, we need them to be successful. We need them to grow to hundreds of clients and, and everything else. We don’t want to be the only customer because it just creates a bad situation.

Walter Thompson  31:56

Codependency is not a good thing. 

Jack Berkowitz  31:59

You know, I think it gets into the thing also, like, are you willing to take a call on behalf of a startup? Well, if it proves to be successful, and everything’s going well, yeah, because your best salesperson is going to be, you know, your early customers and you want them to have other clients, you want them to meet other clients, too. Right? You want that group of customers to be really supportive of you. Because it’s in the best interest of the customer.

Walter Thompson  32:35

So in a pilot, in a scenario like this, what are some of the most common ways where founders are their own worst enemy, where they’re sabotaging their own work or the likelihood of success without realizing it? Have you seen people doing this without realizing?

Jack Berkowitz  32:51

Well, the biggest one to me is the dive bomb, or the helicopter founder. You know, the founder who either a has the initial meeting, and then you know, it’s too important for them to go do other things than to be with you every day or, you know, checking in on the board, dive bombing, where the, you know, the the project teams meet, you know, 30 days in or 45 days in, and then the founder shows up and tells everybody that they’re doing things wrong. I think if the executive team and technical team is on a project, and they’re meeting every week, then the founders, particularly early-stage, should be in those meetings. I’ve seen this sort of helicopter or dive bomb, I don’t know what the right word is. I’ve seen it too many times over the past few years, particularly with the AI startups, to be honest with you.

Maria Latushkin  33:53

To add to this, I would also say that founders don’t listen to their customers. They missed them, they missed the opportunity, they missed the mark. And there’s always something you learn from potential customers, current customers just being good listeners. And that would be my advice to founders. So many times, over the course of my career, I would do meetings, but somebody said, “oh, the other ones showed, more promise but this one really understood my needs, and the needs of our business,” … and that would be the company that got the business. And the reverse of it is true as well. Companies that were the farm especially when it’s you know, founders are so important and founders set the tone for the company in the beginning of its journey. If they don’t listen, if they’re not in tune with the actual needs, it’s okay to say no, but it has to be an educated no, it has to be a no that comes after listening. I would say that that’s really really important as well.

Jack Berkowitz  34:58

Yeah, and you can hear the language, to follow up with Maria said, you can sometimes hear the language of a professional product manager or professional founder who says things like, “well, our customers think this. And quite frankly, you know, our customers are telling us this.” And you’re sitting across the table like, “well, I’m the customer. I’m not saying that — I’m saying something different.” And there’s a couple of big Valley FAANG companies where there’s this vocabulary that comes out of them. I don’t know where it’s come from. But it’s really bad.

Walter Thompson  35:36

I’ve literally heard product managers say things like, “customers don’t really know what they want.” So yeah, there’s a certain hubris there. My last question about pilot programs: success fee agreements, what are they, and how do they work in a pilot program to help everyone come out ahead at the end? Do either of you use them in your practice? 

Jack Berkowitz  36:03

Yeah, I’ve used them quite a bit. And so what we’ll do is, is it’s really on the later stage contracts, right, the later stage of things. And what they are, is essentially agreeing to a business objective, or a commitment to a date. And so you know, something like 75% of the money will be under a normal contract, and then there’ll be a bonus. If you hit certain joint objectives now, that means that the company — the customer — also has to be responsible for seeing through their commitments. But if that’s the case, then you can accelerate through some additional monies.

Walter Thompson  36:43

Maria, is that advice you’ve used in these contracts?

Maria Latushkin  36:44

Yeah, it’s something very similar. We’re also ensure that we talked in the beginning of what happens to the data that we exchange in artifacts, etc. In the case, in both cases, actually, whether we continue on on.

Walter Thompson  37:00

Thanks very much to both of you for the time today. I really appreciate it. It’s been a great conversation.

Maria Latushkin  37:04

Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Jack Berkowitz  37:06

Thank you.

Walter Thompson  37:08

Thanks very much to my guests, Maria Lashutkin and Jack Berkowitz. For my next episode, I spoke to Laura Bisesto, global head of policy and privacy at Nextdoor. We talked about the regulatory landscape facing AI startups in 2024, and how small companies should start the work of developing their own ethical frameworks. We got into how startups can recognize when they need legal help, recapped some data governance best practices, and also talked about why it’s so important to create a buttoned-down process for rolling out new AI features. If you’ve listened this far, I hope you got something out of the conversation. Subscribe to Fund/Build/Scale so you’ll automatically get future episodes, and consider leaving a review. For now, you can find the FBS newsletter on Substack. The show theme was written and performed by Michael Tritter and Carlos Chairez. Michael also edited the podcast and provided additional music. Thanks very much for listening.

Fund/Build/Scale: Tapping into the AI Developer Community (Transcript)

Here is the transcript of the conversation between Fund/Build/Scale podcast host Walter Thompson and Ozzy Johnson, Director of Solutions Engineering at NVIDIA:

Ozzy Johnson: Some things we’ve talked about a bit earlier is how you don’t necessarily need to be a fully technical founder. You don’t need to have that background because AI is enabling so much in the way of, again, anyone who can solve problems. Anyone who can think in a structured way can be to some degree, a developer.

Walter Thompson: That’s Ozzy Johnson, Director of Solutions Engineering at NVIDIA. In his role, he’s a bridge between the company’s internal product teams and its global developer community. The team he leads also offers technical guidance to NVIDIA’s Inception program for startups. 

We talked over Zoom about where early-stage AI founders need the most help and how people from academic and research backgrounds more easily shift to an entrepreneurial mindset. And we also spent some time exploring strategies for nurturing a successful AI developer community. He also shared some thoughts about balancing initial spending, with the need to drive early growth, and which trait successful AI founders have in common. (Spoiler: they aren’t all developers.)

Welcome back to Fund/Build/Scale. I’m Walter Thompson. I am talking today with Ozzy Johnson. He’s Director of Solutions Engineering at NVIDIA. Ozzy, thanks for being here. 

Ozzy Johnson: Thank you. Glad to be here. Looking forward to it. 

Walter Thompson: Based on what you’re seeing: developers who are trying to turn themselves into early-stage AI founders, where does that cohort need the most help initially?

Ozzy Johnson: The thing I think about most there is really a notion called fundamentals. I see when a lot of people are founding, they get really, really determined, really focused on a vision, or maybe a particular clever idea that they miss out on these fundamental habits that are required to get there — how to really execute how to create a valuable, saleable, differentiated product. 

And a bunch of that is, in a way, is not exactly the fun part. It’s not the visionary work, it’s just sort of showing up. And in doing what can sometimes feel like mundane iteration day after day to get gradually better, that’s actually going to get you to that goal to to realize that vision. 

Walter Thompson: Do you meet many founders who are not developers? I mean, it’s one thing to contribute to a project, but transforming that into a profitable business is something else entirely. So how hard is it to make that transition? And how do you see people making that shift in mindset?

Ozzy Johnson: Yeah, yeah. So I do, I do definitely see founders, who are not developers, you know, the very typical classic founding duo, CTO, CEO, CEO may not be a developer, sometimes they are. I think, though, in modern times, this is increasingly rare. You know, code generation has made development extremely accessible. And it’s really a matter of just having structured thinking and problem-solving more than knowing a specific language or framework. Really, the transition from taking a project to a product can be quite hard, but I don’t think it has to be. 

I think the fundamental difference there is that when you’re defining a project, you’re essentially finding your own criteria for success. It’s like, what do you want to do? What is your vision, whereas a product success is absolutely and ultimately determined by the market. So those are a bunch of factors and things that you can’t control the chapter, observe the chapter, listen to and adapt. 

Walter Thompson: So, from your perspective, you’re saying you don’t need a deep bench of AI machine learning talent on board to put together an idea and approach an investor?

Ozzy Johnson: No, I don’t, I don’t think you do. But you do need to build something, right? I tie back to what I was saying earlier about good ideas, that you’re not likely to be particularly popular if you’ve got the idea. and you’re looking for folks to realize that the world is full of good ideas. The multiplier that really makes something successful is the execution. 

So at the very least, you know, with these enabling technologies, you know, go out there, prototype it, build it, demonstrate what it is, and then, you know, use that to recruit the folks that can refine it, they can scale it, they can extend it. I don’t think there’s, there’s much of any reason in 2024, for not being able to rapidly get to that prototype, you know, that’s not necessarily going to be your saleable, you know, scaled production product. But, you know, you should be able to build something.

Walter Thompson: Most of the founders I’ve come across so far since starting this project are coming out of academia and research, which means they don’t have a lot of fluency with bizdev, and sales and marketing, or building a brand. But VCs tend to say the best storyteller on the founding team is the de facto salesperson. What’s your perspective on this?

Ozzy Johnson: I actually really strongly agree with the spirit there, right? I think that having a story is absolutely essential, and being able to tell that story really concisely, in a way that resonates with, frankly, different audiences and people is essential. You need to be able to tell that story, both to folks who are potentially going to invest in you, you need to be able to tell it to your customers, and depending on who your customers are, you might need to be able to tell it to line of business leaders, an executive, an engineer, you know, a practitioner, an end user. 

So you have to be able to just be really dynamic. For that reason, I think the person who can really weave and refine that story doesn’t necessarily have to be the one who goes around telling it. And ultimately, with all of this landing, whether that’s landing your funding, landing your customers, is something that involves a lot more than just creating or just telling the story. So kind of overall, that story is absolutely necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

Walter Thompson: Which leads into my next question: if you don’t have that skill set on the team, where do you start looking? I mean, you can always look on LinkedIn to find somebody who has experience with enterprise sales. But that seems like a really general approach.

Ozzy Johnson: Let’s sort of take that in two parts, right? Where to find people initially, yeah, it absolutely could be a developer community. But I would kind of warn against going and treating that like, you know, a direct recruitment effort or job postings, unless, of course, you know, it’s a community that kind of welcomes that sort of thing. There are places that do monthly or weekly threads about, you know, looking for help, right, trying to, for exactly this purpose. But if you’re not dealing with that, and say, you are like a non-or less technical founder, and you’re looking to pull people in, or the other way around, go be part of a community just have conversations. 

I think it’s really a common mistake to think about. Recruiting and building a company is something that’s transactional. When you’re joining a company, when you’re creating a team, particularly a startup, you know, it’s not a transaction, it really is a collective relationship. And it’s a journey: you want to know the people that you’re going on with, you don’t want [someone] who just responded to an ad. The kind of second part of that is that there’s real discipline in, say, enterprise sales is very different from, you know, going and marketing a product that is looking to scale and be direct-to-consumer. 

That’s really a matter of timing of knowing if that is the market you’re going after, and if you’re ready to do that, you really want to try to bring in the folks that have done it before. But even in that case, again, you know, you don’t want to make a transactional, you want to try to have that conversation, start that relationship, and grow from there.

Walter Thompson: Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has emphasized how critical it is to start digging a moat early. but is there such a thing as doing that too soon? From the outside, it seems likely that a team will need to pivot at some point, or maybe not pivot, but continually iterate. So can you carve too deep a moat too soon?

Ozzy Johnson: I think it depends on the type of moat, right? Like some of it is just implicit, right? You can’t, you can’t leverage something that is built on you know, locked in or network effects until you’ve got the user base to really support that, otherwise, you’re just adding friction to growing it in the first place. So to kind of run with the notion, if you’re digging the moat before the castle was built, it’s just putting you on an island. That may not be that interesting to begin with, and this whole thought I really tie back to a bit of what we were talking about earlier with fundamentals and storytelling. If you know why you’re doing something, what sort of information went into those decisions, how you’re different, and really what you expect to happen, then you’ve really got everything that you need to know, not just to start, but to kind of, you know, feather the throttle there. 

So, yes, start digging early, and speed up, slow down, or change the route based on that new information. And that sort of loop is what I am talking about when, when I’m saying fundamentals — just sort of day after day. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? How are we different? Do we need to speed up? Do we need to slow down? Do we need to change course? If you’re doing that, I think your moat is going to be fine.

Walter Thompson: Given that we’re in the midst of this hype cycle, do you think enough people are really spending enough time with the customer discovery process? Or are they just kind of rushing so they can bring something to market because technology moves so quickly? Is that OK, or is that a problem?

Ozzy Johnson: So I think it is fundamentally a problem, if it’s something that you’re that you’re not doing. I think when things are moving fast, you do kind of have to, you know, keep your head on a swivel, right? You need those loops to be to be short, or at least short or shorter. But I do think this is something that can be missed, to literally just talk to people and understand where they’re challenged. 

One of the things that I think about a lot with this is very often the thing that is most valuable, that is most saleable to folks, the things they will buy? It’s not the things that they are not doing now that you are potentially going to introduce them to. It’s the things that they have to do that they are doing now, but they find kind of miserable, or are so important that in a way they can afford to do them well or not do them well. They can afford to, you know, do this with people in a way that’s really arduous. It’s really manual. 

And if you’re finding a problem like that, you’re solving it, you’re making it better, you have you have gold there. If you’re not talking to folks, you don’t you don’t know what they’re really, really doing. And you could be solving a problem that feels interesting and feels clever to you. But isn’t actually something that anybody is looking for or isn’t necessarily going to benefit from.

Walter Thompson: Personnel costs in an AI startup seem like they’re usually the largest expense. But R&D is pretty expensive, as you know. Investors and founders, they both want to scale quickly, but can you share some advice and how to balance initial spending while driving early growth? My sense is that a lot of founders were really happy to spend on tech, but less so on software, like you know, people, that kind of thing.

Ozzy Johnson: This is a huge topic. So I’m going to try to take just a small piece of it or a few aspects, right, but what I would prioritize is what I think is kind of most important here. So kind of the first part of this, the I would say just practice looking through or looking at costs through several lenses, I think it’s really easy to fall into a mindset, that one category of costs is good or bad, or strictly preferable to another.

For example, it definitely resonates with what you say there about a lot of attention being put on personnel costs, but a true gem of a person is going to return a huge multiple. So, right, you want those folks you want to spend on them. The second part of this is really putting your resources, whether they’re direct or indirect costs, into what I call saleable differentiation, like, really, how are you different? What can you sell, as opposed to say, plumbing or things that could be real commodities there. And that can also be really about enablement, as well, to tie it back to the first point, it’s one thing to have a gem of a person, but you might need structure around them, you need to enable them, you need the infrastructure that’s actually going to get the most out of what they’re capable of. 

And this too kind of goes back to the same big idea earlier, that it isn’t just about the idea. It’s also about the execution there. So yeah, I’d say, always just look at these things, not as buckets, but as an overall number. And what is that number turning into, in terms of value, you can sell, if you can’t tie those things into some expected value for your product for your growth in a relatively direct way you really shouldn’t be doing.

Walter Thompson: What are some of the top traits — it’s a hard question to answer I know, because there’s no checklists for who is a good AI founder. But if we were looking back at founders who you’ve come across who successfully launched their own open source projects, whether they are independent or VC-backed, what do they all have in common? Is there a common thread that connects these people?

Ozzy Johnson: I would certainly say there’s some, I don’t know if it would necessarily be specific to open-source projects, but just sort of successfully founding in general, I do think you have to have a certain amount of hubris and kind of unrealistic belief in yourself, right? Because you are doing something that is necessarily hard, you’re doing something that’s truly innovative, it’s not something that has been done before. 

So that’s almost like a bit of a baseline there to have that. Confidence, though, again, that’s one of the things that is common, and I think necessary, but it’s not enough. Because if you are going directly at some goal, not necessarily executing, it’s not enough just to be motivated. So these folks also are going to be intensely reflective, right? Because this is getting into that iterative loop that you need to succeed. And it’s also the point where you might need to pivot in terms of your product, or that you might need a different team, because the folks who can build the thing, initially are not necessarily the ones who can sustain it or accelerate it. So I’d say it’s, it is a really important balance of confidence, and reflection, and agility there, right? Those, those are probably the three things.

Walter Thompson: Given where we are in this hype cycle, are you seeing people just kind of launch interesting projects to put themselves on the map? And is that a viable strategy?

Ozzy Johnson: Say it’s viable, but it’s not really sensible, right? If something’s viable, it can work, but generally the thing that or at least the way I try to think about this, I want to do the thing that is most likely to give myself the best chance of success. So, you know, really creating a project for the purpose of getting on the map is like, what’s the goal there? Wouldn’t it be far more efficient or just more sensible to make a real product that solves a real problem? 

If you’re making a product for press or for notice — if that’s the goal that’s driving it, I just have to question whether that is really going to be representative and useful. Why not spend that time literally solving someone’s problem? And right there, you’ve potentially got your first hook for your first product. 

Walter Thompson: What is your role with NVIDIA’s Inception program? Give us a brief overview.

Ozzy Johnson: My team sits here in developer programs. Inception is one of the major parts of the dev program, essentially, it is our strategy for startups. So the way my team works with Inception is really learning from what’s out there in the market by working with startups, if there is something that many startups are trying to do, we want to learn from that. 

We want to understand, you know, what is difficult to adopt, what is really resonating with them, what’s going to help them build the next thing, because ideally, we want certainly all the most successful startups to be building on our platforms to be using our stack. And really, the best way to do that is ensure that they all are. And the way we can do that is to know what they need to have those things ready. And to support them in a way that really scales and again, provides value. So yeah, it’s a whole loop we learned and we try to then provide examples.

Walter Thompson: I’ve talked to a couple of people who are students at this point who are interested in starting up. And one of the things that they’ve come back to me and said a couple of times is that they’re looking for a place where they can see what other people are working on and share what they’re working on, but in a kind of a non-competitive environment. Is that any aspect of what you’re offering?

Ozzy Johnson: There’s certainly places for that, you know, also in our developer program is access to our community forums, there’s all sorts of discussion there. Through Inception, we do highlight the work of our members, we’re always welcoming folks who want to talk about their solutions, built with our tools, built with our products, [they] can publish those things through some of our blog platforms. And that is a really great way to do that, it gets you to a large audience. And then, of course, the folks that are consuming it are seeing how, you know, others have been successful. 

We also organize a certain number of community events as well. Generally, we might be talking about a particular technology there that is new for us that we think may be helpful, interesting, etcetera. But it’s also time for folks to just mingle, share experiences, you know, talk with folks from my team, potentially others who are in attendance. So, yeah, this is absolutely one of the things that the program facilitates.

Walter Thompson: Does this also include, I mean, just not to be mercenary, but can you facilitate connections with investors or help someone connect with a potential customer?

Ozzy Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. So both connections to investors, sort of mutual matchmaking is absolutely part of the program, we call this Inception Capital Connect. Connecting to customers is as well, but the way we really think of this is just the general category of go-to-market help. So it would be doing this through visibility, right? This is being featured in a blog, or things of that sort. It can be much more direct. But that really depends on the product, on the needs. 

And really the best thing anyone who is in the program can do for that is to really keep us informed. What are you doing? What does your product do? So that you’re on the radar, so that when we are talking with, say, you know, an enterprise company, or perhaps another startup, we’re able to say, “hey, actually, these folks over here do exactly what you need.” So let’s make that introduction.

Walter Thompson: Which leads to my next question, which is about actually landing those customers landing your first enterprise customers, it’s got to be really exciting. But it also comes with, you know, some liabilities and some opportunity costs. What are some of the downsides of working with a big company? And how can AI founders mitigate them?

Ozzy Johnson: The challenge with working with a big company is really, they’re kind of, I wouldn’t say special, but specific expectations. When you work within an enterprise or say, a consumer product. One, just the start, they tend to have a lot more stakeholders in the room, because you’re not just talking to, you know, maybe a practitioner that can work with total autonomy, you also need to convince the manager, you might need to convince a chief architect and executive, etc. 

So that is where to tie this back to what we talked about storytelling, you need to be able to tell your story to everybody, you need to be able to present your product in a way that resonates with the different wants, needs and goals have all of those folks, and you likely need to do it in a way that that will work, when they’re all in the same room together. Without making one or the other feel any more or any less important, then once you’re working with them, you know, there’s a big challenge with an enterprise, they may have feature requests, there may be things that they expect that they need. And it can be really tough to pick exactly how far you’re willing to go, to land the deal, without letting the company essentially dictate your roadmap. 

And this, I think, is a really high power skill of a good founder or a great product leader — to be able to understand that a certain amount of this information or what you’re getting from this company, may be gold, right? Because if they are in a particular space, whether it’s, you know, maybe they’re in finance, HLS or something else, very likely the things they are asking for are going to be representative of folks in that industry of that size. And it’s a great thing if you’re building to features or expectations that are then going to be saleable to the next two or three folks that fit that pattern. 

At the same time, if it’s not saleable. If you can’t scale that, then you’re sort of putting yourself potentially in a world of hurt. So yeah, I’d say those are things to really be aware of. It really is different messaging, you need to have a clear and different story than you would otherwise. And yet there’s a lot to learn, but you have to be really protective of your own resources and your own roadmap when you’re doing that.

Walter Thompson: This is a transformational moment in tech that’s really lowering barriers for people who want to build something. From your perspective, what is this opening up with regard to expanding and diversifying the developer community?

Ozzy Johnson: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And I think you’re exactly right. And that’s kind of the core point that it is lowering barriers. One of the things we’ve talked about a bit earlier, is how you don’t necessarily need to be a fully technical founder, you don’t need to have that background. Because AI is enabling so much in the way of, again, anyone who can solve problems, anyone who can think in a structured way can be to some degree, a developer. It really is democratizing access to information, generation of code, etcetera, etcetera. 

What’s really exciting, what’s really great about this, to me, is basically, if you are a subject matter expert in something — whatever background you’re coming from, whatever that expertise is — you now have this opportunity to build something, potentially just starting with a team of one by yourself. And this isn’t a thing that we really had before, you needed to have a certain kind of pedigree, you needed to speak the language of code to do this. But now, it’s really anyone who has experience, an idea and a will to do that now has an avenue to do so. 

And with the tools that are out there, you can do so really quickly, not at a huge cost. And what I think we’ll see come of that is just a huge increase in the diversity of people who are starting things who are building things, and frankly, of the solutions that are available. Some of the things that are most interesting to me to see come out of the current kind of revolution with generative applications are things that really help people who may have been previously underserved in ways that are kind of invisible, right? If you have tools that help you communicate better, help you phrase or rephrase or change your tone, or that you can self educate with, that is like truly kind of democratizing our future in a way. So, absolutely: I’m extremely optimistic and have really high hopes for what this is opening up for the future.

Walter Thompson: My final question, do you have any advice for someone who is interviewing for a job with an AI startup in 2024? If you were sitting across the desk during the interview process? What kind of questions would you ask the CEO to make sure this company was on the right track? And was something you wanted to take a bet on?

Ozzy Johnson: Yeah, that is a great question. Probably the biggest, biggest thing, asking back if it is a startup is, first I want to hear the story. Right, exactly. “What is it? Why is it? What are we doing here?” Very often, there are folks who can speak to this. And in a way that sounds good. But it’s like, “why is someone literally going to buy this product? How is it truly different? Is it better than what exists? And then as an extension of that? Where are we headed? What’s the goal?”

You know, it’s one thing if we’re saying “yes, this is how big we think we’re going to be, this is how we’re trying to exit, this is who we think is going to require us?” It’s another? If someone is saying, “well, yeah, this is my vision,” because vision is something that will necessarily change and can really only be understood by the person who has it. 

So I’d be looking for real concrete direction and goals. And, “how are we different? Where are we headed? How is this different?” Essentially, just play me the movie of how this is all going to work and where I fit into it. “What is my role in making that successful?” That’d be the core.

Walter Thompson: Ozzy, thanks very much for a great conversation. I really appreciate the time.

Ozzy Johnson: Yeah, thank you. It was wide-ranging. Interesting. You really made me think in several places. I hope somebody benefits from it.

Walter Thompson: I’m sure they will. Thanks again. Take care.

Ozzy Johnson: All right, thank you.

Walter Thompson: I’ll be right back with some show notes after a word from our sponsors. 

Thanks again to my guest, Ozzy Johnson, Director of Solutions Engineering and Nvidia. For my next episode, fundraising from both sides of the table, I interviewed Jorge Torres, CEO and co-founder of MindsDB and Vijay Reddy, AI Start investor at Mayfield. 

If you’ve listened this far, I hope you got something out of the conversation. Subscribe to Fund/Build/Scale so you’ll automatically get future episodes, and consider leaving a review. For now, you can find the Fund/Build/Scale newsletter on Substack

The show theme was written and performed by Michael Tritter and Carlos Chairez. Michael also edited the podcast and provided additional music. Thanks very much for listening.

This transcript was edited for space and clarity.

Scaling to $1M ARR and Beyond

A serial founder who’s now on his third company, Securiti President & CEO Rehan Jalil reflected on his own journey to share what he’s learned about connecting with early customers, product development, conducting ecosystem research, and establishing an initial sales motion.

“If you’re really responsive, that’s where I think things change — where you establish strong relationships and strong trust with you and your customers,” he said.

Listen now on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or read the full transcript.

The Long Haul: Enduring Strategies for Inception-Stage Founders and Investors

Dheeraj Manish Fund Build Scale final episode Season 1

Dive into a conversation with Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra and DevRev CEO Dheeraj Pandey as they unravel lessons learned from their experience founding multiple startups. This episode will uncover strategic maneuvers and tactical wisdom that can help listeners build and sustain thriving businesses in today’s dynamic market environment.

Communicating Your Vision

How do you translate a personal vision for your startup’s potential into something that’s tangible enough to attract a co-founder, an investor and, eventually, customers?

Host Walter Thompson interviewed May Habib, co-founder and CEO of Writer, and Gaurav Misra, co-founder and CEO of Captions.ai, to understand how they each approached this challenge and became better storytellers along the way. They also shared methods for finding investors who understand your space and discussed the importance of aligning vision with go-to-market strategy while still remaining adaptable in both areas.

Listen now on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or read the full transcript.

Understanding Privacy and Compliance

Host Walter Thompson interviewed Laura Bisesto, global head of policy & privacy, at Nextdoor’s offices in San Francisco to learn more about the regulatory landscape for AI startups in early 2024 and ask how small companies should start the work of developing their own ethics frameworks.

She also shared how startups can recognize when they need legal help, data governance best practices, and why it’s important to create a buttoned-down process for rolling out new AI features.

Listen now on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or read the full transcript.

Breaking in to Enterprise Sales

Host Walter Thompson interviewed Maria Latushkin, GVP, Technology & Engineering, Albertsons, and Jack Berkowitz, CDO, Securiti, to get their views about how AI startups should approach acquiring their first enterprise customers.

It’s an exciting prospect, but it also comes with risk: serving a customer at the enterprise level can literally make or break an early-stage startup. This episode offers actionable strategies and tactics about conducting customer discovery and approaching CxOs. Jack and Maria are experts on enterprise sales who’ve each bought software for Fortune 250 companies and worked inside early-stage startups.

Listen now on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or read the full transcript.

Tapping into the AI Developer Community

Host Walter Thompson spoke to Ozzy Johnson about where early-stage AI founders need the most help and how those with academic/research backgrounds can more easily shift to a more entrepreneurial mindset. They also spent time talking about the practicalities, challenges, and strategies for nurturing a successful AI developer community.

Ozzy also shared some thoughts about balancing initial spending with the need to drive early growth and which traits successful AI founders have in common. (Spoiler: they aren’t all developers.)

Listen now on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or read the full transcript.

How to Take Your AI Startup from Research to Reality

In this conversation, host Walter Thompson asked Sorcero CEO Dipanwita Das about the challenges of building in a new space and the work she and her co-founders did to turn Sorcero from an idea into a sustainable business.

The discussion covered the company’s early days, including the methodology she used for customer discovery, managing R&D, and how they developed a business model that could grow with the company.

Digging Your Moat: Customer Discovery + PLG for AI Startups

In this conversation with SambaNova CEO and co-founder Rodrigo Liang, we talked about the process of articulating a company’s value proposition, customer discovery, and AI product-led growth and its impact on enterprise go-to-market strategies. He also shared some suggestions for first-time founders — and anyone else who’s thinking about taking a job with an AI startup in 2024.

“You have to believe that there’s a moat in the technology that allows you to be able to differentiate,” he said. “Not today, but for a long, long time.”

Available for download February 24, 2024

Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or read the full transcript.