Conferences, Community and Social Media

Had the good fortune this past week to attend one of the premier conferences in our industry (RCM09) and meet with several of the main players in our space, the asset health and reliability space, and with several customers and prospects who are looking to take the next step in their asset performance journey.  Here is a picture of our booth:

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One of the leaders in our community and the conference organizer Terry O’Hanlon is embracing social media as a content delivery, engagement and community building tool.  The conference had it’s own Twitter handle which was helpful in a couple different ways:

  1. It allowed those who were attending to talk up the event and virtually meet new people and set up meetings before even arriving at the conference
  2. It allowed people who were not able to attend to participate with the rest of the participants and hear what was going on and follow along from their office
  3. It acted as a news media source.  During the conference there were major announcements and press releases and conference updates that needed to be communicated and this was a great media to disseminate the information

As you look at how you build your community a few points and suggestions as a follow on to my previous post as you look to take the next steps.

  1. Just Do It! – Be a leader and get started today.  Control the medium, control the message, control the space.  Start distributing content that is of value and point people to where the content resides.  Become the trusted advisor for resolution to their business issues and point them to others when they have problems that you are unable to solve.
  2. You Don’t Have To Do It Alone – who are the leaders in your space and what are they doing online.  Reach out to them and work with them to set up a site, or better yet post to your site.  Talk to your customers and partners and determine how and what will add value to them and work with the ‘gurus’ of your space to deliver it.
  3. Start twittering, blogging, etc at your conferences and let people know you are there.
  4. Consolidate your online contribution and make it easy for people to find you – If you have a website that is your principle communication vehicle is your blog linked to the website and vice versa so they are easy to find?  Is your Twitter handle and link on your blog and website?  What about your business collateral?  Put it on your business card.  Put it in your email signature line.  make it easy for people to find all your contributions and thoughts on your community so that they know where to go and don’t have to search.

Remember that building a community takes time, patience, dedication and is an investment in your company, your community, your customers, your employees and your prospects.

Some math to show the reach of social media.  The Twitter conference handle generated 86 followers in a couple weeks.  Lets assume 1/3 were already using Twitter (my estimate from reviewing the list) and that means that approx 60 new people in my community were reached using social media due to the commitment and effort of one of our respected industry leaders.  Over time if those 60 users add 60 users each in the community (fairly conservative assumption) the community has grown to 3600 in fairly fast order.

Now maintaining those new community members and growing that community is dependant upon the continued flow of VALUE ADD content.  I and all of us at IVARA will do our part to contribute and lead this great community and care and feed for customers, partners, employees and prospects.  For now we have our IVARA BLOG, our IVARA TWITTER  and many webinars, etc that link through our website.

What are you doing in your space?  Are you investing in and giving to your community, if you don’t someone else will…step up and make the commitment, get started today.

Please comment on your thoughts, experiences, successes, failures so we can all grow our communities together.

Meet My New Friends

I have recently had the good fortune of having some of my posts selected and my blog linked to some sites that I enjoy and respect.

I have joined the BackBone Magazine blog team. I have been an avid reader of the magazine for quite a while. Backbone magazine was launched in January 2001, at the height of the technology bubble. They continued to publish throughout the tech meltdown and beyond, working as an active participant in the changing business world. Their primary focus has been on how technology enhances business processes, markets, profitability and productivity. Backbone magazine’s aim is to provide business people with a tangible tool to enhance the way they do business in Canada’s New Economy. I plan to contribute as a resource toward this goal for BackBone customers.

As a follower of Guy Kawasaki and his great collection of sites at AllTop I am proud to have been added to the StartUp section of the site with a huge selection of other bloggers who are absolutely top of class. Check them all out here.

At Ivara we have had a great a relationship with Barrett Rose and Lee an Executive recruiting firm that we use for many of our Sales and Services positions. They offer several online resources to their clients and have been kind enough to add my site as a linked resource for their customers, something I don’t take lightly.

If I can ever be of assistance to any of my friends and followers please feel free to reach out at any time and please check out the sites and resources of my new friends.

Lawyers, Accountants, Recruiters Oh My!

Although many people I have met, talked to and worked with feel the need for lawyers, accountants, headhunters, bankers, etc are a necessary evil NOTHING could be further from the truth!
As a startup or small business it is critical that as the CFO you establish a strong partnership with these key stakeholders in your business. Spend time with them and build a relationship. Let them in, let them know your vision and get them to buy in. The better they know you, your company, your risk profile the better they can support and be an asset to you.
Do not just view these folks as the “hired help”. They have key relationships, lots of experience and can be fantastic resources to bounce ideas off of and even help open doors.
My other suggestion (which is true of all relationships you build) is be prepared to give twice as much as you receive. It is very likely that the social and professional network you operate in is a who’s who of your Lawyer, Accountant, Recruiter, Banker, etc top prospects and ideal customers. When you find a partner you are happy with who delivers for your business introduce them to you best three peers and see if there is an opportunity for them to work together. You will strengthen your relationship on multiple levels while building your business.
Don’t push the help away….invite them for dinner!

Ivara Elevates Partnership with IBM

Continuing on my theme of the importance of good partners to small software and tech companies Ivara announced today that it has achieved the IBM Advanced Business Partner Status. The elevated partnership level reinforces IBM’s endorsement of EXP Enterprise software as a solution that successfully integrates and delivers value to IBM Maximo Asset Management users. In addition, Ivara receives enhanced levels of marketing, sales and technical resources that fosters further collaboration between Ivara and IBM to improve service and deliver increased value to joint customers.

Partnering and Channels – How To

This is a difficult but important aspect of growth for all small companies. Partnering is defined as “a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business with shared risks and profits”. The principle challenge as a small company is in attracting the attention of a larger company (as almost everyone is in fact larger than you) and then convincing them that the economics of a relationship with you are of a significant enough benefit to get them to engage. I like to think of this in a similiar vein to a sales cycle with a major customer and would encourage you to understand that just like there is a cost of sale associated with every new customer, there is similiarly a cost of sale for every new Partner that needs to be planned and budgeted as part of your growth initiative. As a small company your “investment” in the relationship will probably be very significant up front….plan for it and manage it.

The reward and end game of establishing a Partner (especially on the channel side) is access to sell your software/product/technology into a geography or customer base or vertical that you currently don’t have access to through direct sales OR that would take significant time and money to develop. As a small company you really must be prepared to give before you get in starting up new Partners and Channels.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here but one approach that works has the following seven stages:

1. Target Strategic Channel Candidates – It is important to be focused. It is going to cost resources, both human and financial, so strategicly target both the number of partners you are able to support and the two or three that are most strategic based on your predetermined criteria. For most startups and small companies taking on more than one of these at a time is very difficult based on the number of people required to support and drive success.

2. Sign Them Up – sounds easy and is only three words so can’t be that complicated right?! This is the Partner sales cycle I discussed earlier and depending on circumstance, size of their business, strategic fit, etc can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years. Make sure that you clearly establish with them what success will mean to you and what it will mean to them and get alignment. It is critical as the partnership goes live that expectations around support from you (economic or otherwise), and execution/targets for them are agreed to and understood.

3. Train Them - it is critical that you get your partner up to speed with your software, how to implement, how to articulate and sell the value prop, etc. Depending on the amount of services required with your software/product this can be fairly short or fairly long. My warning here is DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE this step. The success of the partnership will hinge on their success so make sure they really “get it”.

4. GIVE Them Work – this is mostly tied to channel partners who will be required to provide implementation services. An accelerator in getting them up to speed is to bring them in and get them delivering with your people on an implementation project. You can even split the revenue in some predetermined manner to invest in the partnership.

5. Support Them – sounds fairly straight forward and it is but it is critical to have regular check point with them, understand what is working for them and not working and they are “learning to walk”. This may require sending sales reps (and/or services people) out with their people to work on the job. Weekly calls, web conferences, a partner hotline, whatever works for them.

6. Make Them Successful – it will take some hand holding and some time but the absolute most important thing you can do if get early wins. Validate for them why they did this and that they need to do more of this with you. Do everything possible to make them happy (within a reasonable risk apportionment).

7. Set Them Loose and Manage the Channel - Now your child has grown up and is ready to fly the coop. Let them go but manage the relationship in a similiar fashion to what you do with direct sales. Have a regularly scheduled weekly call with the Executive sponsor from your Partner. Do a pipeline review. Always ask where they are stuck and how you can help. Your channel partner is now a valued stakeholder in your business and you need to communicate with them and keep them vested and engaged. Manage to your predetermined targets and drive the channel.

Again, it is a big investment for us little guys but the economic rewards in the long term can be significant. When entering any relationship (whether its a Twitter follower or a Partnership) I believe you should be prepared to give more than you receive, especially at the beginning.

Good luck securing your home run channel!

Doing Business in Russia, what I’ve learned so far…

One great way to start (and perhaps stay long term) in a new geographic market is through your channel parteners. We have several really good ones that assisted us in our journey into Russia. here is what I’ve learned so far……..
When you think about selling software and then you think about Russia as a market, we finance types probably tend to screw our faces up and take a step backwards as we dread the amount of work and headaches that we will be toiling through in the upcoming months and years to deal with this strategic imperative.
What about the VAT implications, the customs problems, the withholding taxes, the FX risk, the IP risk and so on and so on. The thing is it’s really not that bad if you focus on the details and ensure you set things up properly. To detail the steps and conversations of this would be more like a feature articles than a blog so I will summarize and you contact me if you want to discuss further or find out more but here are some of the highlights.
IP Aspects
There are certain civil codes and rules that must be followed when executing a “valid” license contract in Russia. I am told that taking shortcuts or omitting some, any or all of these points can cause significant problems and not wanting to test that hypothesis I (and I suggest you) complied. I won’t list them all but they include things like:
  • including a detailed scope of the rights being licensed
  • identifying the software in more detail than we usually do
  • the term of use (and perpetual doesn’t work it has to be tied to something or it will be deemed to be 5 years so you have to get creative here)
  • the type of license (ie non-exclusive, non-transferable, etc)
  • the territory (if applicable)
  • any reporting requirements of the agreement

Under the law registration of your software with the Russian patent office is NOT mandatory however, fighting infringement cases without it is near impossible without it I’m made to understand.

The governing law of your license agreement can be anywhere in the world that you would normally use. The caveat is that where there is difference between the governing law of that country, province, state and that of Russian law, Russian law will prevail. This principally applies to some of the specific items listed above and I would still recommend you use a governing law outside of Russia.

VAT, Withholding Tax, Customs

In Canada we have a double taxation treaty with Russia which means that assuming you provide your custome with proof of your company’s residency when you sign the contract there will be no withholding tax requirements (otherwise it is 20%) associated with the License, Maintenance and Support and Services revenues/billings.

License fees are exempt from VAT tax but training, installation and support services are not. All are subject to an 18% reverse charge VAT assuming your company is not a resident of Russia. It is really important that you agree and document with your customer that you are going to “gross-up” your invoices for these VAT eligible services. They will then be responsible for self collecting and remitting the VAT to the Russian agency and you then receive the same payment you otherwise would have net of taxes. This also prevents you from having to setup and be a VAT filer in Russia.

Support is a little tricky and you must be careful that new versions of your product that the Russian customer would receive while on Maintenance and Support do not contain any “new software product” or and plug in type releases that can be run seperately from the software originally purchased. Enhancements are fine but there is a grey area that you should review depending on your software, release cycles, etc. If you are deemed offside on this it will result in a number of tax risks that I won’t detail here.

Customs is not really an issue unless you physically ship your software to your customers. If you are like us this is not really an issue as most software can be delivered electronically through FTP download or other means.

There are a myriad of other tax issues for your Russian customer on the other side of these comments that I haven’t detailed but suffice is to say it can be very punitive to their books if they intentionally or accidentally misstep along the way.

Call to Action:

The Russian market is a huge opportunity for us and we are continuing to expand into that space carefully learning and asking for help each step of the way. I would encourage you to spend some time researching and understanding what is happening with your target vertical market in Russia and scoping out the opportunity, weighing the risks and evaluating the use of your limited resources in this market. There are plenty of well known established North American businesses operating resident in Russia who would probably be interested in partnering with you. Once you make Russia successful this may open up your relationship with them in other areas of the world as well which will help drive significant growth in your business…….good luck and let me know if I can help!