How Genuine Street Cred Results in Effective Scaling

By Devang Mehta, Partner, Anthill Ventures'Street cred' is probably one of those Urban dictionary terms that has been borrowed most often by the Technology industry. Loosely, it refers to how one gets accepted amongst the general milieu by habits, dressing sense, mannerisms etc. In Technology it usually refers to a startup profile - a combination of product appeal, team pedigree, marketing finesse, brand appeal, and other traits that make that startup revered in the general ecosystem.

Startups that attain this street cred often experience staggering growth beyond certain tipping points - driven by immense brand appeal - in many cases their products become the obvious selection for decision makers in their target market. To give a few examples, Atlassian build fantastic street cred amongst software developers to the point where their products began selling themselves with virtually no direct sales effort (Indeed it was with Zero Sales effort - as articulated by Bloomberg). Similar is the story of - with its near universal acceptance within sales teams globally as a must-have tool for daily survival - that classical first bookmark on a Sales Managers browser without which any sales activity could be meaningfully consummated.

The most important lessons are to be learned by how they attained their street cred. It started off by a perfect understanding of their customer. Atlassian perfected the art of selling to engineers - first by building tools that greatly improved their productivity; and then by marketing these tools through online videos, FAQs, help Sections, in-product messaging, and eventually also by catalyzing vibrant online communities. They mastered the art of effective selling to their constituents - ones that typically loathe listening to sales pitches and
to interacting with sales reps. Instead, Atlassian used the power of product features and slick UIs to get developers hooked onto their offering - and by craftily restricting access to seats/premium features, they indirectly goaded them to buy paid SaaS licenses. Further, basic versions of the product continued to be free - ensuring that teams without budgets could continue usage - in turn, ensuring there was a strong latent demand for paid versions when these teams could afford it. The payment path itself was breezy and uncluttered - through online payments like credit cards - and at a price point aligned with 'discretionary' group budgets (no need to involve central procurement groups).

Startups that attain this street cred often experience staggering growth beyond certain tipping points - driven by immense brand appeal provides for another case study for an organization that delivered a masterclass in how to build street cred. By launching a vociferous attack on Siebel - and by extension on bloated, expensive, high maintenance and hard-to-use Enterprise Software they made a very compelling case for using a lightweight, quick, cloud-based product as theirs. This messaging, nay rhetoric, had tremendous appeal for sales groups that needed to quickly start collaborating on leads and customers, to start building pipelines and projections, and to manage all these key activities without relying on central IT groups to install, patch, upgrade and maintain software. Like Atlassian, their product was designed to be ' a zero friction start' - sign on, and start capturing important customer interaction data and sharing it with colleagues; and again, with limitations on user licenses and features at strategic points which made it very hard to live without it.

Both Atlassian and achieved a very level of cognitive lock-in for their end users; which by definition, made the costs of switching to competitors high enough to outweigh any perceived benefits in pricing or incrementally better features. In fact, these early users became fervent evangelists - making it easier for these organizations to perpetuate and implement a 'land and expand' strategy - by conquering one group within an organization and then seamlessly extending to other fertile grounds. Their evangelists further perpetuated their street cred with own colleagues and stakeholders internally, and outside their corporations, to friends, business connects, and alums.

The groundswell in support for the brand, and the resultant exponential demand for the product manifested in effective business scaling within these corporations (startups at that time). It enabled them to seamlessly implement repeatable sales models, enter new verticals (and even horizontals like Project Management for Atlassian and Service Management for and geographies and quickly emerge as unicorns in their space.