Making everything a Pipeline in your Start-up


In the past few weeks, we closed our seed funding round at Dataloop.IO, moved to new offices, hired 2 more people and did some PR to announce our funding round. In parallel our meetup group, DevOps Exchange, has now grown to become the worlds 2nd largest DevOps meetup group and we hosted our largest event yet 2 weeks ago, and we on-boarded some really big customer names onto Dataloop.IO too.

So all in all, things are going very well. As my 2nd start-up, a lot of the lessons I learned from my first one, and afterwards at Alfresco (who acquired my first company SambaStream), seem to have been drilled in and helping us build Dataloop.IO into a very successful company in less than 12 months.

However one area where I think we could do a better job in future (and are currently addressing at Dataloop.IO) is treating everything as a pipeline – not just sales.

Maybe its because I spend so much time focusing on Sales, but I’m starting to think of everything as a pipeline. You build awareness at the top to generate new contacts/relationships, that you nurture until you need them (the “close”).

When I think back to all the areas where we had a harder time recently, I wish I’d spent more time upfront building a pipeline of not just customers but everything else too: potential hires, potential offices, potential investors, journalists; so that when we needed them we weren’t starting from scratch and going in cold.

At Dataloop.IO we did a fantastic job doing customer development and building awareness and pipeline for our product (in fact I’m doing a HackerNews London presentation on Thursday about how we did it), but in all the other areas I mentioned we spent a lot more time getting results than I’d have liked because we didn’t make time earlier to build the relationships in advance and have a selection of people/places we could reach out to when needed.

For example, when it came to investment, we were approached by several of the top VC firms in London on the back of the Microsoft Accelerator, and to create some competition I also got in touch with several other VCs too. However for many of the VCs, it was the first time they had heard of us, and they had to fit us in with their current pipeline of investments and learn about us from scratch. In the end the investor we went with was Forward Partners, the only firm I’d built a relationship with a year before the previous summer while doing customer development, and because of that we could both move fast as we both knew each other and weren’t starting the process cold.

When it came to hiring, we finally managed to find two great people from our network that we’d worked with before (the best kind of hires!), but it took months, and I was under constant pressure from my co-founders to use expensive recruiters after limited results early on. Had we spent time developing our network, building a list of potential hires from day one, well before we needed them, we would have had more choices and again, wouldn’t have been going in cold to let new potential hires we met know who we were.

And in this week’s PR launch, although we had a fantastic story and were of interest to several journalists, because I hadn’t spent any time building relationships with journalists early on, every call was cold and it was hard to convince them to fit us into their busy schedules. In fact, the one article we did get (which was fantastic!) was with a journalist we had spoken too previously after they wrote about us in December.

So all in all, when starting a new company, there are several pipelines you need to start building early from day one if you want to make it easier for yourself later on. In my head these these are the main pipelines you need to work on as CEO in priority order:

  1. Customers/Sales – Without revenue/customers, you’ll find it hard to get people to take your business seriously when it comes to the next areas. In the Enterprise space like us, sales cycles are long so you need to build awareness and relationships early on.
  2. Potential Investors – Whether you’re planning to raise investment or not (we weren’t originally which is why we may have delayed this area) you want to be having coffees with potential investors well before you need them to ensure you’re not starting cold when you kick off the fundraise
  3. Potential Hires – You want the best people you can afford, and when you’re scaling you can’t afford to spend months finding them. Great hires can have a huge impact on your business, and free you up to spend more time focusing on the bigger picture. As they always say – you should be constantly hiring even when you don’t have open roles.
  4. Journalists – PR adds credibility and builds awareness for your service/product. Journalists are very busy so you want to be building up your relationships with them early on so you’re on their radar when you need to announce something.
  5. Potential Offices – I didn’t realise until recently, but its actually quite hard to find good, affordable office space in London, despite new sites like Spacious (as they’re still new and don’t list everything out there). We spent over a month looking at lots of places before finally moving to DeskLodge, but there’s a good chance in 12 months we’ll need our own private offices as we grow.

With so many conflicting priorities early on, it’s hard to do everything well, and once you’re larger and have more money you will be able to dedicate people/teams or outsource these areas. But at the beginning you need to be constantly building your relationships and list of contacts in all these areas whenever you can, or you end up having to “cram” everything in last minute when you need them.

The good news for us is now we’ve done everything the hard way, we now have pipelines in all the above areas which will serve us well later on. And going forward’s we are taking pro-active measures to ensure we don’t hit these issues again such as doing Silicon Milk Roundabout in November (even though we won’t have any open roles at that time), pro-actively reaching out to potential VC’s for our Series A even though its probably 12-18 months away, and making an effort to invite journalists to our meetup events so we can build relationships with them.