The need for individuals who can bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and its entrepreneurial ecosystem success and the rest of the world is ever growing. Such people are highly prized for their knowledge and hands-on experience, which puts them in a valuable and enviable position. These wise ones are sought out to help shape the odds in the favor of the many startups and entrepreneurs hoping to make it big in the Bay Area, or indeed anywhere else.
One such individual is Jennifer Vessels, #ShapingtheOdds contributor and founder and CEO of Next Step, a Silicon Valley company that helps businesses in the US, Scandinavia and Europe to improve their sales, expand into new territories and build a highly valuable business. Companies work with Next Step when they need – or are ready – to scale, digitalize, expand into new markets, create new revenue streams or business models to maximize revenue and company value.
With an impressive portfolio of happy clients including Adobe, Google and Ticketmaster in the US and Xing, CoreMedia, TiFic, Opera Software and Avinor in Europe, Jennifer and Next Step have shaped the odds in favor of many companies and entrepreneurs for decades. Today, Next Step’s team has grown to 40 professionals with hands on experience in sales, marketing, business and leadership development during the past 18 years.
Regarded as a vital bridge between Silicon Valley, Scandinavia and Europe, Jennifer’s insight and expertise is highly sought after and her recent appearance at Oslo Innovation Week where she talked about what it takes to thrive in Silicon Valley, which was very well received with high acclaim and extremely well attended, is testimony not only to the value of her pearls of wisdom, but also to the thirst of startups for tips to succeeding in the Bay Area.
Jennifer’s had a foot in the Silicon Valley, European and Scandinavian camps since the 1980s. Her career started in technology sales for Silicon Valley based Triad Systems and then evolved to channel development, market and sales operations leadership for Tandem Computers, UB Networks, Promptus and Tandberg (in Oslo Norway). In 1997, Jennifer returned to Silicon Valley after years of living and working in Brussels, the UK and Norway including leading International Sales for Tandberg (now a Cisco company) prior to launch of Tandberg US in 1997.
“My vision was, and still is, to leverage the expertise and best practices I had used and experienced in my career to help business owners and executives achieve greater results and hence ‘maximize their potential’ and success,” explains Jennifer.
“Prior to starting Next Step, I identified a real need for companies to have someone help them bridge the gap between Silicon Valley, Scandinavia and Europe – someone to help shape the odds in their favor in a completely different and alien environment – and I knew I could provide a lot of value to such companies. In the late 1980s I was running Sales Operations for Ungermann-Bass, which had a large subsidiary in Kongsberg Norway. I went to Norway and immediately fell in love with the beauty of the country and direct, down to earth nature of the people. Over the years, I have also come to appreciate the high standards of quality in technology, food and people,” says Jennifer.
It’s these high standards combined with Jennifer’s and Next Step’s skills in commercialization and business growth, that delivers a real win-win, not to mention her rich cultural understanding and foresight into opportunities and benefits for Norwegian companies, in particular, in the US.
“While there is a lot of innovation all around us in Silicon Valley, I am always surprised to see unique approaches and well tested and perfected products coming from Norway,” says Jennifer. “The research and development of universities such as NTNU, incubators such as Startup Lab and strong support from the government with Innovation Norway combine to build sound quality products.”
One important way that Jennifer and Next Step help to shape the odds in favor of companies looking to Silicon Valley is by identifying the challenges they will face and then helping them overcome them.
“While the products and technologies are well developed and high quality, many times the ‘go to market plan’ underestimates the time, resources and challenges required to penetrate the US market,” she explains.
Jennifer’s top tips for overcoming this great challenge are:
- Start small – entering a new market is like building a fire – keep it focused, in one space and be patient until it takes off in a small area – then grow from there.
- Gain customer input before the product is finalized – involve your potential customers in the testing and development.
- Leverage local (native) resources who know the culture and have contacts in the market that you are entering.
- Focus on getting revenue – prioritize this over investment.
- Plan at least a year of market development before you have revenue / returns.
“It is, of course, vital to remain innovative,” says Jennifer. “Companies need to listen to their customers and adapt to their needs and directions. They must also think globally but act locally and define where they want to be or what they want to achieve before starting on the journey, and then they need to be able to adapt.”
Jennifer is noticing that companies are taking on board her top tips and that there is growing recognition that gaining early revenue and customer adoption is more important than funding. “Once upon a time it was all about getting funding and that seemed to be the main aim, rather than having a sustainable and profitable business,” she explains, “and of course it still is to a degree, but I’m certainly noticing that more startups are recognizing the importance of being solvent rather than funded. That’s an important shift in mindset.”
Other trends that Jennifer is noticing include the recognition that customer experience is the most important criteria for long-term success, she explains: “This of course ties into the shift from simply seeking funding to wanting to build a profitable and sustainable business, as quite frankly, without delighted customers you don’t have a company. It’s not just about getting funding.”
“Also, today, digitalization - the use of technology to enhance business, customer experience and our lives – allows companies easier market entry, broader customer access and the ability to offer their solutions ‘as a service’. This allows continual monitoring and adaptation of services based on analysis of customer behavior,” Jennifer concludes. This is an area in which Next Step has extensive experience through digitalization and business model transition success with Adobe, ShoreTel and Avinor.
If you’re ready to take your business to the next level, maybe your next step should be taken with Jennifer and Next Step.