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Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Adriaan Van Wyk, CEO of K2 (Part 5)

Posted on Saturday, Sep 7th 2013

Sramana Mitra: Did you raise any financing in the early phase of your company?

Adriaan van Wyck: When we started to become successful in Asia and in the U.S. – Merrill Lynch and Intel were early customers – the company was growing at a pace the three individuals couldn’t keep up with. We took some early investment out of South Africa. I was very anti-VC because I wanted to run the company our own way and didn’t want people involved in the business who didn’t understand the essence of the business. That was my perception of VC at that point – rightly or wrongly. But we did involve a VC called TriCo out of South Africa.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made. We were incredibly lucky, because it wasn’t so much about the firm that got involved with us, but the individual who joined us from that firm – Rudolf Pretorius. He was an incredible mentor for us. We were three guys coming out of the university. We didn’t know a lot about building a business. It was really important that we could learn from a mentor like that. Looking back, now there are a lot of ways you can get capital. You can borrow money, there are investors out there, you can fund it yourself these days, etc. But the one thing that is incredibly difficult to get on staff is that mentorship. That is something that every VC will promise to provide to you, but I must say out of everybody in the ecosystem I worked with, the value that an individual like Rudolf Pretorius added to us is immeasurable.

SM: How did you manage to get outside of South Africa? Up to date you created a global channel of 500 partners. How did you manage to do that?

AW: We started the business in Asia and had our first landing in the U.S. Then I approached a friend of mine who was working at Accenture at that time and I asked him to join our company and move to Singapore to set up the office there. It was a small office, but essentially I asked him to build a partnership and a channel there and grow the ecosystem. He joined us and was a highly skilled individual. I spent most of my time at that point in the U.S. and followed the same approach we followed in South Africa. I tried to get in contact with the companies that were credible and had the relationships with customers. I started explaining to them what we do and we built relationships with them. We also showed them the early successes we have had. They understood what the value proposition was.

When you build an ecosystem on the back of adoption, success and momentum, the ecosystem builds itself very quickly. Your biggest challenge is actually not evangelizing and looking for the next partner, it is making sure that the partners you have and the customers are successful. If you focus on that, the growth of the channel almost happens by itself. If you focus on growing the channel and not on partner or customer success, you will find that it catches up with you and damages you. That is what we focus on. In the early days we focused on our partners being successful, that they understood our business, betting on our technology. Then you spread on the back of that success and the ecosystem starts building itself. I do want to point out that it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Around 2006 we made the mistake of getting caught up in our own success and energy and we tried to do too much. We tried to push the envelope of technology too hard. As a result, the very foundations that caused us to grow our business were hurt by that. Partners who were supporting us and using our new technology were affected by that and it was affecting us negatively. But we realized it very quickly ad we focused on quality and partner success, and we managed to get over that speed bump.

There are two pieces of advice I will give people. One is to find the best people you can find. There must be no place for them to hide in the company. It is all about outcomes and the added value they deliver – it is not about input, it is about outcomes. The second piece is that you have to focus on your customer success and if you build your ecosystem like we did, you have to focus on partner success also. If you just do those two things, the rest of it creates a natural momentum around you. Of course, you need a good vision and a good product, but all of that are normal ingredients in building a good business.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Adriaan Van Wyk, CEO of K2
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