Vanessa Liu @ SAP, SaLisa Berrien @ COI Energy Services, and Ryan Leslie @ Disruptive Multimedia, Inc dba SuperPhone
Startup Grad School Stage
Ascent Conference 2020
Vanessa Liu [00:00:03] Hi, everyone, welcome to this panel at Ascent conference where we are going to be diving in on corporate innovation and inclusive entrepreneurship. My name is Vanessa Liu. I am the vice president of SAP Io Foundries in North America, which is part of the early stage venture arm of SAP, the large German technology company. I’m really thrilled to have with us today two great founders that we’ve worked with at SAP. But before I introduce them, let me just give you a little bit of context on corporate innovation and how we do it at SAP. So being the early stage venture arm for SAP, we look for enterprise startups that are anywhere between seed all the way up to series stages to work with. We have a fund where we make investments in companies typically at the seed stage, and then we have foundries which are our network of nine accelerators globally around the world where we run two programs a year that are no non-equity, no investment programs that are focused on bringing in startup innovations and where we integrate them into the SAP ecosystem to deliver that to our customers. So I’m really thrilled to have two founders that we’ve been working with. The first one is to Lisa Burien, who is the founder and CEO of SeeWhy Energy Services. And the second one is Ryan Leslie, the founder and CEO of Super Phone. So I’m going to have them just do quick intros and we’ll just dove right into it. We’ll have about twenty three minutes.
SaLisa Berrien [00:01:34] Thank you, Vanessa. I’m super delighted to be here and always I’m delighted to do anything with you. Vanessa, you’re my favorite person. So Zeolite Energy. We developed and deployed the first digital energy platform that successfully brings together utilities and businesses to detect, eliminate and monetize energy waste and buildings in order to drive efficiency and to optimize electric grid. So essentially what we do is we pay businesses to become more energy efficient.
Ryan Leslie [00:02:06] Yeah, and super phone on my side is really just a paradigm shift, if you will think of everything that you have on email that you do on email folders, filters, segmentation, automation. And wouldn’t that be awesome to have on text, whether that be with your customers, with your clients, with your partners, investors, whoever it may be. So we basically built an intelligence layer that gives you all the functionalities of email, but in your text inbox.
Vanessa Liu [00:02:37] So both are just sobbing, really critical of this problem, so I wanted to unpack that a little bit so we can understand more about what it is that you do. And and then we can talk about how working with a company like an S&P has really benefited your business. Maybe I’ll turn first to Lisa. How did you come to launch SeeWhy Energy Services? Like what gave you that idea to work with companies in that way? I mean, I think right now, at a time when consumers are really demanding cleaner and more responsible energy sources, what is seewhy energy doing to deliver what customers are asking for? What kind of innovation is happening right now that will only make renewable adoption a no brainer for utilities and their customers and consumers? I mean, obviously, the fires have in California been in everybody’s minds and climate change in general.
SaLisa Berrien [00:03:30] That’s right. Yeah. I mean, to keep it very simple, croi energy, we developed this platform that just meets customers where they’re at. I mean, as you know, with all of us, we all have our own way of operating. And we want people to delight us. We want people to meet our needs. And so what we found that was missing in the energy ecosystem was this platform that met customers exactly where they were at and helping them to help solve the climate crisis that we’re in so we all can play a part in. A lot of people don’t think that they can actually make any, like, efforts into doing that because they think they have to buy like renewables or they have to do a battery or something like that. But it’s really simple. All you have to do is like running the energy and you’re building more efficiently. And we provide those real time insights and alerts and also control. So you’re able to do that. And so if you’re a business that has a large energy team that just needs a complement to say, hey, here are some insights and you can act upon them, or if you’re a smaller team and you need an extension to that team, that gives you a full service energy management assistant, that will drive down those goals that you have and make sure that you are achieving your carbon reduction goals, make sure you’re achieving your energy efficiency goals and what have you. And then it goes it’s a technical hardware enabled software solution. And then we’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to do that. And our partners. I know I don’t know how deep you want me to go into it, but our partners like Google, we’re working with them right now to implement machine learning in a way that we are touching on the customer and meeting them where they want and delighting them how they want to be delighted. So we believe in give to customers the it’s the platinum rule, give customers what they want versus what we want to have for ourselves.
Vanessa Liu [00:05:30] So you just be very customer centric in your approach and just say, like, this is we’re arming you with the tools that you need so that you can meet basically like the targets that you have when it comes to energy consumption.
SaLisa Berrien [00:05:44] That’s right. And a lot of times customers don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s what a lot of businesses say to me when I come to them. They’re like, oh, I didn’t even know I was wasted energy because they don’t know. Like, if you have a peak demand and it spikes for only fifteen minutes in your building, you’re paying for that for the whole month. So we’re helping you eradicate that before it even happens. And then we’ll turn that waste into a source for you to monetize it now make money. So instead of you spiking when you didn’t really need to, now you can manage that demand and sell it back to the electric grid or sell it to another business that might need excess capacity. So we’re we’re turning in a stranded cost into a revenue generating opportunity for you.
Vanessa Liu [00:06:25] I mean, this is why I love B2B businesses, because it’s like real big problems that you can solve for. And then it just comes with such large significant impact. And and maybe I’ll turn to you, Ryan. Your business is in a completely different space. You are bridging the disconnect between brands and consumers on a very intimate level. Could you tell us your journey? How what made you found super phone? What were the problems that you were seeing? How are you and your team looking to close this gap and to help customers? Primarily lots of retailers get in better touch with their consumers.
Ryan Leslie [00:07:05] Yeah, of course. So, you know, for me, really came from a music background that had a huge following that I had amassed through working with tons of customers and with the customers. We’re talking about big recording artists who have come to me for music. So whether it was Kanye West, Chris Brown, I was making love to records and also had written and produced an album for Kasey. And so across my social channels had all of these passive connections, if you will, and did. Really have any information on all of these people, and so once I move to actually giving my phone number to everyone, I had a pretty insane album cycle. So I went from, you know, not knowing who my fans and followers were to actually having a direct one on one text relationship with all of them. And I had the most successful album cycle of my career, because when you had that one to one conversation with someone, your chances of actual conversion are through the roof. You have a 50 percent chance of winning when it’s one to one. And so really, I became fascinated with this concept of scaling this for anyone. And during during the pandemic, when retailers were shutting down, we had the ability to provision seventeen hundred super phone accounts for one retailer so that salespeople could do the exact same thing that I was doing, which was actually connecting with their audience, with their supporters, with their consumers, their customers directly one on one. And we saw texting between sales associates and customers grow by 60 X during the last three or four months. And once the conversation got to a point where an associate would actually offer a link where they could buy something, there was a seventy five percent conversion to sales. And so I think really the the disconnect is kind of two or three fold. Number one is that kind of the top of everyone’s funnel is this hey, we’re going to do some advertising and hopefully, hopefully people are going to put their information in for an offer. Usually that information is an email capture. And, you know, over the years, we’ve seen that email correspondence and email marketing, even though it’s better than just that customer acquisition over social, it’s still has a very, very low conversion rate because it’s just so saturated. So when you can move from social to email to text, you have a very, very powerful relationship that you’re building with your customers. And so for sales associates, especially retail sales associates, it’s really proved to be phenomenal. And I’ve been able to take that experiment that I did on my album cycle and scale it to, you know, literally thousands of of customers and sales associates that are using super phone today.
Vanessa Liu [00:10:00] Yeah. And I think, like, just for the audience. So, I mean, Ryan is being very humble. He’s a Grammy nominated artist. He’s using this technique. And I think it just goes to show, like, how you can take the learnings right. From one industry, look at the analogies and other ones use that to solve like what is the essential problem at hand? We’re talking about a communications channel that needs to be more optimized. Right. And you can use that to really drive ad conversions. Well, I think the both of you just thinking about each of your businesses, you are now knocking on the doors of large corporations to try to get them to work together with you. Each of you just talk a little bit about what does that sales cycle look like? I mean, it’s very different from consumer businesses, as we know. But like, what does that look like? Maybe solution, maybe just a couple a couple of points from your side. How do you find the sales cycle? How long is it typically how do you get customers and. Right. For you to do the same?
SaLisa Berrien [00:11:04] Yes, so we have a two sided marketplace. So the utilities use our platform so they can have visibility on like how reliable resources are. So we sell directly to utilities. But what we found is that the sales cycle for utilities is pretty long. It’s typically 18 to 24 months with our our process. We were able to get it down to 12 months after that and saying, yes, that’s six months, but that’s still long for a startup. So for us, it was really important for us to find a strategic partner that had relationships with utilities. And so not to really be here shouting out SAP, but I must. So that’s why I decided to be a part of the sap, Daryle Foundry, because I knew that we needed to scale in a way with utilities, that we didn’t have the manpower to do that. So we just recently went on the app center. So we’re going to market with the SAP sales team. And literally we’ve talked to like seven different utilities for the EMEA, which I would have never been outside of the United States without that SAP relationship, and three in the United States and then also enterprise customers. So if you didn’t know, SAP has like 80 percent of the largest utilities run on SAP and seventy three percent of Fortune. Five hundred turned on SAP. So for that, it’s like, well, this is huge. It for me, that was a strategic partnership that I knew we needed to do in order to scale. Business, and then we have direct sales that we’re selling, we close to utilities, so we’re selling behind the utilities, those are the sales cycles for their industrial commercial customers. It’s typically from one day close up to 30 days. So you go from 12 months to one day and then you have like 30 days. And then with our strategic accounts, it’s typically 30 to 60 days that we’re looking at like for some of your enterprise customers.
Vanessa Liu [00:13:09] So so I just for everybody I know, I didn’t dare to say anything. And I think I think like this whole notion of working with corporates. And how do you do that? Like Ryan for for you, like you’re also a graduate of the S&P or found your program. And so could you talk? You’re also on at Center Sappi, etc.. And so SportsCenter is basically where we profile our partners, these third party partners that we work with that are now part of the SAP ecosystem. So can you talk about, like, why you chose to work with a corporate like SAP? What does that bring to your business? I mean, you you’ve always been very thoughtful and you’re such a planner when it comes to your business. And like, what makes that such a critical part of your strategy?
Ryan Leslie [00:13:57] Yeah, for sure. I mean, really, I look at Super Phone, we’re a startup. And so being a startup, we’ve got to be very, very conscious about our our capital deployment. And so for me, I made a conscious strategic decision that we would be focused on innovation and product. And so the majority and bulk of our team, given the limited capital resources that, you know, a lot of minority businesses actually have, I had to be very, very strategic about how we deploy that capital. And so I wanted to really be focused on building a best in class product. So best in class reliability, stability, scalability. And partnering with SAP was really a no brainer for us, because not only could we take this innovation edge that we had and really be able to integrate at a at a breakneck speed. Right. We could then. Work and partner with S&P to actually build on where we felt we could use the most help, and that is with the account executives and the relationships. And so, look, you know, we have no we have no, you know, false idea of how long the enterprise sales cycle takes. And for us to actually hire a sales team and account executives, you know, that’s that’s a pretty large capital outlay for the human resources to do that. So to be able to have a partnership where, you know, a company like SAP is deeply in tune with the challenges that we face as underrepresented and underrepresented founder in a business that’s looking to disrupt on the enterprise level the ability to partner with the sap and be woven into that account. Executive conversation with with the enterprises that you guys serve was really important for us. And it is a major, major take away and will be a major part of our strategy, our business strategy moving forward.
SaLisa Berrien [00:16:02] Yeah. And Vanessa, if I could just add in there to to Ryan’s point, I remember when I first started thinking about the app center before I was on there, the account execs, I met with them super excited about the solution. And then once I went on the app center, I mean, when I tell you, like, my phone started ringing and these are sales people that really are trying to deliver value to their customer. So SAP is using like companies like us to to further innovate and provide additional solutions to their customers. So I got to tell you that the sales execs have been phenomenal and they’re opening up doors and opportunities that I probably would have never got to just because of being, like you said, Ryan small and, you know, and underrepresented a company. But they really elevated our exposure.
Vanessa Liu [00:16:52] So, you know, I think that the both of you touch on a very important point, like our customers are asking us this all the time. What innovations are you seeing out there? We know that you can’t build everything. So who would you recommend that you work with? And so we feel like there is like a responsibility for us to surpass the innovations that are there and to say, hey, we could be honest brokers, you should work with these companies. And and it’s a very customer driven type of an approach in terms of what we have. And and that’s how that world works. And we’re always saying, like, we want to make technology better, but better for whom. And actually the both of you are touching upon the point of underrepresented founders. That’s a very core part just for it, for folks who are watching very core part of what it is that we do at Sapelo, at least 40 percent of the founders that we work with are underrepresented. And this is and this is like a very deliberate commitment. It’s because we know that the best technologies out there are being created by all different types of entrepreneurs. And so when we say we’re going to make technology better, we have to make sure we’re representative. And so for us, this is a critical part of our strategy. It’s just better business. And I would love the two of you to share about why do you think diversity is so important to advancing corporate innovation? You’ve seen it from our side. But just in talking to our customers, like what is what are for them? This is that I think it’s it’s almost like being able to to the thing I see all the time, customers are saying, well, I wouldn’t have had access to these entrepreneurs. We don’t look at this as a charity. This is just better business. And that’s the feeling that we get.
SaLisa Berrien [00:18:33] Yeah, yeah, so diversity, I just even just looking at my team as I built my team a lot of time, we think about our unconscious bias. And when I look at my team, it’s quite diverse from a cultural perspective, from thoughts like core competence and everything. And what I found from my team being as diverse as it is, it helps me drive forward with better quality solutions because they come to the table with their own personal experiences. And so when I have someone from Argentina, a Hispanic person, you know what’s important to them? And their priority may not be the same. That might be from one of my Caucasian colleagues. And so we get to see all the diversity. Then you bring that into a package and deliver it. So when working with, like Sappi and then being able to bring that same diversity to their customer base, now their customers getting really a well rounded solution that in many cases it kind of like minimizes the bias built into it because you have like these different pieces that are added that’s incorporating like different perspectives. So for us of diversity, I truly believe that your company has to reflect the customers you serve. And if it doesn’t, you’re going to miss the mark on being able to be sticky with your customers. And so why in my own personal career, I’ve been successful and then with my company is because we make sure that we’re narrowly focused on our customers. And when you’re narrowly focused on them, you’re going to make sure that you’re reflecting what’s important to them. And that’s what we do on one thing, what we do with the gifting. So we have a gifting portion on our platform where we gift energy to underserved communities that’s most negatively impacted by climate change, like that’s something that utilities are trying to solve. And we just knew personally that was important for us to do. And so now all the businesses that come on our platform, they have an opportunity to contribute to that as well.
Ryan Leslie [00:20:46] I couldn’t agree more. I think that, you know, when you have the perspectives of diverse perspectives, you just have a multifaceted approach to solving the challenges that we all as humanity are facing. And so when you think about when you think about a business in general, it’s about providing value to as many people as possible. And so if that value proposition is focused too much in one specific sort of archetype of person. Right. I agree so much with you. Solicit that that you end up missing the mark in terms of being as valuable as you possibly could be and serving across the spectrum. And when you serve across the spectrum, you never know some sometimes how that feedback loop will inform your business as well and help you to create a product that becomes even more valuable, more scalable and more impactful to the bottom line, which all of us have to be conscious of in business.
Vanessa Liu [00:21:48] Yeah, absolutely. And so here for me, just like in closing, I would love to just to get your thoughts, each of your thoughts on what would be the top three things that you would say to future entrepreneurs who are looking to build also an enterprise tech business. Like what are the three things that are the three things that you would have said to yourselves that you should do going in to be wildly successful?
SaLisa Berrien [00:22:18] Yeah, I know, Ryan, you keep let me go first. I think it’s because I’m a lady, so I’ll take it again. So Zeolite stands for Circle of Influence. And so for me, I believe it’s your network who’s around you. So you got to have the right people, the right organizations around you. So if you look at all of the brands that I’m associated with, Sappi, Morgan Stanley, nicer to, you know, it goes on masse challenge everything. Like all these different logos are key logos, Google. I mean, like, you know, we’re partnered with Google now. And so, like, that’s important. If you’re really looking at drawing a scalable enterprise business, it’s like, who do you have around you? Because those people are going to challenge you and they’re going to really push you forward. So that would be your network. Number two, I always tell Founders’, like, you got to believe in yourself more than you ever did before, because at this juncture, you’re going to get a lot of no’s and people are not even going to believe in your idea. They’re going to think it’s like out there and extreme. And then you’ll find that like, no, you’re thinking about something no one else thought about. And that’s why they think it’s extreme. And so just believe in yourself more than you ever did before and always just think about ways of paying it forward.
Ryan Leslie [00:23:32] Absolutely. Absolutely. And I mean, we we have a thesis as super fun. Our our company motto is that success happens at the speed of communication. So it’s about getting the right idea to the right person with the right resources at the right time. And also when you’re serving your customers that same sort of thesis and mantra. And so in looking back at my journey to this point, it really has been colored and shaped by the relationships that I’ve built. And so companies are not just logo’s companies or people. And when you have the ability to connect on a personal level and build that intimacy, there’s a power and intimacy and people will make irrational decisions when they have an emotional connection. And so sometimes that irrational decision is why should they work with a new company that doesn’t have other enterprise customers? Well, it’s because you’ve made an emotional connection with someone, and that’s really the power of intimacy. And so in my journey, it’s super fun. I had to learn how to take passive connections from social and build them into depth. So instead of a scale of hundreds of thousands of little interactions, build depth and build intimacy so that I could I could build that truly emotional connection because all businesses are made up of people.
Vanessa Liu [00:24:54] So great. Well, thank you both so much, Salisa and Ryan. And it’s I just hope that everybody who is watching today just realize, like some of the secrets that the two of them have have embarked on so that they can be successful enterprise tech, startup entrepreneurs. And so thank you for your time.
Ryan Leslie [00:25:15] Yeah, for sure.
SaLisa Berrien [00:25:16] Thank you
Ryan Leslie [00:25:16] And for anyone that’s watching, I have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So I have a YORO. It’s text Ryan Dotcom, you can leave your number there. You can see super fun at work. You’ll get a text from my cell number and I practice what I preach. If you’re interested in building, you’re interested in learning, you want to connect. You have an idea for super fun, whatever it is. Let’s start today. Text running dotcom. Leave me your number and I’ll text you. I bet.
SaLisa Berrien [00:25:46] Sounds good, COI Energy Services dot com, check us out for sure.
Vanessa Liu [00:25:51] Thank you. And and and SAP dot IO.
Ryan Leslie [00:25:53] Yeah
Vanessa Liu [00:25:55] Bye everyone.
SaLisa Berrien [00:25:55] Bye-bye