Collaborating with the Startup Ecosystem
By Arvind Purushotham and Ramneek Gupta, Managing Directors and Co-Heads of Venture Investing, Citi Ventures August 09, 2016 04:00 PM
Jennifer Fitzgerald, Founder & CEO of PolicyGenius; Sunil Hirani, Co-Founder & CEO of TrueEx; Simon Moss, CEO of Pneuron; Alexa von Tobel, Founder & CEO of LearnVest; Arvind Purushotham, Managing Director & Co-head of Venture Investing at Citi Ventures
Today’s pace of technological change calls for a radically open approach to innovation, and both startups and established companies have a lot to learn from one another. To further facilitate this important dialogue, Citi Ventures invited 25 of the most innovative startups in the global entrepreneurial ecosystem to join some of Citi’s top executives, including Citi CEO Mike Corbat, for a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences.
Hand-picked from the thousands of meetings that Citi Ventures conducts with the startup ecosystem, participants included entrepreneurs from both portfolio and non-portfolio companies, including Appboy, C2FO, Jet, Betterment, Persado, DB Networks, BlueVine and Feedzai. These companies were selected because of the great work they’re doing in core areas of focus for Citi and our customers and clients, including Big Data & Analytics, Commerce & Payments, Financial Technology, Marketing & Customer Experience and Security & Enterprise IT.
At the event, entrepreneurs talked about what it takes to create an entrepreneurial mindset and a sense of urgency every day, and discussed some of the challenges they face in working with large companies. The founders stressed the value of hypothesis-testing, pattern recognition and staying nimble by reacting quickly to customer feedback.Some of their most compelling stories were about maintaining a relentless focus on the customer, and enabling customers to co-architect solutions through early product feedback. In fact, when it comes to partnering with large corporations, one of the biggest challenges startups face is finding the right entry point, and figuring out who the key stakeholders and decision-makers are for their business. As the entrepreneurs related, it can be very easy for start-ups to lose their way when interacting with large organizations, so what they need are partners and internal guides inside the system who can help them navigate within it. That’s in many ways what Citi Ventures is all about: helping startups by giving them credible, vetted introductions that lead to more targeted and fruitful discussions, as both sides are brought together very intentionally, and with a deep understanding of the internal business needs as well as the startup’s capabilities.
Citi Ventures helps to facilitate that process by helping startups advance their ideas from early proofs of concepts and pilots to testing and learning. A key phase is helping the entrepreneurs shape their product roadmaps based on customer feedback as a precursor to making commercial deals where it makes sense for both the startups and Citi.
“Partnering with Citi Ventures has been incredibly powerful for our company,” said Sandy Kemper, CEO and Founder of C2FO. “Citi Ventures has helped us with the Citi relationship at every stage, and I appreciated the level of executive bank leadership present at the event.”
Citi executives shared their views and some of their most pressing priorities related to taking on the challenges of leading a global corporation with Citi’s broad footprint. To tackle some of these challenges head on, Citi is actively exploring cutting-edge technologies through our innovation labs, while investing in and partnering with innovative startups that are attempting to remove some of our biggest pain points. Executives spoke about our process of bringing our clients into the validation process, thereby creating a highly collaborative interaction that starts with customer needs.
Participating startups gained deeper insights into Citi’s needs, and by proxy, the needs of other large corporate clients. This is an important part of the collaborative product development process, as it enables startups to validate and shape their product roadmap to create solutions that are relevant for their entire customer base. According to Mark Ghermezian, CEO of Appboy, “It was great getting in front of leaders who think about the needs of their clients and customers, and exchange perspectives with them on what we’ve seen from different sides of the battlefront. We had some truly insightful and productive conversations.”
One startup that is currently engaged with Citi Cards was able to connect with Citi Retail Services to discuss the potential for additional partnership opportunities with Citi. The principals of yet another startup that Citi recently invested in met with the Citi Cards team driving an interaction that resulted in follow up meetings with the goal of moving toward a Proof-of-Concept.
"The ability to talk directly to this level of an audience was a game changer,” said Nuno Sebastiao, CEO of Feedzai. “Now, we have a much better idea about what keeps the decision-makers at Citi up at night. They seemed really interested in our approach to fraud prevention and we have now a number of concrete follow-up sessions scheduled with different teams inside the bank.”