Core Strategies to Building a Successful Software Company from TrueMotion’s Vance Loiselle
Vance Loiselle is a software industry veteran with more than twenty years of experience and an impressive track record of building successful enterprise software, services, and hosting companies. A proven CEO with impeccable instincts and a strong, balanced background in product, go-to-market, and fundraising, he has served at the executive level at four public companies: BMC, BladeLogic, Accenture, and Breakaway. Currently, Loiselle is the CEO of TrueMotion, a behavior-based platform that enables insurance companies and consumers to improve road safety using smartphone sensor technology and powerful data analytics. By measuring behaviors like hard braking, acceleration, and even distracted driving, this smartphone technology effectively tracks safe drivers and rewards them with discounts on their auto insurance.
Loiselle’s career spans a wide variety of service sectors (including IT, Telco, CRM, and financial services) and almost every managerial role from operations and marketing to product management and business development. His deep domain and leadership experience has taught him many valuable lessons and also given him the ability to recognize trends and shifts in the market.
When asked to define some of the core strategies that have helped him build a consistently successful string of B2B companies, Loiselle points to two key practices that have helped him develop both strong company visions and the effective tactical plans required to bring those visions to life. No matter the specifics of the company, understanding these two key elements of the business scenario is critical to success.
Getting to Your MVP
“It’s kind of a cliché,” Loiselle says, “but first and foremost it’s important to really roll up your sleeves to get to your MVP – minimum viable product – and product markets.” Loiselle recommends getting to this point as quickly as possible, but warns against falling into the trap of letting customer requests drive the process. “You want to maximize the efficiency of the engineering team in order to get the product market fit that’s really sticky,” he says. “It’s hard.”
Loiselle acknowledges that it’s tempting for startups to respond to every customer demand when trying to close their first big deal, but he recommends being very intentional about when and how far you bend over backwards to meet customer demands. “For the first couple of deals, you want to demonstrate success to your own team, your employees, and your investors,” he says. “In these cases, you sometimes have to bend over backwards to get the business and the reference account.” Loiselle recommends caution, however, in how you balance the services-to-software ratio. Too much professional services support can turn even the most promising sale into a consulting project that won’t support your long-term goals.
That said, strategically putting extra effort into key customer relationships can pay huge dividends. “At BladeLogic we placed deals with Priceline and Sprint very early on, and we put a lot of focus on making those accounts successful,” Loiselle recalls. “Then, each time we pitched a new customer, we could tell them how our software was the standard at Priceline and Sprint. This made every other Internet-focused company want to understand how our solution could help them.”
Once Loiselle’s team landed those first couple big deals, they were rigorous about staying on track by sticking to their product management plan. “We really took customer feedback to heart,” he says. “But we were very thoughtful about it. We considered each item carefully in a kind of map exercise that made sure we were prioritizing the right items. It required a great deal of discipline, but it really helped us maintain and grow stickiness.”
Choosing Your Market Model
The second insight Loiselle emphasizes is understanding which pivotal market model is right for your business. “Really figuring out where to invest in the right type of sales has been the second-biggest success factor in all of the companies I’ve been at so far,” he says.
As an example, he compares the market models that worked for BladeLogic and Sumo Logic. “At BladeLogic, we were 100% enterprise-sales oriented,” he recalls. “We were selling to the Fortune 1000 or the Global 1000, and that required real meetings and salespeople – men and women who could go into the field and manage a six- to eight-month sales cycle in a very heavy, enterprise-sales model with a lot of competitive traps.” It took Loiselle and his team a little while to figure that strategy out, but once they’d identified it, they doubled down – hiring and planning rigorously against the model.
Sumo Logic, although it seemed targeted to a very similar audience, required a different approach. “At Sumo, we started with a similar, enterprise-sales model, but then incorporated a more modern, inside sales motion and premium model,” Loiselle explains. “I realized that developers have a lot more power now than they did a decade ago and it was important to utilize a high-efficiency sales model for deals that were generally valued at less than $100,000.”
Whichever model you’re working with, Loiselle recommends a balanced and measured approach. “Take your time. Don’t invest too heavily in any one thing,” he says. “Make your strategy work in a small, focused area rather than assuming you need to put a salesperson in every NFL city.” While it might be hard to constrain yourself to particular markets, Loiselle has repeatedly seen success when teams were able to figure things out in detail on a smaller scale and then replicate that when the time was right. “Tackle one area with focus,” he recommends. “Put one person in New York and one in San Francisco if that’s where you think your target market is. Get a bunch of customers and then build on that success by hiring another person in the same area. Don’t spread yourself too thin too quickly. Think about it like adding more fuel to a few well-built fires instead of starting random wildfires all over the place.”
In Loiselle’s experience, companies that get these two core business elements right have a market advantage and a better chance at long-term success. It might be challenging to maintain focus,establishing this foundation amidst all the other demands of a growing software business, but the effort is worth it.
As a leader, your job is to create clarity where you can. Executive coach Alisa Cohn suggests carving out a daily meeting as a “virtual situation room.” Here’s how to do it.
B2B brand and product positioning will only continue to become more important with the rise of the End User Era.