An Interview with Cor Winkler Prins, Founder & CEO, 4me, Class 18

Cor’s professional goal is to help the Enterprise Service Management (ESM) industry reach its next maturity level by providing easy-to-use functionality for the support of SIAM (Service Integration and Management).

In 2010, he co-founded 4me to make it easy for all support domains (IT, HR, Facilities, etc.) within large enterprises to work seamlessly with each other, as well as with their managed service providers (MSPs).

In 2003, he helped the ITSM industry establish a new benchmark: the 30-day IT Service Management implementation. By using the predefined processes and detailed work instructions of the Alignability Process Model, and combining that with role-specific training material, a pre-configured ITSM application, and a standardized implementation methodology, it became possible to implement six processes within 30 workdays.

In 1999, Cor helped the IT Service Management industry move away from highly customized implementations based on different interpretations of the ITIL best practices by developing the Alignability Process Model (APM). This was the first comprehensive set of integrated IT Service Management processes that include detailed work instructions for IT professionals. The APM has subsequently formed the basis of all other ITIL-based process models, such as BMC Software's Service Management Process Model and HP's Service Management Reference Model.

What exactly is your startup bringing to the marketplace?

We provide an enterprise service management tool, which essentially is a self-help portal for enterprise employees. When they get stuck or they don't know what to do, and they need help from the Human Resources (HR) departments, or the Legal Department, or from IT, they can submit a request using that self-help portal, or use the app on their smartphone. We route that to the party that should provide that kind of assistance—and that can be an internal department, like the HR department or the IT department, or an external company, to which the enterprise has outsourced a service. For example, this might be the payroll service or the legal service. If all contracts are reviewed by an external legal firm, and that firm also uses 4me, they would link up their 4me environment with the environment of their enterprise customers. When that legal department or somebody coordinating the legal activities of the company wants to pass a request from one of the employees to get a contract reviewed, for example, then they just shoot it off to that external firm using our tool. In the background, we keep track of all the agreements that the enterprise has with the different service providers that employees in the core business rely on.

What was the motivation in creating this company?

In Silicon Valley today, there are a ton of Enterprise SaaS applications being created. Within an enterprise, the employees of the marketing department, for example, go to trade shows and they see something like MailChimp that they like and want to use. They come back and they talk to the IT Department, and then the IT Department says “I don't know, it’s a cloud solution, we’re not familiar with the cloud, and we don’t have anyone to set it up for you.” If the marketing department is persistent enough, then the IT department will hire a consulting firm that has experience with MailChimp and will ask them to set it up. They’ll do a quick security check before purchasing to make sure it meets the necessary requirements. Then, this external firm will set up the MailChimp environment and integrate it, maybe with Salesforce, or with the corporate website, which might run on WordPress.

Once it's running, everything is fine, but then the marketing department wants to do a particular campaign, and for that, they will want to create something special on the corporate website. That needs to be integrated with MailChimp again, so they need to call back the consultants. Or they might discover a bug, or they want to upgrade, but basically every time the marketing department wants to do something special, they need to rely on these consultants. Over time, these consulting firms that specialize around certain technologies like MailChimp or WordPress or Salesforce – they keep getting repeat business from the enterprise. But, as people within the enterprise run into issues with the service, or they have questions or requests, they’ll send requests to the IT department, but they don't have any expertise in how to configure or reconfigure these Enterprise SaaS applications. What they do instead is, over time they establish such a tight relationship with all these different consulting firms that they use for these different technologies that they start to demand service level agreements. This is really good for the external firms, because it means recurring revenue—very steady and reliable. What the enterprise then wants is to have an easy means of collaborating with external firms, and tracking the quality of service that they're getting from each of their external providers.

That is basically what is lacking in the enterprise service management space, a tool that can link enterprise customers to all the different parties that provide services to them. Then, the companies don't have to retype every request that they get from their employees into a different service management tool for one of their external providers. They get accurate reporting on the quality of service that they're getting, and the providers get the same information about the quality of service that they are delivering to their customers. So, when there are issues, they know that there is an issue, that the data hasn't been manipulated by either the customer or the provider, and that the data is reliable. This lets them simply concentrate on making sure that the issue does not recur.

What do you think is the most challenging matter that your company is facing right now?

In the enterprise space, there are a couple of things that you really need to have sorted out well. The first thing is security. That extends immediately to privacy, particularly if you're doing business globally like we are. You have to take very strict privacy regulations into account, particularly in Europe where the GDPR came about last year. That has a huge impact on providers like us. We need to make it easy for our customers, who store, for example, HR data—which is very sensitive. We need to allow these large organizations to prove to auditors that they are doing everything that can reasonably be expected to keep their employees’ data secure. When something bad happens, they need to know how to respond, and how to coordinate that, and they can use a tool like ours for that. Most of our customers in Europe do so. But, there are additional things that our tool needs to be capable of, because of the GDPR. For example, in our tool, a lot of focus has been put on being able to audit what has happened in the past. The GDPR on the one hand demands exactly that, but on the other hand, if an employee, for example, demands from the company that the data is erased, which is “the right to be forgotten” in the GDPR, then the tool needs to be capable of removing the entire history, the entire audit trail.

Most enterprises, they demand that their providers are SOC compliant. Services like ours, and many Enterprise SaaS applications, process data from these organizations. We need to be able to prove on a regular basis that your tools are being submitted to advanced security testing, penetration testing, by a reputable firm. We need to be able to provide the audit  reports that our customers require. It's all pretty standard for large enterprises. For us it means that we pay a significant amount every year, simply to stay compliant for our large enterprise customers. Their auditors will come and check. It is very costly to do that, but it’s necessary to play in this space.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your background before you got started and how that prepared you for what you're doing now?

I've been in this industry, the service management industry, for more than 22 years. I grew up with a new methodology, a new set of best practices that were initially published in the U.K. This set of best practices is called the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). It quickly became popular worldwide, but the thing that we started to do is to build tools to support those processes. The first company that I helped set up, together with our CTO, Laurens Pit, a co-founder of 4me, sold to Hewlett-Packard. For us, that was the first time that we went through this cycle. Later on, me and Laurens both went our own ways. I started a company focused on service management, more on how to properly deploy service management in very large organizations on a global basis. We licensed intellectual property on that to specialized consulting firms around the world. We sold that company to BMC Software, which at the time was the leader in the service management space. Laurens later sold his company to ServiceNow, which had then just become the leader in the service management space. By combining our experience, we decided that we had sufficient background to take on these more established players, like ServiceNow and BMC Software.

We found that they were completely missing the boat on the cloud, although ServiceNow would definitely disagree with that, of course. They should be applauded for getting organizations onto the cloud with their service management solutions. However, they did it in a way that did not fully make use of all the capabilities that the cloud offers. Essentially what they did is provide a separate infrastructure for each of their customers. It's virtualized, but it doesn't allow for collaboration between organizations, which  is where they are now lacking. When we saw that misfit, between what was happening in reality, with enterprise companies selectively outsourcing more and more of their services, and what the service management tools on the other hand were providing and the direction that these tools were going in, we thought that this was silly. Because in a couple of years, there will be organizations who run into a wall because they simply won’t be able to manage the large number of providers they have to deal with on a daily basis using their traditional enterprise service management tools.

What made you want to apply to Alchemist?

We had been in existence for a few years before we applied to Alchemist. We bootstrapped the company and were not in need of additional funding, because basically we had sufficient customers to cover our costs. Whenever we signed up more customers for our service and had more revenue coming in, that’s when we would add more people to the organization, not before then. So, we were not making a profit because we were reinvesting every dime that we received from customers into the growth of the company. The reason why we decided to join Alchemist is because we wanted to establish a narrative for investors. Ultimately, the goal for us is to do an IPO. At that time it has to be a logical narrative for future investors. We’ve identified a number of stages in our path from where we were at that time to IPO. On the investment side, we realized that we needed to get some funding to accelerate. Particularly in the areas of sales and marketing, where we had little experience, we needed to bring some people in.

What we decided is that we’d sign up with Alchemist, which is very well-respected in Silicon Valley by other venture capitalists (VC’s). They would be able to open the door with other VC’s. Neither myself nor my cofounder went to Stanford or MIT, and we needed a way to establish more context in Silicon Valley. That’s what we were looking to Alchemist for, and that has been very successful. Even before we graduated from Alchemist, we were able to secure a funding round from Storm Ventures, which also specializes in Enterprise SaaS.

How would you describe your experience at Alchemist?

I really enjoyed it, and I learned so much. When you’re working with your product, mainly on a day-to-day basis, and trying to get more customers and look at features that set your product apart, you really have to switch your mindset at Alchemist to think about growth. Not just from one customer to the next, but thinking in broad strokes. In thinking of ways to get there, you’re thinking about funding as one way of helping you, but when you have funding, you need to find out what you’re going to do with it. You don’t have time to think about that during the day. Having certain topics addressed on Thursday evenings was really nice, because it helped us look at our company from a different angle, which always sparked new ideas.

What do you think would define success for you and your company in the next 12 months?

We’re trying to gain market share, and we primarily measure our growth by  the number of users on our services. We track our ARR, and in the past few years, we’ve been pretty consistent in growing at about 50% ARR YoY (year over year). Ideally, if we do things right, we should grow a bit faster than 50% this year. That is always what we’re shooting for every year – that we get our sales and marketing so well-organized that we manage to sign up more customers, more quickly.

What insights would you want to share with foreign founders, and the next generation of founders more generally?

I believe that the focus on SDR’s (Sales Development Reps) – sending out emails, hiring sales reps, setting up sales calls to make appointments for demos, etc., no longer works. A few years ago, when it was new, it worked. These days, people get so many of these calls that they’re no longer effective. That has been a focus to some extent during the sessions at Alchemist, but I think it’s time to start looking at alternatives, like teaming up with industry analysts, seeing how you can use trade shows, seeing how you can carve out your niche. That is something Alchemist helps with quite a bit. There were a few sessions that focused on that, and gave us some great ideas.

For the foreign founders, I believe that it is essential to be in the Bay Area. I don’t think it’s wise to think you can get VC funding here, while not being here. I always tell foreign founders that they also need to be a Delaware C Corp. I also tell them that it’s basically impossible to hire someone in the Bay Area if you’re living abroad. If you do manage to hire them, why didn’t they already have a better offer? It’s better to source talent in Eastern Europe, where people are super well educated, and not cheap, but affordable by Bay Area standards. If the founders are from India or Europe, and have a good understanding of the local culture, they should be able to manage people in their country of origin, from the Bay Area. The other thing to keep in mind for foreign founders is that it’s really hard to get visas. I’m a green card holder—I had to renew last year, and it was incredibly painful and time consuming. If you’re traveling with an expired green card, even if you applied for renewal at the right time and have a temporary extension, it becomes painful every time you re-enter the US. Why not just work remotely with your colleagues so they do not need to come to the US?

What are some highs and lows you’ve had in the last month?

One of the highs recently was an email I received from the legal department of a large managed service provider (MSP) that we’ve been working with to establish a partnership. We’ve been working with them for over a year already, and it’s taken a lot of time to go through their incubator process of looking at new technologies that they can use to get a competitive advantage. The email included a signed reseller agreement, which was the major milestone we’d been hoping for. A big low would be when one of your people who you’ve been training and investing in, leaves because they can earn 150% of their salary with another, bigger company. I don’t blame that person at all, because we can’t realistically match the offer, but it does set you back. The highs and lows come on a daily basis. You need to be able to stay in the saddle, particularly during the first few years, which can be an emotional rollercoaster—but also the fun part. Some people thrive on that, the adventurous nature of startups. That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about Alchemist—you could tell when one of the founders in your class had a rough day or a rough week. It was so helpful for someone to be able to tell their story and feel the support from the group, even just the emotional support. As a founder, you can really feel alone sometimes, especially when the rest of your team is abroad.

What skill or lesson has been the hardest to learn, and has there been anyone that really helped you become a better founder?

Pitching. I was not good at providing a decent pitch. At Alchemist, it was super helpful, not just to get practice, but also tips about what to do and what not to do. It extends not just to pitching VC’s, but also talking to customers. At a certain point in time, when you’re talking to CIO’s or C-Level Executives, they don’t care about the functionality of the tool anymore, they care about the vision. When you can paint that vision for them, if they get grabbed by it and feel like joining you on that journey, it’s wonderful. Alchemist has helped with that a lot.

At Alchemist, the book recommendations were also really helpful. Each and every lecturer had something to teach us, some little nugget that we could take home with us and stew over, in addition to all the other things we learned. It opened a world that I hadn’t paid much attention to. I really enjoyed developing a new skill, like pitching, and it was definitely worth improving in that area. The experience was certainly worth it.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures/year. Learn more about applying today.