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.

Not BI, AI

A product business can double its revenue and quadruple its margins by moving to a service business. What is service? It's information, personal and relevant to you.  

Amazon delivers information that is personal and relevant to you, for example, with its recommendations: customers like you bought this book, or customers like you like this music. Now think about your favorite banking site and log in. I will contend that there’s very little personal and relevant information. The only reason you’re being asked to log in is for security reasons. After that you are really looking at a big shopping cart to move money from savings to checking, buy stocks, sell a bond, etc. 

Could the bank deliver information that’s personal or relevant to you? Could they say that people like you bought this stock, or people like you re-financed their mortgage? Yes, they could, so why don’t they? Well, you probably never thought about this, but the consumer Internet that Google and Bing let you see through search is believed to only be about 100 or 200 terabytes. That’s it. Now, I’ll guarantee your current IT systems have 10, 100, or 1,000 times that amount of information; so why can’t they deliver information that is personal and relevant to you? Well, I say they are held hostage by the SQL monster. So let’s just have a little fun here.

It’s the late ‘90s and I have several SQL engineers in the room. I come in with a brilliant business idea. My idea is that we are going to index the consumer Internet and we’re going to monetize it with ads. We’re going to be billionaires! Just guess what the SQL engineers would do?

The first thing they’re going to do is design a master, global-data schema to index all information on the planet. The second thing they’re going to do is write ETL and data cleansing tools to import all that information into this master, global-data schema. And the last thing they are going to do is write reports, for instance, the best place to camp in France or great places to eat in San Francisco.

Any of you who are technical are probably laughing right now thinking, “Well that’s a completely stupid thing to do.” But if you try and attack the problem using SQL and BI tools, you’re also going to fail.  

Furthermore, as you connect your machines, you have the opportunity to bring in large amounts of time-series data. Modern wind turbines have 500 sensors and the ability to transmit those sensor readings once a second. Most analytic techniques depend on the idea that the data scientist can try and visualize the data, but how is that possible if I have a 1,000 wind turbines and data for 12, 24 or 36 months?  How can we learn from that?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been increasingly in the news. Google’s DeepMind made headlines when the machine, AlphaGo, programmed to play Go, defeated Lee Sedol, one of the best players in the world, by 4 - 1. Amazon’s Echo and voice assistant Alexa is being widely praised for its voice recognition capabilities, and many people remember how Watson handily beat the best Jeopardy players in the world.

Things have been changing quickly and here is a great example. ImageNet is a database of millions of images. Beginning in 2010 the ImageNet Challenge was established to see how well a machine would do at object recognition. As a point of reference an average person will be able to achieve 95% accuracy. In 2010, the winning machine could correctly label an image 72% of the time. By 2012, accuracy had improved to 85%, and in 2015 the machine achieved 96% accuracy.

So why have things been changing so quickly?

First, we’re continuing to get more computing and more storage for lower and lower prices. Next generation compute and storage cloud services can provide thousands of computers for an hour or a day. AI and machine learning software require lots of computing during the learning phase. The second reason is the emergence of neural network algorithms. Third, it’s not possible to apply these advanced AI technologies without data, and lots of it. Consumer Internet companies like Facebook are able to use billions of photos to train facial recognition systems. AlphaGo learned from millions of games of Go and Alexa learned from millions of voice patterns.

While we’ll continue to see progress in replicating what humans do, we have the opportunity to apply these AI technologies to even more important challenges. Today, many of the machines that generate electricity, transport goods, farm food, or sequence genes have large amounts of data. If we were able to connect these machines and collect the sensor data from them, we would have the opportunity to use AI and machine learning technologies to operate a more precise planet. Imagine a future farm that can use fewer pesticides, which not only reduces the cost of the food, but also makes it healthier. A future power utility could be based on a vast array of solar panels, wind turbines, small hydro generators and batteries to generate more power, much more efficiently. A pediatric hospital could share the results of millions of MRI scans and diagnose patients far faster.

Next-generation machine companies could not only double their revenues and quadruple their margins, but build a better planet in the process.

---

Timothy Chou, Ph.D.

Timothy Chou has lectured at Stanford University for over twenty-five years and is the Alchemist Accelerator IoT Chair.  Not only does he have academic credentials, but also he's served as President of Oracle's cloud business and today is a board member at both Blackbaud and Teradata. He began his career at one of the first Kleiner Perkins startups, Tandem Computers, and today is working with several Silicon Valley startups including as the Executive Chairman of Lecida, which is building precision assistants for the IoT using AI technologies. Timothy has published a few landmark books including, The End of Software, and Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, which was recently named one of the top ten books for CIOs.  He's lectured at over twenty universities and delivered keynotes on all six continents.

Service is Not Break-Fix

As a student of business, you may have come to realize that with a recurring-service-revenue business, you can not only double the revenues of the company, but also quadruple the margins. I recently spoke with an executive of a large European company who has a 50/50 business; 50% of their revenue is selling machines and 50% is service on those machines. He said, “In 2008 our revenues went down, but our margins went up.”

But what is service? Is it answering the phone nicely from Bangalore? Is it flipping burgers at McDonald’s? No. Service is the delivery of information that is personal and relevant to you. That could be the hotel concierge giving you directions to the best Szechuan Chinese restaurant in town, or your doctor telling you that, based on your genome and lifestyle, you should be on a specific medication. Service is personal and relevant information.

I’ve heard many executives of companies that make machines say, “Our customers won’t pay for service.” Well of course, if you think that service is just fixing broken things, then your customers will think you should be building a more reliable product.

Service is information. In 2004, the Oracle Support organization studied 100 million support requests and found that over 99.9% of them had been answered with already known information.

Aggregating information for thousands of different uses of the software, even in a disconnected state, represents huge value over the knowledge of a single person in a single location. Real service is not break-fix, but rather information about how to maintain or optimize the availability, performance or security of the product.

Above is my Amazon home page. Every time you log in, Amazon attempts to deliver information that is personal and relevant to you. For instance, people like you bought this book. If you look closely at the image, you might guess who uses my Amazon account. Now, let’s point something else out, namely the little shopping cart in the upper right hand corner. That’s the transactions processing system. It has to operate securely with scalability, but how important is it?  Not very.  Instead, most of the real estate of the page, and therefore of the company, is dedicated to delivering information that is personal and relevant.  

Service is information.

---

Timothy Chou, Ph.D.

Timothy Chou has lectured at Stanford University for over twenty-five years and is the Alchemist Accelerator IoT Chair.  Not only does he have academic credentials, but also he's served as President of Oracle's cloud business and today is a board member at both Blackbaud and Teradata. He began his career at one of the first Kleiner Perkins startups, Tandem Computers, and today is working with several Silicon Valley startups in roles from investor to executive chairman. Timothy has published a few landmark books including, The End of Software, and Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, which was recently named one of the top ten books for CIOs.  He's lectured at over twenty universities and delivered keynotes on all six continents.

Not Machines, It’s the Service

If your company builds agricultural, power, construction, healthcare, oil, gas or mining machines you’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things.  All of us in the tech community are excited to tell you about our cool technology to run on your machine, connect it to the Internet, collect data from it, and then make predictions from that data using advanced machine learning technology.

But maybe the question you’re asking as the CEO of one of these companies is why should I care?  Isn’t this just stuff my geeky R&D staff cares about? How can it be meaningful to my business?  

I’ll be making the case that with IoT software; you can not only double the size of your business but also create a barrier that your competition will find difficult to cross.

Next generation machines are increasingly powered by software.  Porsche’s latest Panamera has 100 million lines of code (a measure of the amount of software) up from only 2 million lines in the previous generation.  Tesla owners have come to expect new features delivered through software updates to their vehicles.  Healthcare machines are also becoming more software defined. A drug-infusion pump may have more than 200,000 lines of code and an MRI scanner more than 7,000,000 lines. On a construction site a modern boom lift has 40 sensors and 3,000,000 lines of code and on the farm a combine-harvester has over 5,000,000 lines of code.  Of course we can debate if this is a good measure of software, but I think you get the point.  Software is beginning to define machines.

So if machines are becoming more software defined, then maybe the business models that applied to the world of software will also apply to the world of machines. Early in the software product industry we created products and sold them on a CD; if you wanted the next product, you’d have to buy the next CD. As software products became more complex, companies like Oracle moved to a business model where you bought the product (e.g. ERP or database) together with a service contract. That service contract was priced at a derivative of the product purchase price. Over time, this became the largest and most profitable component of many enterprise software product companies.  In the year before Oracle bought Sun (whilst they were still a pure software business) they had revenues of approximately $15B, only $3B of which was product revenue, the other $12B, over 80%, was high margin, recurring service revenue.

In the world of machines, you might wonder why General Electric is running ads on Saturday Night Live talking about the Industrial Internet.  Why are they doing this?  All you need to do is download the 2016 10-K (http://www.ge.com/ar2016/assets/pdf/GE_2016_Form_10K.pdf) and look on page 36.  Out of $113B in revenue they recognized $52B, or nearly 50%, as service revenue.  Imagine if GE could move to 80% service revenue, not only would the company be tens of billions of dollars larger, but also margins for the overall business could easily double. And let me remind you this is all done without connecting the product (software or machine).  Once connecte you can provide even more service and ultimately deliver your product as a service.  As we have already seen in high tech software and hardware moving to product-as-a-service is transformative.

So if you’re an executive at a power, transportation, construction, agriculture, oil & gas, life science, or healthcare machine company, how big is your service business?

---

Timothy Chou, Ph.D.

Timothy Chou has lectured at Stanford University for over twenty-five years and is the Alchemist Accelerator IoT Chair.  Not only does he have academic credentials, but also he's served as President of Oracle's cloud business and today is a board member at both Blackbaud and Teradata. He began his career at one of the first Kleiner Perkins startups, Tandem Computers, and today is working with several Silicon Valley startups in roles from investor to executive chairman. Timothy has published a few landmark books including, The End of Software, and Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, which was recently named one of the top ten books for CIOs.  He's lectured at over twenty universities and delivered keynotes on all six continents.