Building a Successful Business In Italy and Europe: a Silicon Valley CEO Perspective
First things first. As a small entrepreneurial Silicon Valley start-up 6+ years ago, why did we even attempt to do business in Italy? Why not focus closer to home? That’s an easy question. Our business then was entirely focused on helping renewable energy-focused utilities grow, scale, and dominate their respective markets.
by Haresh Patel, CEO Mercatus, Inc. And one of the largest, most reputable and innovative energy utilities in the world is headquartered in Rome. But wanting to do business in Italy and Europe and actually doing business in Italy are two very different things…
One of the first things I noticed when we started talking to leaders in Europe is that business, especially in Italy, is steeped in relationships. It’s difficult coming in without those relationships established and without a well-known brand, which represents safety in decision making. We also observed (and appreciate) the understated, “no BS” style of Italian executives, unlike the typical American business bravado. We were lucky. We were able to forge connections in Italy through common passion: passion for disruption, for thinking outside the box, and for solving real business problems in interesting new ways.
We found with our global utility target (now customer) a surprising willingness to put both of those typical business criteria (relationships + brand) aside and have an open and honest conversation about their business challenges and future desired outcomes. The early conversations were not about Mercatus or our technology, but about the Company’s need for executive visibility and access to critical data to facilitate investment and resource allocation decisions. And also a desire for technological excellence, to lead the industry in advanced analytics and digitalization.
I believe another core component of our connection was a recognition and respect for Mercatus’ DNA both within Energy Development and Investment Banking – a unique combination of perspectives and skills. It proved valuable in the early conversations and translated into a solution that could deliver a very rapid time-to-value compared to other solutions from incumbent software providers.
It also helped that this multinational Energy Company is a leader in its field with – and perhaps because of – an uncanny ability to challenge the status quo and question how things could be better – processes, technologies, efficiencies, business models. We find when executives are open to “why change” and “why now” conversations, that’s when innovation truly happens.
When I think about common themes in forging relationships with Italian and European businesses, our success seems to be largely predicated on 3 key characteristics:
Willingness to take risks
Ability to look beyond brand and buzzwords
Innovation and outcome focused culture
I will admit, we had to learn to temper our U.S./Silicon Valley “aggressiveness” and blunt approach. The Silicon Valley culture can be off-putting to European executives. However, we found in Italy that both companies were able to challenge each other’s way of thinking, making both of us stronger. We have helped the Italian energy leader illuminate pipeline development, improve operational efficiencies as much as 5X, accelerate collaboration, and enhance investment decision-making. They, in turn, have helped Mercatus strengthen our product, improve our roadmap, and solidify our value proposition.
That’s what it means to be a true partner. To earn the trust to be able to have an open dialogue about business challenges and strategies. It’s not always easy to hear someone else’s truth.
At the end of the day, people do business with people. They choose people they like, trust, and respect. Those things need to be earned. Sometimes executives need to buck the trends (e.g., falling in love with brands and buzzwords) in order to find the right partner, to successfully innovate, to change the status quo. With our first Italian customer, we were essentially two start-ups innovating together.
We remain very bullish on our relationship(s) and think our Italian customer/partner has a great opportunity to become the “Google of Energy” on the global stage. Their ability to constantly innovate even as a large, global, public organization is impressive, to say the least. I’d like to think we will be a big part of that expansive growth.
Our business in Italy and other European countries has been both refreshing and rewarding. It’s an investment in time, energy, and resources to establish trust and relationships and earn a seat at the table. We understand now, looking back at the last 6 years, how much that investment means to the future of our business. Significant innovation is coming out of Europe from the energy producers and their capital market partners who supply the immense amount of capital required to fuel the transition to a clean energy future. We’re thrilled to be part of that growth and accelerate our conversations with European funds focused on alternative investments like energy, infrastructure, and real estate.
It’s clearly an exciting time where technology is driving real business change in meaningful ways. Innovation globally will accelerate over the next 5 years. I believe U.S.-Europe collaboration and partnership will be a key driver in that transformation.