In 2015, Guy Kirkwood made a significant career shift from a director-level position in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, to the role of Chief Evangelist at UiPath. Back then, UiPath was a small business with less than $1M in revenue, and was about to embark on its journey of defining the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) category. During Guy’s tenure, UiPath experienced a significant phase of growth, skyrocketing from $1 million to over $1 billion in revenue over six years. UiPath’s impressive expansion was not solely a product of technological innovation, but also the result of strategic networking and effective communication, some of Kirkwood’s areas of focus.
Crew Capital’s Dylan Reider and Sonia Damian recently sat down with Guy, as part of our operator interview series. Our conversation with him centers around the theme “The Power of the Network in Scaling a Start-up”, as understanding and leveraging community relationships was one of the key factors in UiPath’s remarkable success story.
As Chief Evangelist, Kirkwood’s role was pivotal in complementing and enhancing marketing and sales efforts. He served as the company’s chief storyteller, translating complex technical concepts into simple, relatable terms for a non-technical audience. Drawing inspiration from Kawasaki‘s approach of appealing to agnostics versus zealots,’ Kirkwood effectively communicated UiPath’s vision and value proposition, bridging the gap between technical innovation and market needs.
Reflecting on his six years at UiPath, Kirkwood acknowledges the critical lessons learned, the importance of hiring people better than oneself, the necessity of grounding one’s business in reality, and avoiding the trap of believing in your hype.
Leveraging network and community-building for startup growth
Crafting a resonant brand story
At UiPath, Kirkwood focused on crafting a brand story that resonated with diverse audiences. He believed in the principle of “show, don’t tell”, exemplified by a meeting with a big potential customer from the banking sector: “We didn’t just walk through our proposal. We showed them how our product could solve their problems in real-time.” This approach helped convey the product’s potential more effectively than traditional presentations, making it tangible for customers and partners.
Engaging the community with vision
Building a community around UiPath’s vision was about inspiring with a transformative narrative. Kirkwood notes, “I told the story about the fourth industrial revolution… It’s not about standing in front of a steam engine but telling the story of how technology, including ours, is part of this revolution.” This narrative framed UiPath’s technology within the context of global technological advancement, appealing to a broader audience and instilling a sense of participation in a larger movement.
Feedback and decision-making
Feedback played a crucial role in UiPath’s strategy, particularly in creating the UiPath Academy. “I said to UiPath, we’ve got to give away our training for free. No one else had done that before. This approach was a supercharger for the growth of our product.” This decision was not only about expanding the user base but also about creating a more educated and engaged community around UiPath’s technology.
Prioritizing and implementing feedback
Dealing with a multitude of feedback required a focused approach. Kirkwood emphasizes the importance of incremental changes and internal advocacy for new ideas, saying: “You can’t boil the ocean”. Taking actionable steps based on prioritized feedback, ensured that the most impactful insights were integrated into the company’s strategy and operations. “Distilling down what you’re hearing and then putting that back into the organization, even when they don’t want to hear it, is critical.”
Engaging with analyst communities
The importance of industry analysts
For many startups selling to large enterprises, engaging with industry analysts is crucial, as these experts are often the bridge to future customers. Kirkwood highlights the strategic importance of this connection: “Analysts play a key role in how the market perceives you. Their clients are your potential customers, making them a valuable channel for growth.” He emphasizes that analysts often carry more influence than direct vendor marketing efforts.
Early engagement with analysts
There’s also a need for early engagement with analysts, even before appointing a Chief Marketing Officer. “Start engaging with analysts early. You want them talking about you when you’re not in the room,” Kirkwood advises. This proactive approach can set the stage for a startup’s market positioning and brand perception.
Engaging with analyst communities like Gartner and Forrester is crucial, especially for startups looking to enhance their market valuation and credibility. “Getting recognized as a Gartner Cool Vendor, for instance, can significantly boost your valuation overnight.” This recognition can attract more interest from investors and help differentiate a startup from its competitors.
Analysts’ influence on brand perception and buyer behavior
Analysts hold substantial sway over brand perception and buyer behavior. “When we started, only two analysts knew what RPA was (and one of them had invented the term). We worked together to build the RPA market and its Total Addressable Market (TAM),” Identifying and collaborating with the right analysts can be pivotal in shaping a startup’s market presence and growth trajectory.
Differentiating in analyst relations
Differentiating a startup in the eyes of analysts requires more than just traditional metrics. “Never exaggerate your achievements. Be honest and precise in your communications. Always write in the third person for analysts (to make their lives easier), and engage in inquiry calls where you lead the conversation with questions you know the answers to.” This approach helps in building trust and a more genuine relationship with analysts.
Avoiding common misunderstandings with analysts
Startups often misunderstand the role and influence of analyst communities. Kirkwood points out that success in analyst relations isn’t about spending large sums of money or having a big team. “It’s about starting the engagement early, ideally around the seed funding stage, and building genuine relationships,” he said. Startups should focus on making analysts partners in their growth story, rather than just another audience to impress.
Advice for startup founders
For startups looking to drive growth and penetrate new markets, a strategic approach to network building is necessary. Kirkwood recommends: “Read everything you can by Jay McBain on his 14 spheres of influence.” McBain’s insights provide a comprehensive understanding of networking and its impact on business growth. Founders should start by identifying key influencers and stakeholders in their industry and actively engage with these networks to build a strong foundation for market entry and expansion.
When building communities, companies often overlook the best ideas, which usually come from their customers. He reflects on UiPath’s experience, “Our customers had the best ideas, leading to initiatives like the UiPath Marketplace.” Acknowledging and leveraging the power of user groups and most valuable professionals (MVPs) can significantly enhance community engagement and product development.
Discussing the ideal profile for someone to lead these efforts, Kirkwood emphasizes, “You need someone articulate and confident in speaking to groups, large or small.” The chief evangelist is essentially the eyes and ears of the CEO and other key departments, playing a crucial role as an individual contributor rather than leading a large team. This role requires a balance of communication skills and the ability to understand and convey the needs of different stakeholders within and outside the organization.
Kirkwood points out that there is no significant difference in community-building approaches between start-up and scale-up stages for a chief evangelist. However, he acknowledges, “The number of moving parts increases as you scale.” A key strategy is to let customers speak to prospects, leveraging events and forums for direct engagement. Last but not least, he affirms the adage, “People buy from people,” stressing the importance of personal connections in business growth.