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Alicia Asin - Libelium


Alicia Asin is the Co-Founder & CEO of Libelium.

Libelium is an IoT, Smart Cities & M2M Platform provider.

Full Podcast Transcript


Sidney: Welcome to the "Sales Native Podcast," where tech founders share their most valuable sales lessons. I'm Sidney from Sydney, Founder of Sales Native, and today's guest is Alicia Asin, Co-founder, and CEO of Libelium in Zaragoza, Spain. Alicia, welcome to the show.

Alicia: Thank you. Thank you. I'm pleased to be here.

Sidney: It's great to have you here. So Libelium is an IoT, Smart Cities, and M2M platform provider. I'd love to learn about the business, but first, I want to know, why did you start this company?

Alicia: Well, we start the company very, very young, right after the university, and I was 24 and I haven't even presented my master's thesis project for computing engineer. So my co-founder, have been researching on mesh protocols and was thinking of the idea of having sensors to the idea of mesh protocols. So I think it was kind of a big momentum of excitement, thinking of we could be at the beginning of a new industrial revolution, as we are. And how cool it would be to be part of that from the very, very beginning. And at the same time, as I already said, we were 24, just right after the university, so opportunity costs were almost none. So we didn't think it that much, and we just jump into it.

Sidney: That's really awesome for our listeners, I think, to think about that in your earlier ages or when you're a bit younger and don't have commitments or other debts, because you've bought a house, or family or marriage or children. Maybe, you know, so you can take more risks there. And in fact, you said, "We didn't have to think about that twice." But also, there was something that you saw a market trend emerging, so IoT is still a thing today. In fact, it's very hot right now, but you guys have been running at it for a while, so that's really interesting. So tell me about Libelium? What do you do? Who do you do it for, and how are you moving the needle for your target customer?

Alicia: Well, we've been evolving the company a lot. So the company relies on top of the concept of connecting things and making things talk to the internet. And by meaning things, I'm saying from sprinklers in a garden to decide whether to use more or less water to irrigate the garden, or parking spots guiding the motorists to drive through a free parking spot, or even in a factory to be more efficient. So that was the original idea of connecting everything, and the way that we shape it into a company was through making a platform. So it means that we understood that there will be many companies trying to accomplish all those projects in the IoTs and in Smart Cities, and one of the problems that we have is that you always have three elements in IoT projects. You always have sensors and those define the kind of parameters that you are measuring. Communication protocols. And they depend on the environment where you are. It might be cellular or low power wide area networks or Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, or many others. And then you have the information systems that define the application that you are working with.

So if you think of those three common elements, the biggest problem there is the interoperability. So that's exactly the problem we are solving for our targeted customers that are mainly system integrators, and solution companies that want to deploy projects for them. The problem is how to set up the sensors and get them connected to my call platform as soon as possible, and in the most reliable way, and of course, in the most cost-effective way.

Sidney: Brilliant. All those individual solutions are awesome, but the fact that you need to connect them all and to connect them ultimately to the financial system that can create value from all this, is the key. So I think you're solving an awesome problem there. So I now want to turn our attention to sales at Libelium. Alicia, tell me about your most interesting sale?

Alicia: Well, there could be many of them. And I could mention some of them because of all the things we learned. And I remember the first big project we made. It was for the city of Santander here in Spain, and we learned a lot. It was like an MBA itself, dealing with that project, and it shaped the company, the roots of the company to the company that we are today. That was one thing. And most recently, I would outline one project we did with three parts all over the world, and it reflects very well the ecosystem that we have around us. As a company, we don't develop from software of application software at all. We don't have cloud services. We provide the sensors and the APIs, and all the connectors to the cloud platforms of our partners. And the vision that we have is that anyone can use all those building blocks to build projects anywhere in the world.

So very recently, our Iranian distributor installed one of our solutions developed. This software was developed by the South Korean distributor that we have and using also LoRaWAN technology from one of our partners in Switzerland. So it was a project deployed in one country, including technology deployed in three other countries, and everything was smooth and fast because of the integration and because it was a big success story of how an ecosystem can work, and how can you put an ecosystem to have an exponential factor for your company. And by the way, the project was about monitoring fish farming. That was the only thing I didn't say.

Sidney: Yes. So I think some takeaways there for our listeners, two come to mind. One is, and this may have happened accidentally for you or not, I don't know. And you can clarify this, but thinking about whatever you're providing, if you can be global from day one, and it doesn't matter where you're sitting as an organization. But if you have a big vision, of course, you need to take meaningful baby steps before you get there, but having a vision that takes you that way. And the other thing is the importance of partners in the ecosystem, right? Not only on the delivery side but on the sales side, and it builds credibility. It gives you access to markets that you wouldn't have credibility in, you wouldn't have the resources in, you just wouldn't be able to afford to be in those markets. So thinking about a partner distribution model is, I think, another lesson we can learn from the Libelium story today.

Alicia: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's the key of our roles and the key of our surviving position as well. I learned from one of the teachers that we have when we started with the company said, "Your company's value is bigger depending directly on the amount of people that gets value of you as well." So if you are a company keeping all the value that you generate only for yourself, not many people will be interested in you to succeed. But if there are many parts involved in your success and every time you succeed many other people succeed with you, then you have an exponential factor for your success as well.

Sidney: Really interesting. I think that applies to both thinking about how you distribute value within your own team. Right? As a founder, what kind of mindset you have around sharing the upside with your team, but then you're taking it to that next level through the person that's coached you on this around sharing the value with your partners or building a framework where if they can bring value, they can also share some of the upside and that way your value will be greater than if you tried to do it on your own. Thanks for sharing that. So, what should first-time tech founders know when it comes to sales, or in other words, what sales advice would you be giving yourself if you were starting over?

Alicia: With no doubt, I would explain the difference between technology, product and business model. Because I think that many, many tech founders are usually, of course, ingenious and we always fell in love with technology. And sometimes you are just speaking in other language with the person that you have in front of you because you are talking about the excellence of the technology, explaining what you can do and the person in front of you is just not listening because you are not speaking something interesting for that person.

The problem is that many tech founders think that once they have that inside a product, that's solved because you are speaking of a product. And again, that's the biggest mistake because it's easy to realize that you don't have a complete offering when you are speaking only of technology. But speaking only of a product it's almost the same mistake, and it isn't until you go to the next step and you have a business model, and also a business case for the customer when you start having something that you can actually sell. So in our case, the example would be, speaking of technology, speaking of the communication protocols, or speaking of the sensors, transforming that into a product is the sensor device that we have in explaining that it is a platform that can connect up to 20 different protocols, 120 sensors, blah-blah, and it can be used in different verticals, and that the business model, the conversation, it starts to be interesting for the buyer the moment that you say, "Well, you know, we know that you have problems that need to be solved. You are deploying this kind of project in the IOT space and you are dealing with the interoperability problem that it's costing you development cost. You don't benefit from building precision in devices. You need to maintain multiple systems once you set up a project, and we can solve that with a product. But it's a process that every tech founder needs to cross and as fast as possible.

Sidney: A painful process. So...

Alicia: It is.

Sidney: So, I love what you said. You don't have a complete offering if you just talk about the tech or the product. And for our listeners, if you noticed how Alicia was giving the examples of what it's like to be talking about the tech, but then switch to talking about how you talk about a business model and the business case. And she said the customer will start being interested once you talk about them and talk about their problems. That's, say, you're interested in their problems, you believe you can bring value to them and you can solve their problems. So I think we all take a lot of pride in the tech we've created, and the product we've created, and you need that level of pride, but I think the emphasis we put and the order in which we communicate these various things that we try to communicate in the early stages of our sales process. And it must start with the customer pain and problem, and it must talk about customer value before we talk about the speeds and feeds and the fantastic factors of how clean the engineering is on the inside. Right. So really good advice there. Thank you.

Alicia: Yeah, I guess that it's always a process. It starts when you talk all the time at the beginning because you are so proud of the cool technology that you have, that you want to detail everything, absolutely. Then you realize that you should be listening more and then you start being more quiet in the meetings, and even asking as much questions as possible. And then it's about talking most of time, but talking about them, and not about you. So yeah, I think you're totally right.

Sidney: Well, no, you're totally right. So listen more, ask more questions. And as you said, it's a process, and I think we've all been there as founders, right? We get so excited about what we want to offer and we just want to talk, but actually, we're there to solve problems, and we jointly want to solve problems. We come with an expertise, and we come with the capability. So what? If the other party hasn't shared where they're trying to go, we're completely assuming things, and that's never good for anyone. So, Alicia, sales aside, as a tech founder, what's your biggest struggle and how are you overcoming it?

Alicia: Well, the biggest, it doesn't mean only one. I think that the main challenges is the pressure of responsibility that you develop. To me, feeling that I have 60 people depending on the company, depending on me to pay their mortgage, pay their kids' schools and all those things, it's a big pressure and also a great source of motivation. As you evolve, we started with 24 and now I am 35, and I already have two kids balancing, and it's also a challenge because as a co-founder of a company it's like if you have another kid, and you love the company. You have a great passion in what you are doing, but you need to balance and don't live constantly on the company and don't have always your thoughts and your heart on the company only.

So I think the biggest challenge is finding time for everything and I am seeing many new founders of tech companies working like Matt, which is totally normal. Everyone has done it, but it can be a big source of frustration depending on the exit that you are thinking. So I think that we are developing a big culture of having a very fast exit and if that doesn't happen, because the market is not mature enough, or whatever thing, those people are really frustrated and depressed because they were thinking only on the exit, and no matter how, no matter what kind of products they were developing, or what kind of projects they were developing.

So making sure that you have a balanced life from the very beginning, gets you ready to be patient and to have a more realistic and down to earth vision on everything. And I think that having perspective on the development on the company, it's not the most important thing in the world, but it is also very, very important. It's crucial for yourself.

Sidney: Got it. So the pressure of responsibility for the number of mouths that you're feeding, including the number of mouths that they need to feed through the success of Libelium. Plus, the juggling of priorities, given, you know, you are a mom of two and you've got the business, and the business is like a child and all the employees are like extended family or children, so I get that. And your recommendation for our listeners is, "Think about balance. Think about perspective." And something you said that's really interesting, which is, "Demonstrate more patience and adjust your expectations because we're not going to get Instagram exits here." Right? A billion dollars in less than 24 months, or whatever it was that they went for, and they only have 8 employees. That's not how businesses turn out most of the time, and most of us need to start the businesses, our businesses assuming we're not going to be one of these businesses. So we have to play the long game. We have to have a marathon approach rather than a sprint. So really, really valuable advice there. We can't hear enough of this, even with the experienced founders out there.

Alicia, thank you very much for being on the show. I wish you and Libelium all the best, and I look forward to hearing more of your progress.

Alicia: My pleasure. Thanks for having me here. Thank you.

Sidney: Thank you and goodbye.

There you have it, folks, valuable insights from my fellow founder. Remember, as a tech founder, to succeed, you need to sell, and sales is not a dirty word. It's a value exchange. Meaning, you need to create and capture value. Here at Sales Native, our calling is to provide sales inspiration, training and coaching to tech founders wherever you may be in the world, enabling you to reach your potential, to make your impact and to leave your legacy. If this is you, then I invite you to head over to salesnative.com and sign up for my free talk, "The 10 Sales Essentials For First-Time Tech Founders."

From one founder to another, I wish you success. And remember, you're just one sale away.

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