The best of both worlds.
Attila Keszeg is a Hungarian-born C-level telecom executive (Deutsche Telekom, Hungarian Telekom, GO) with a 20 year-long journey in FMCG (Pepsi, Red Bull). We got together with Attila to discuss the intersections between the corporate and startup worlds and to get his advice for both parties.
What lessons did you learn from working in FMCG?
I’m a mechanical engineer but my fortune brought me to FMCG and I stayed there for nearly 20 years.
What I learned in FMCG is to focus on customers and perfect execution on the market. There is no 2-year contract to protect you, you need to win the heart of the customer from one shopping trip to another. If your product is available on the shelf, it may be considered. To win, it needs to be relevant, credible and resembling positive brand image. 10 years in Pepsi was a great school for sales and attention to details. 6 years in Red Bull was a perfect school for marketing.
What you need to win:
1. Customer focus
2. Relentless execution
3. Attention to detail
4. Excellent sales and marketing
Did your past experiences intersect with the telecom industry?
Around 2010 I switched industries and went into telecommunications. I was able to convert the know-how and knowledge of my FMCG learnings, especially customer centricity, customer experience, people management, product design aimed at meeting customer needs, and ensuring the right product reaches the right segment.
In FMCG, just like in telecom, you are able to achieve your results through people, through selecting the right team and developing it. That’s what I did. We were able to grow profitability by generating greater value from the existing customer base. I’m a great believer in quality, and I’m sure that customers do not want the cheap product, they want the right product.
In your roles you had a close relationship with startups. What were the biggest challenges?
I was always a big corporate guy, not a startup guy. Big processes, deadlines, KPIs… I struggled with startups at the beginning. I found startups a very interesting phenomenon. I thought they were eating my cake and saw them as competitors. Luckily, I came to the realisation that they are more of a solution, not a problem.
I went to Silicon Valley, London, Tel Aviv, and by meeting startup communities I started to understand the way they are working, how they can complement, or even upgrade, what large telecoms are offering. We started to create so called umbrellas, such as security, cross-sell/up-sell, customer experience, TV. There were always very nice startups ready to collaborate.
How did you manage to combine the two worlds?
Learning how to speak startup language is crucial. Startups and corporates are 2 different worlds. My strength was coming from the corporate side. I know how they think, what their strengths and weaknesses are. We had a lot of bitter startup experiences, we went in too soon and put a corporate structure onto startups. It was suffocating them. They don’t think deadlines like corporates. Demanding the same is naïve – startups are unable to provide the same level reports, KPIs, what a large corporate would enforce.
We had to be conscious about what to do and what not to do. We created the greenhouse around startups, nurturing and protecting them at difficult financial times. I was part of Production Innovation Board (PIB), able to influence product development direction and resource allocation. “Make-buy-partner” question is critical for a large corporate.
Being a board director of a Berlin-based startup immmer (Deutsche Telekom’s “WhatsApp” currently converted into Magenta Button, an in-house developed chatbot), made me an insider of the startup world. I know enough about the startups to speak the right corporate language to create a perfect environment for a corporate not to rush the decision and return on investment. I know how to integrate the startup into the value creation, how not to compete with your own product development and how to rely more on startups.
Top 3 recommendations for startups
1. Ensure there is a clear customer, be practical and target to solve that particular painpoint. I’ve seen many cases how startup developers are too in love with their product and it is not clear what the startup is solving. Have an eye on the user, ensure anyone can use your solution if targeting broad masses. If using your solution requires certain technical knowledge, then you’re developing for experts, not masses. Ensure intuitive usage.
2. Collaborate. There is a lot of openness and collaboration with other startups, reaching out to complement each other’s solutions and combining efforts. Remain collaborative with their future target segments – banks, telcos, make sure sure you have an eye in the market.
3. Spend enough time on the go-to-market and how you will deliver your product to the target audience. This is where matchmakers are coming in – understanding startups, identify channels, how to scale solution.. There are great techy guys who just don’t know how to ensure that the solution reaches the target audience.
Top 3 recommendations for corporates
1. Consider startups first before investing in your own development or buying – could be faster and cheaper. In make-buy-partner order should be turned upside down. There is a startup solution for everything. You want to land on the moon – there will be 10 startups working on that this very moment. Why waste time?
2. Scale up very quick. Ensure value creation and improved services are reaching the masses of the corporate customers. Have a purpose, commitment and scale up quick to upgrade your service.
3. Be practical, use the startup for the right purpose. Avoid checklist “startuping”. Don’t do startup management for the sake of the buzzword. Be solution-oriented.
Why did you join Match-Maker Ventures as a Match-Maker?
I knew about MMV right from the start. I always appreciated what MMV is doing, as I was doing something very similar within Deutsche Telekom – scouting startups, nurturing them and integrating them into corporates. Joining MMV allowed me to utilise my experience and work on something I really enjoy.
If you could start your life over, would you choose the same industry to work in?
I don’t regret working for FMCG, but I would switch earlier to telco, and most probably the whole startup arena. This is where I see a lot of excitement. When you have millions of startups you need to decide what is good, what is bad, and what is genius. You need experience for that, and I would enter this scene way earlier if I could.