With years of experience as an investor in SaaS and tech fields, Nowi Kallen has worked with startups and founders from across the globe, helping to turn bold ideas into great companies led by category leaders.
As Principal of Salesforce Ventures, Nowi is tasked with selecting the most innovative enterprise software companies to invest in; a process that requires rigorous research, high-level awareness of industry trends, and a finely-tuned instinct of what will succeed in this landscape.
Nowi joined the Trailblazing Entrepreneurs podcast to break down the investment process, and share his advice on how founders can stand out from the crowd and deliver the perfect pitch.
Can you tell us a bit about Salesforce Ventures?
Salesforce Ventures is the global venture arm of Salesforce. We’ve been investing for over 10 years now and our mission is to invest in the most innovative Cloud companies globally to provide our customers with great innovation and value. Over the years, we’ve been very lucky to partner with visionary founders of these businesses, who are building category-defining companies.
We are flexible in that we invest from early stage — series A — all the way to IPO, and with that, we’re backed by a very strong balance sheet. So we can also invest in later-stage rounds and keep backing those companies that are creating something of true value.
The way we work with our portfolio companies and create value for them is by providing access to the Salesforce Cloud ecosystem, a source of customers, and a network of Salesforce Execs. We consider things like product and commercial opportunities — things that really resonate with founders and differentiate us from the more institutional VC firms that are mainly primarily focused on driving capital returns.
How do you know what you’re looking for as an investor?
We take a thematic approach to defining what we want. It has to be something that we think is relevant in terms of a software category, but also address an issue we know a lot of businesses are looking at. During COVID, there was a shift in focus to solving issues like: How can you collaborate better? How can you keep your workforce productive? You have to think about what solutions people are actually looking for. You map the landscape and then start having conversations.
In terms of the selection process, a couple of factors really stand out to me. One is the passion of the entrepreneur for solving a specific issue. That usually becomes clear in the initial conversation — how they are thinking about the issue and what the bigger vision is. A lot of these companies are still in very early stages, so we consider what the business is going to look like a couple of years down the line.
Two is the team. We always ask the question, “Is this a team that can scale the business?” It has to be part of the culture. Can the team move fast, and are they in it for the long term? It goes back to the passion. You have to have a real drive in order to create a big business and create a category leader. It’s also about making sure that you are doing something special and a lot better than your competitors.
What do you think constitutes the perfect pitch?
For the initial pitch, it’s important to clearly explain, within the first two minutes, where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to solve, in a way that resonates with your audience. It’s really hard to make a decision based on just a couple of minutes, so we try to spend more time with those teams.
Prior to pitching, it is important to first ask questions. You basically want to build a bit of a profile of who you’re talking to, something I’ve noticed not a lot of entrepreneurs are doing. Plus, we also pitch to entrepreneurs ourselves, in order to position us for a deal. So, there are two sides of the table. In those two minutes you want to give an elevator pitch — really try to explain what you stand for, what you’re solving for and how it might be relevant to the person you’re talking to.
Hear more about Nowi’s journey in this episode of the Trailblazing Entrepreneurs podcast.