The Journey from Corporate Marketing to Start-Up Marketing

Published on: | Updated on: | Trisha Miles



Marketing is marketing, right?  

But when it comes to corporate marketing versus start-up marketing, there are actually some big differences. 

For start-ups, you likely have to develop a marketing strategy from scratch and carve a space in the market. The stakes are a bit higher, and the resources are likely fewer. 

Corporate marketing typically has a more well-established chain of command, teams dedicated to specific areas, and more freedom (and budget) when it comes to taking risks. 

Marketing is clearly not one size fits all, but if you’re switching from corporate to start-up marketing, there are\ still plenty of lessons learned that you can run with. As long as you dig deeply into what deficit you're trying to bridge, lean on your network, find and learn from customers, and figure out how to evolve with the changing growth marketing landscape, your marketing can be successful. 

“...There is a definite advantage of having been in the industry for long enough...[First,] you have the advantage of leaning on to your ecosystem that kind of makes it slightly...easier when you start out on the latter part of your professional career. Second, you've been through the trials and tribulations of working in organizations, so you understand what it takes to build a company...
-Pankit Desai, founder and CEO at Sequretek 


Growth Marketing Lessons Learned from Corporate to Start-Up 

In this week’s Growth Marketing Chat episode, Pankit Desai, founder and CEO at Sequretek, discusses his own journey and the lessons learned from working many years in corporate organizations before shifting to start-up marketing. He shares: 

  • Why building a network matters so much 
  • The difference between building a company to scale vs. to sell 
  • The importance of segmenting the market & not building a product in isolation 
  • The benefits of iterating a product along the way (instead of waiting for it to be perfect to launch)
  • How reorienting your selling engine can take you to the next level
  • And much more 

Pulling from past experience can give you what you need to develop a marketing strategy that can help a start-up scale in both size and revenue 

Check out the full interview for invaluable insight on what it takes to build a company, and how you can do it no matter your career stage. 

Video Transcript:  

NICK: Welcome, everybody. Today we have a very exciting guest, Pankit Desai, co-founder and CEO at Sequretek. Sequretek is a global cybersecurity company which offers end-to-end security in the areas of enterprise threat monitoring, incident response, device security, and identity and access governance. Welcome, Pankit, and thank you for joining us. 

PANKIT: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure, Nick. 

NICK: So, Pankit, maybe we can start by kind of diving into your background and having you tell us a little bit about the journey and what led you to your current role as the leader of Sequretek. Judging by your education background,you have a little bit of an engineering education, but also you went to business school, so, curious how you kind of progressed to the point of starting the company. 

PANKIT: Sure, yeah, like you said, I did my engineering, but never worked a single day in doing the engineering studies that I did. It was just happen-chance. Immediately after the engineering I did my masters in management. And since then, I've always been in sales, operations, and that side of the house. I started my career with a tech company out of India, then moved to IBM, and about after eight years of being in India, I decided to move to the US. I moved to the US with a company called WEBPRO. I was running regional sales and then some national responsibilities with WEBPRO. Got a chance to work with an amazingly focused-niche company which was in the ERP space. It was a small company but they weren't doing well, and a private equity had just bought them and they wanted to bring a new management in, and I was lucky to be part of that new team that kind of came on board. We turned the company around in a period of five years and sold it to NTT DATA. It was about 2010. And then for a couple of years, I worked with NTT, and in 2012, decided to move back to India, and joined another mid-size company and helped them build a global business. 

And by that time, what had happened is there was this whole startup bug that had caught the Indian ecosystem, and I had already spent a good 40-plus years working in corporates and having some amazing experiences. But, invariably, I had a feeling that I was always working on someone else's direction, you know, someone else's vision, someone else's mission, some else's execution strategy that you were kind of fulfilling. And while all that's great, there is only limited wiggle room that you can get in that environment. And I felt that maybe there was a time in my life that I reached that, potentially starting out on our own with the fact that we had some savings and we could potentially take some risk. That startup bug had caught me personally as well, and then I and my partner, who was in a very similar journey of his own, having spent 20-plus years in the corporate world. We got together and we said, "Okay well, let's start something." And his background being security, that led us to being in Sequretek. Otherwise, I was always in services sales. This was the first time I ventured out into a product business. 

NICK: Amazing, amazing. You know, there's this kind this myth of the startup founder. You know, fresh out of college or quitting college, starting the company at like early twenties, and then taking into the stratosphere. But I think more frequently what happens is your path, right? 15-20 years of experience, pay the dues in the corporate world, have various M&A experiences, and then take that and invest it into your own venture. And now you having experienced the network, the connections to actually be successful. 

PANKIT: I agree, I agree. I mean, though I do wish that I had started off on this journey a bit earlier than I did. But there is a definite advantage of having been in the industry for long enough. So it does a few things. A, you have a network that you created of well wishes over a period of time. And if you look at us, my investors, my customers, my early employees, and even now our either ex colleagues, ex customers, former classmates. So, you have the advantage of leaning on to your ecosystem that kind of makes it slightly more easier when you start out on the latter part of your professional career. Second, you've been through the travels and tribulations of working in organizations so you understand what it takes to build a company, right? 

 Cause you've seen started,  processes and system and organization landscape, competitive landscape, so you really understand how a company is supposed to run. So, specifically, if you're looking to build a company to scale, versus company to sell. If it's company to scale then it is good that you have worked in a larger organization, and you are seeing how they've gone about building a structure and a process that you can potentially invite in building it. And also learn from things that you should not be doing, because not everything that was good in that company. So, when you build yours, you can at least keep some of those in mind, and ensuring that some of the so-called negative factors you can try to limit from day one. 

NICK: Interesting. So, can you actually expand a little bit on that point, building a company to scale versus building a company to sell. What are the differences? What are sort of the key differentiators between the two approaches there? 

PANKIT: So, when you build a company to sell, fundamentally you're focusing on getting an idea validated. So you have a a thought process, you build a very viable product, you find someone to try it out, and get some initial traction that validates it. And fairly early on you are very clear that you have some target in mind that's going to potentially buy you on, right? And that's the intent, that you get a few successes and then you look to kind of exit. When you build a company to scale, no, thought to say that if you build a company to scale, you can't exit. 

I'm assuming that when Google got built out or Microsoft got built out, the intent was never to build the first product and look for someone to buy. Or, in fact, if you look at it when Google came out, Yahoo was already a common player in that old space, right? And they could have chosen-- in fact, there was an offer by Yahoo to buy Google out. Right? So, I think when you build to scale you look from very beginning a structure and a process and a team, and you invest in it. So, if you look at it from very early days, we had looked at HR role, we had looked at the finance role, we had looked at an IT infrastructure role, we had looked at sales leaders. We had looked at building key pillars to the organization from very, very early on in our cycle. So while we were building the product, we were also building a structure that could allow us to scale, as and when the product became mature. 

NICK: Wow, that's very very interesting. Makes a lot of sense. Well, that kind of leads us perfectly into our next point. Let's talk about growth. You know, how big was the team when you starte and how are you able to grow the company to over 400 employees now, worldwide, in such a short amount of time? 

PANKIT: Yeah, so we were just three of us when we started. So we were basically, as I said, the judge, jury, and the prosecutor, all of them a small team that comes together to make it happen. And just like any of the startup, we started with just three of us, (indistinct) and I and just one other ex colleague of ours who came on board the journey. And, as I say, it's the judge, jury, and the prosecutor that kinda all comes together, and that's how you kinda create the first core tool. What, though, were very clear is that, you know, we had an idea about creating a company that fundamentally was going to alter the security landscape. And let me just give you a little of preamble of how the security industry works. Our industry primarily is very reactive in nature, by which I mean is that every time a new problem comes up, a new security outcome or a technology gets delivered. 

So, for an example, when we move from a PC world to a mobile world, and a new set of threats came out, a new set of products for security came out. It was almost like an afterthought. When IOT becomes a big part of how you choose to do business, IOT threats come in and then the IOT security comes in. And consequently what has happened is for the enterprises, there are over a hundred different types of technologies. I'm not talking about companies hundred different types of technologies that exist in the security landscape. There's someone willing to build by implement, manage, run, and so and so forth. Now, if you are a customer and you are supposed to run your manufacturing business or a pharma business or a healthcare business or a bank or whatever the case might be, you are not expected to know that I need to buy all of these point products to make my entire environment secure. And therefore what ends up happening is most customers either get under-invested insecurity or they end up buying products that overlap. 

And in the worst cases, they buy products that are poorly implemented. So what we felt is, as a late starter, could we potentially build a platform that solves a large part of a customer security problem? And can we look at bringing all of that together through a combination of technology, landscape, and so and so forth. And that was the big bright idea that we had. And we chose to build on that idea as we went along. And that's how the company got big. Just give me one second, huh? So, the idea therefore for us was to create a platform that could bring multiple technologies together. Not only that, we said that we'll offer the software, we will deliver it to a platform, and we'll give a capability to run the platform. So, the idea was for that mid-market customer who really struggles to understand the overall security landscape. We want to be that one player that solves it for them, end to end. And when they took that vision to either our first set of employees or to the prospects or to the investors. They kind of got an idea that, "Hey, this is something very different in the way these guys are thinking and maybe will join our journey." And that's how we got our first set of customers as well as the employees (indistinct) a period of time, a lot of others joined us on this journey. 

NICK: Interesting. So you had that initial vision, and then you kind of started to see traction in the marketplace. You started to see people get excited about this. And then eventually you approached the product market fit from kind of that direction, is that right? 

PANKIT: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we were also very clear, Nick, is that we will not build a product in isolation of the market. So, what we had done is that we were very, probably saying, we are very good as, kind of an overstatement, but the idea was that we will get to a product a minimum viable product very quickly, and get a customer to use it fairly early on in its life cycle. And when I say use it, not use it for free. We were okay even if it was a $10 order. The idea was not about the fact that there was money attached to it. The idea was, or the fact was, we wanted the custome to hold us accountable and be accountable to the customer delivery. So, instead of building a product in the labs for months and quarters together and then coming out with it, and then when you take it to market and there is no product market fit we sell it. 

Okay, here is what the product landscape is going to look like. This is what we're gonna deliver. Let us get it bounced off with a few customers and then tell the customer that, "Hey, you know what? If you like what we are going to build, we would like you to be the first customer." And then spend the next three, four months getting some viable product out in the lab. And then, over the next 12 to 18 months, make sure the product gets delivered with an existing customer. So, what has to happen therefore is when the product was ready, you already had a customer using it. So it kinda solves a lot of problems for us in terms of, "Hey, is this a relevant product? Is someone using it? Are the specs right?" And so and so forth. 

NICK: Sounds like you were kinda using the lean methodology there and kinda following agile product development, and iterating along the way as you learned from your customers. That's awesome. We talk a lot about marketing and sales teams, impacting revenue, and growth. Sounds like you guys were kind of product first, during that initial stage, which makes a ton of sense. But can you talk a little bit about the role of marketing and sales, and the role the market and sales played in the growth of Sequretek. 

PANKIT: So we have been sales marketing professionals for all our lives. So it's, you know-- you wake us up in the middle of the night, that's the first thing that we will speak. So, part of it had helped. But the thing that we are very good at is, you know, we're able to understand the underlying behaviors of the customers that we were targeting. As an example, so what we did is we actually segmented the market to look at where do we have a good role? Where we are good fit? And, typically, customer segmentation in most B2B businesses is either by the geography or by the industry or a location or a size of the company. And while those are all relevant, we had actually looked at behaviors. So we had looked at behaviors saying that, "Hey, you know what? What kind of customers would actually be willing to work with a company like ours with the offering that we have in mind?" 

And the way we segmented the market, therefore, was on five major streams. The first set of customers is what we called a zero risk. These were customers who were completely risk cowards. These were in regulated industries. They would always work with the big brands. They needed all the sign-off on the analysts and the ecosystem before they would never venture out. And while they had a very large check to write, we felt that for the value purpose that we had and the stage of the company that we are, maybe that's not a customer that we want to go after. So we called the customer segment zero risk. The second segment that we called out was you know, there's a Nike slogan, "Just do it," right? And that customer segment was again in a regulated industry, but these were customers for whom compliance or security is a necessary evil. They really want to do it because someone is asking them to it. It's not something that is driving their behavior. And that was an essential part in how they chose to operate, which basically meant they wanted to speak to the first person that came in front of them. 

They would work with the trusted entities. They would work with lower price points. They would work with ease of use. They did not have security amongst them. So, likewise, we chose to segment the markets, and figure out the one that made sense. The second one made sense, and and so and so forth. So, the idea was to clearly understand what segments resonated with us. So, while they say secure is about 120 million on the market and for the products that we offer it's about roughly half of them, we narrowed it down to further 30 40% of the market segment, which actually makes sense for us. And that's what we focused on. And from their point on, we have employed both the traditional ways of reaching out to them, which is your lead generation mechanism using inside sales and the channels and the direct sales touch points and pre-sales and so on so forth. But very actively pursue the digital channel also. So if you see us on on social media, especially on LinkedIn, we have a very larger-than-life presence that we can find for ourselves. 

We really make sure that there's a particular content that goes out. We are very well covered in the PR. So we have lots of newsletters and magazines and newspapers from "Forbes" to "Business Inside" to "Business World" too. So, all of these-- BBC, they've covered us fairly, fairly well. And we've used all of these to create an impression about the organization that not only is doing a good job, but is hungry enough and smart enough to figure out a way to land up in front of the potential buyer in whichever channel that they're consuming news and information. 

NICK: Well, I love how you started by segmentation, and understanding really who's the audience that's the best fit. We do an exercise ourselves when we usually kick off on engagement with clients and we call it the audience messaging offer framework. And it starts with the audience, right? And then, you talk about the messaging and then the actual offer. And then you talk about the distribution in the channels, and the tactics, right? I think a lot of people start with the tactics first, but you have to understand the strategy. 

PANKIT: It's a lot easier to do, right? 'Cause that's-- like, transactionally, is easy to jump into it, and more often than not, you'll end up burning a lot of sales cycles before realizing that, "Hey, that doesn't work for you." 

NICK: You have to be going after the right people. That's rule number one.  Well, one last question that that I have, and we can talk about this stuff all day 'cause it's fascinating, but what would be kind of a tip or an actionable insight that our audience of marketing and sales leaders can implement right away, you know, over the next week, over the next month. What's something actionable that they can put into play? 

PANKIT: You need to figure out, you know, as they say, in this parlance is, you need to figure out the watering holes. Where are the places that your prospective audience is landing up back? And that has changed completely in this last two years because of COVID. The way people have consumed content in the pre-COVID, now COVID, and the post-COVID world is completely undergone a change. And the tactics that probably worked for you two years back, and I'm sure most companies would've figured out by now, don't seem to be working because the watering holes themselves have changed. And we had a tough time readjusting ourselves also because we are a traditional B2B company. And security is a trust business. I mean, you are not going to buy a product or a service, specifically around security, without knowing the person, meeting the person because, at the end, you are handing over the keys of your (inaudible) to someone else. And trust is an essential part of how the buying process works. Now, how do you build trust online? Right? So, we had to completely rethink that whole trust messaging. So, how do you get your top of the funnel, the whole PR side of the house in place where you are seen as a thought leader, and the thought leader consumption happens even without you being in the picture. 

So, I actually don't know who's consuming the content that is being put out, right? So, if I write a blog or we speak at an event, or if there is this podcast that we are doing right now, I don't know who's going to consume it. But hopefully it passes on someplace somewhere for someone to see, right? So, that watering hole-- so, this to me, today, this is one watering hole for Sequretek, right? The message goes out. 

So, find those watering holes that it is a tough one. That's one piece. Second is the ability for you to reorient your entire selling engine. So, let's say, for us, we completely change the way we sold. So, we had a traditional people like, you know, five people walk into a room, each one doing a different function, there was a presentation, there was a live demo. We had to move everything to cloud. And when you move to cloud and you're doing remote, it has to be so intuitive because you are not gonna see the body expressions when you actually demonstrate, when you are sitting in the front of a projector, which now is a Zoom screen on a small two by two footprint. You don't know how they are reacting to what you have to say. So, therefore the message has to be very, very powerful. The screens have to be very powerful. It has to be very intuitive the way you ask questions, the way you pause, all of that. So that's the second part, so reorienting that. The third thing that we change is when we engage. So the post, the selling process, the whole engagement in terms of proof of concept and a lot of other things that we used to do before we signed the contract, also was fairly in your face, like a touch and feel. So, we are gonna have an army of people landing up in your organization to actually set it up. 

And you had the back and forth, which was great because you were building relationships in the process. Now the whole thing is happening remotely. So how do you get that process working seamlessly? So, if I had to give a tip, a couple of tips, one, know your watering holes. Two, figure out a way to reorient your sales teams to work on that two by two screen, right? How will you back that intimacy. And third, figure out a way, again, depending on, I don't know who's going to consume this content, but depending on the industry that you are in. Let's say for us, trust is a bigger issue. What is that deficit that you're trying to bridge and how you're going to bridge it is very, very important. 

NICK: Thank you, thank you. I love it. Again, we could talk all day about this stuff. We live and breathe marketing strategy, but we have to wrap up. I really want to thank you for sharing your time with us today. This was very insightful. Where can people find out more about you and Sequretek? 

PANKIT: So it's And I'm on LinkedIn, so happy to be connected. I'm fairly active there. Would be happy to help anyone out on the subject of marketing or security otherwise.