Manoj Govindan: Wells Fargo (now with Levvel)

Many of us in the B2B world wrestle with one big issue: How do we sell to big enterprise companies? A few select people, though, have the opposite dilemma: We’re a big company … from whom should we buy our technology?

Manoj Govindan is one of those select few.

As an innovation executive at Wells Fargo, his job was to help the company diversify it’s annual IT spend (in the low billions of dollars each year) on new/emerging technology.

Manoj’s role at Wells Fargo was to score a hat trick of value creation:
– Identify the most promising fintech companies (industry lingo for technology-in-the-financial-sector) and start pilot projects within the bank to ensure Wells Fargo remained on the cutting edge.
– Leverage Wells Fargo’s expertise and resources to foster a thriving ecosystem of innovative technology.
– Generate value for Wells Fargo (plus investors and shareholders) by helping these startups when they are ready to scale to the next level.

If he can’t shed some light on the key to innovation in large, conservative, and slow moving enterprises, I don’t know who can.

In the midst of a cross country move and a professional transition from Wells Fargo to Levvel (a new startup), Manoj was kind enough to take some time to tell me about how to make this magic happen.

1. It’s in the bank’s best interest to take risks on new tech.

Big companies like Wells Fargo like to get their new technology solutions from one place: established vendors. On the surface, this makes sense. It’s safe, dependable, and doesn’t require vetting out a new company.

Taking only this path, though, has downsides. First off, it’s likely that these larger organizations will take longer to develop and package a new technology than upstart companies. Second, you’ll be paying bloated enterprise rates, rather than getting early bird pricing.

As a bank, there’s one more benefit: Once we help these companies grow and mature into full-scale operations, many of them look to have a liquidity event (either they’re acquired or they go public). In either case, we’re now positioned to do the banking for that transaction. So it opens some great new business for us.

2. Follow the investors to find new tech.

Taking on any new technology is bound to rock the boat at a big company. The water really starts sloshing if the tech company in question is a brand new one. There’s a way to mitigate that risk, though: investors.

When sourcing new tech, I work almost exclusively with the lead investors in the startups rather than the startups themselves. This has two awesome benefits. First, investors are great at vetting new companies — it’s their job after all. If they’ve already been comfortable enough to throw millions behind a company, that says a lot to me.

Second, I can follow trends in the investment market as a whole. If lots of different companies in a particular space are being heavily invested in, I take that as a signal of a technology that’s soon to be commonplace and deserves our attention.

3. Build the right customer advisory board.

When we work with startup companies, we’re not just buying their services — we’re helping them scale and build the right products. Oftentimes, that involves putting together a customer advisory board.

Customer advisory boards are great, but not all members are created equal. If you’re building one for your company, be careful about who’s on it.
Rather than grabbing the highest title person you can at a company, aim for someone that actually will work with or buy your technology — a user, not a chooser. Then, make sure that individual will able to give consistent, constructive feedback that can really help you pinpoint what that customer needs to grow.

Thanks, Manoj! It’s fantastic to talk to someone on the buying, rather than building, side of things.

I asked Manoj one final question: “What keeps you up at night?”

“I worry sometimes that by following the money, I might be putting too much weight on the wrong signal. While investors can be a powerful indicator of a company’s potential, relying on that too much has its own pitfalls.

Knowing what to pay attention to is critical. If I’m not paying attention to the right signals, I risk missing the next big game changer.”