Osama Elkady is the co-founder and CEO of Incorta which is an analytics software platform that speeds up data ingestion. The company has raised nearly $75 million from a host of Silicon Valley heavyweights – the company counts GV (formerly Google Ventures), Kleiner Perkins, M12 (formerly Microsoft Ventures), Sorenson Capital, Telstra Ventures, and major investor Ron Wohl.
In this episode you will learn:
- The importance of advisors
- Prioritizing building a team
- Why you always want to have two years of cash in the bank
- Why you need to listen to everyone in your company
- Why existing customers always come before acquiring new ones
- How to connect with Osama
- How to grow yourself when your company and team is growing over 100% per year
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About Osama Elkady:
Osama has more than 25 years of enterprise software experience.
Prior to co-founding Incorta, Osama Elkady was Vice President of Oracle Applications Development.
For two decades Osama Elkady developed and helped bring to market Oracle’s enterprise applications and business intelligence tools.
Osama Elkady holds multiple patents related to data management and has invented new approaches to mobile strategy and information discovery.
Connect with Osama Elkady:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a very exciting founder. A founder that has done corporate America for quite a bit before making the leap of faith. So, I think without further ado, I’d like to welcome our guest so he can tell us himself how this journey was. Osama Elkady, welcome to the show.
Osama Elkady: Hi, Alejandro. Thanks for having me over. Thank you.
Alejandro: Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. How was life there?
Osama Elkady: Yeah. Life there was very simple and very nice. Cairo, at that time, was a great place to live and study. I went to one of the elite universities in Egypt, and I got a very good education. One of the very few lucky people who can get admitted to this great university, Ain Shams University. I also had classes with the University of Maryland. I also enjoyed that during my study time until I graduated.
Alejandro: Probably, you enjoyed as well, getting away from that crazy traffic that you guys have in Cairo.
Osama Elkady: Yes, that’s true.
Alejandro: It’s unbelievably frustrating. I remember when I was there, I didn’t know what to do with myself too much.
Osama Elkady: Yeah. You get used to it for time. Right now, guess what? Bay Area traffic reminds me of Cairo. It’s becoming very hard.
Alejandro: Going back to the roots.
Osama Elkady: Yeah.
Alejandro: So, Osama, obviously in Ain Shams University, you studied computer science. How did you start to develop this love for computers?
Osama Elkady: During the university, you have to do a lot of essays and projects. I was doing a lot of software development during this time, and also with my studies at the University of Maryland. At that time, these machines were fax machines. We had the chance to work on the MacIntosh at the time or the original Windows. But it was a lot of fun — big mainframes and so on. It’s a completely different experience.
Alejandro: You started to travel around the world. What happened?
Osama Elkady: Yes. After ’91, I was in Maryland, here, and then in ’92, I started in Cairo. I got to work with a company that has branches in the Middle East and also India. I really enjoyed some time back early when it was a very early stage; not many companies there. I was working for a partner with some microsystem. I enjoyed having one of the first early offices for some microsystem back in Bangalore back in 1993. I enjoyed that great culture and got to know so many great people there.
Alejandro: Then, all of a sudden, one day around ’94, you received a call that changed your life.
Osama Elkady: Yeah. For some reason, there was a company I didn’t even know what it was at that time. It was Oracle. Some people called me from there and said, “We really need you in our project for a few months. Are you willing to fly all the way here?” I said, “Yeah.” Oracle treated me really well. A very nice furnished apartment, rented car, and all the facilities to allow me to do this project really well.
Osama Elkady: I really enjoyed the project. They kept asking me, “Can we extend another three months?” Then, “Can you join us?” I found myself just 20 years of work from there.
Alejandro: Wow. How did they find you?
Osama Elkady: They found me through some recruiting company. The work that I did for the University of Maryland really excited them. Oracle, at that time, was switching to some microsystem. They wanted to use Sun a lot. So with my Sun experience, they thought that I could be a good candidate for that job.
Alejandro: Wow. What a journey with Oracle because you went from a small project that was temporary to making it all the way to the top in terms of being a senior guy on the application development team. How was this journey for you? Because 20 years, it’s a lot, and you probably saw Oracle growing like crazy.
Osama Elkady: Yes. Oracle had a big [0:05:40] back in ’91, so ’94 was kind of like Oracle as a startup again. We had a small entry book that people can find telephone numbers. There were only two people with EL, their last name: Elkady and Ellison. A lot of people used to call me, Mr. Osama Ellison. I kept saying, “No, it’s different.” That’s how small it was. But Oracle, by the way, although it’s a bit corporate and so on, Oracle is kind of like a semi-startup in nature. Oracle allows full, some kind of innovation to be within the company, or at least at that time. I enjoyed doing a lot of things. I enjoyed working very hard and working with so many teams. My initial time at Oracle, I was focusing a lot on how can we bring Oracle to the international market? So I really enjoyed the work and not just with people who had their corporate office, but also with Oracle offices and customers all around the world. I used to work with a lot of Japanese customers, a lot of Asian customers, European, Middle East. I had the pleasure, and I was very lucky to work and understand, also, how different sales organizations can be in different cultures and different companies when you need to do direct sales, when you need to do indirect or dependent partners. That was a very good experience that I had.
Alejandro: What did you learn when it comes to — you were talking about sales. When we’re talking about enterprise, especially enterprise sales, that’s quite a beast. What did you learn about building those types of teams?
Osama Elkady: When it comes to enterprise sales is a lot about the execution on the ground, the field team. Usually, when you have very good leaders, you have very good sales. It’s very simple. You can tell a company is doing well, or a company is not doing great by just looking at who’s leading that sales team or that organization, in general. Also, their interest — sometimes, they focus on certain areas like [0:07:56] or applications. You can tell how the outfit looks like. People who are serious about competing — because, at that time, even Oracle was new in many regions. Hiring the right salespeople and choosing the right leader, that worked well for Oracle. At the time, we did the right choice. It worked well. At the time when we didn’t make the right choice; it never worked. Sometimes, you miss the whole market because you didn’t make the choice of the right people.
Alejandro: Got it. When you’re choosing people, what did you learn about choosing the right people? What does that look like?
Osama Elkady: Choosing the right people, it goes down into two things. People have the skills, and people have experience because when, for example, when I get into a country like Korea, you need to understand people who’ve been selling in Korea before. You cannot just get somebody from Europe and say, “I want you to start a team there.” So, people that understand the culture, understand the dynamics of the market, and also, people who have connections, worked with a lot of smart people before so they can build a team quickly, and they can hit the ground quickly to be able to give you results right away. Having people who have the experience, are smart, been successful before, they have people who have liked to work for them, and they are able to get a good group of people together to start. That’s a key for whom to choose as a leader in any area that you want for them to help you.
Alejandro: You learned a lot about business, and you learned a lot about engineering. What are your biggest takeaways on engineering, and then also on business out of your experience with Oracle?
Osama Elkady: When it comes to engineering, also I was lucky to work with smart people. About two years from then, I also started to build my own team. I wanted to be a manager. One thing you learn about the developer is — and that’s my advice to everybody. I will say that if you treat any company you work for as your company, you’ll do great because it makes a big difference. If you think yourself as an employee, or you think yourself as “I’m an owner of this company. I work for it as its own — it’s my own company.” This is where everybody realizes that you are different. Everybody realizes that they can depend on you to do more. I was lucky at Oracle. I was promoted from a junior engineer to be a manager in two years and be a director in another two years, which was unheard of. Only four years at Oracle, I was actually a director. I had a big team, at that time, about 50 engineers. And I always gave it one thing. You work hard — not just working hard. You work as this is my company. I am here to make a difference. I’m here to take this company to the next level. Everybody around you will realize that you are different, and they depend on you to take a leadership position. Even my first year at Oracle, whenever I saw a problem, or I saw something that needed to be fixed, I was not hesitating even to send email to Larry Ellison. A lot of people say, “You’re crazy. Why you do that?” He was actually open to take my ideas and say, “Yes, we should do that.” I learned a lot also from Larry. He’s very smart, and he’s very technical. He also knows how to do marketing very well. That’s how he built a company like Oracle.
Alejandro: I think, to that sense, Larry Ellison, one of the most iconic entrepreneurs of our generation. What would you say are the key characteristics, or what do you think made Larry Ellison become who he has become, and then also create the incredible company that he has created? What did you see by being part of that and perhaps some of the stuff that you said, “You know what? These are all incredible things that I’m going to learn and to keep in mind so that when I build my own business, I’m taking this with me.”
Osama Elkady: Larry had a few things that he was unique about. Number one, he can understand where their market is going, how the technology is shaping. He can always position himself as a leader in this area. He can market really well. He can position very well, and then he can execute technically after that. A lot of companies, they just keep building things without talking about it, and then they think after five years when they start talking about it, it will be all. You have to run marketing and sales as long as your development, even from day one. That’s a lesson I learned a lot from. He’s also somebody who can speak about something that will be run in many years, and he can convince you that it’s coming. It’s going to be here anytime soon. That makes him ahead of, even if he were building something imperative. That’s one thing. On the other hand, he’s not just smart when it comes to marketing and sales. He’s very smart technically. He’s always very deep. He’s not like, “I’m CEO, and I have not idea what’s going on.” You always can dig deep all the way down to every aspect of the business and every technology. He can get deep into understanding these actual. He doesn’t hesitate to let people go even in a meeting that they’re not performing well. But he’s also patient. He gives people a chance to succeed or not succeed. If he starts hiring somebody and giving somebody a responsibility, he gives them time until they prove yes or no. But if they prove no, then he’ll let them go without any hesitation.
Alejandro: Do you think that ability or skill to understand, not where the market is, but perhaps where the market is going, do you think that is something you can develop over time as an entrepreneur, or do you think that’s just something that you’re born with?
Osama Elkady: I think any entrepreneur had to have that kind of ability. They need to understand how the future looks. If people predict how the future looks like or how things are shaping, they are in a much better position because if you position yourself to where the market is going or where things are going, then you’ll be able to invent that future. Being an entrepreneur is about winning the future. It is not a skill that you can learn. It’s something that you — if you can say you are born with. Yes. Some people have that ability, and some people don’t have that ability. It’s like how people got training playing soccer or playing basketball. You need to train a lot. You need to practice a lot. But some people are skilled with that. I think all entrepreneurs all around the world are good when it comes to understanding where the future is coming, and they are able to jump on that future much earlier than others and execute. Not just start it; execute it.
Alejandro: Here, Osama, you were for 20 years working in one of the most incredible companies to work for. Now they have close to 200,000 employees. It’s a big, big business. But in your case, all of the sudden, you decide to say no to everything and start your own thing with Incorta. I want to know how you came up with the concept? When did it become realistic, and it became something tangible that you knew you had to go after, and how did you bring it to life? Tell us about that process?
Osama Elkady: I’ve been with Oracle starting new ideas and starting new companies or running new startups within the company itself. But at a certain point, I realized that I’m not able to do my next set of innovations being part of the company. I needed to start that outside because the idea we were working on is like a whole innovation of how things are done when it comes to data, accessing data, processing data. I saw a lot of challenges within the company. That produced the best [0:16:32] in the world. How big enterprise can access. [They can be fine 0:16:38] and be able to access that information whatever it is. They don’t have to wait for many weeks to get a number or to get [0:16:47]. This is where I decide that I need to start something. It’s about time that we can change the world because when you are in a startup, now you can do things much faster. You don’t have to convince so many people around you. You need to convince a few customers and start building a company. I resigned from Oracle. I started Incorta with the other guys with zero funding, without any money. We said, “Just start and see how it goes.”
Osama Elkady: Very quickly, we were able to raise a million dollars.
Alejandro: And, very quickly, Osama, what was going through your mind that day that you gave the notice, and you were walking out of the office?
Osama Elkady: It wasn’t easy, of course. After 20 years of going to the same place, how can you decide that you’re just going to be working on your own without any funding, without any salary? And not only that, you’re taking responsibility for the people you convinced to resign with you, and also their families are in a tough position. I have to say my wife was very supportive. That was the thing I was really worried about. She was the one pushing me and saying, “No. Go ahead. Go for it. It’s okay. Anything can happen.” She just gave me one thing. “Oracle can [lay off 0:18:14] today. It’s the same thing. But, at least, you are making the decision on your own, and you will do great.” She was a very supportive person that made me make the decision.
Alejandro: That’s, obviously, critical. So a shout out to your wife, Osama, for allowing you to create something amazing here. What was that process of convincing the critical components of the team? What did that look like, and who are those?
Osama Elkady: I had definitely a few meetings with those guys and explained to them about the idea. Everybody, at that time, told me, “It’s impossible to be done.” That was Hichem, Klaus, and Matthew. Maybe because of my record of success at Oracle, they thought that “maybe this guy might do something, but we think what we’re seeing is completely either not realistic or it’s just a dream. Anybody could have said that, but we’ll see how it goes.” I worked with a lot of people at Oracle. I knew who I need to help me. Who can complement by experience, and who I need exactly? I had Hichem, who has the main experience in building the applications. I had Klaus, who definitely had good experience in building engines. I had Matthew, who is good with marketing and sales. Assembling that team together, getting everybody to believe in a dream, that’s the most important thing. You need to sell a dream. You need to sell to everybody at that time how this company will look like in five years and ten years from now, and how we’re going to change the whole world.
Alejandro: One important thing there, Osama, is that an entrepreneur — you were talking here about how you would share your idea with others to join you in the journey. But one of the biggest challenges is that as an entrepreneur, you have the canvas with those colors that you have in your own mind. So how did you go about grabbing that picture that you had vivid and clear in your own mind to be able to take it out of your brain and put it out there to the world so that others would get influenced and excited and enrolled by it? What is that process? How do you go about doing that?
Osama Elkady: I’ll tell you. The first day we started the company, I took the team, and I visited some of the largest companies in the world from some previous connections. When you take your team, and you visit a big, big company, and you start talking to the people in the business about your idea, and you get them excited, now your team gets much more excited because you are validating the idea more and more to them. That’s what I did. I took the team, and we visited five important companies, and we get all of the excited to say, “Yes. That looks amazing, but if you’re able to do that or show us a demo, come back.” That’s exactly what we did. After six months, we were able to close our first deal by just showing a prototype to our company, which at that time was called [Avago 0:21:36]. It’s our first company. That company who decided on using us four years ago, five years ago, went from being an 11-billion-dollar company to 123-billion-dollar company now depending on us 100% in being able to streamline the business, being able to understand everything in real-time, and being able to acquire more and more companies. They grew much faster than anybody we can imagine. We actually got funded by our customers. We didn’t get any VC funding in the beginning. We got some friends and family funding, and then we started getting customers to pay us money. We get more than a million dollars, actually, from customers. Who invested with us and said, “I know it’s a prototype, but we need this. We need it in the future even if we are going to lose that money, it doesn’t matter. We will buy software from you today to use it next year. But we want to work closely with you.” When you’re meeting with a company and showing them a prototype, and they say, “Here’s a million dollars. I want you to go and build it.” That’s the best money you can get even from other VCs.
Osama Elkady: Now, you’re not just getting money, you’re getting people to commit their resources to also work with you closely.
Alejandro: Absolutely, and in this case for you guys, Osama, what ended up being the business model?
Osama Elkady: The business model at that time, we realized that it’s about enterprises. It’s selling to big companies, the largest in the world who can benefit from our software, and who can benefit from being able to stay competitive all the time. One thing I realized about successful companies; they don’t settle for what’s here today. They always were looking for what’s in the future because you always want to stay competitive. You don’t want to copy others doing something. You want to do something that nobody else has, so they can always be a competitive advantage with technology or with [0:23:49]. Many people, sometimes they start with small companies, and then say, “No, I don’t want to go to big companies now.” But there are big companies. The most successful are looking for the latest innovation and the latest [0:24:03]. That’s how it was. It was enterprise sales, working closely with customers, it’s about closing even at that time early enough, big deals because you’re saving companies or allowing them to make [0:24:17]. So you’re able to charge accordingly. Then you’re also able to build the team who can continue to support those customers.
Alejandro: You were doing these sales because typically, enterprise takes a bit more time. What have you learned about sales?
Osama Elkady: What I learned about sales is, there are two aspects of sales. The early sales and the later-stage. The early sales are all about trust. You need to first talk to people that you had some kind of trust before or you hire people that others trust because you have no name, and nobody can depend on you. You don’t have any history. Now, you have to depend on yourself or your team. They cannot depend on the company. There’s no name for the company yet. So having people that did startups before, that took what is called cold sales. They were able to start from zero to something like zero to 10 million, 10 million to 50 million, 50 million to 100 million. Every stage needs a different set of people who can take you through that journey and who can help you with that. The first 10 million dollars you need to depend on yourself, or you need to depend on people that you hire that other customers can trust. This is where you are doing that while you are building the use cases, while you’re building your market and team, and while you’re getting a good name. Then after that, you start hiring a sales team, and you start having a process to get the stage after then. You cannot get, for example, a sales leader from big companies when you say, “I want you to work with me.” That will not work out. The early deal is big marketing machine. We already know that people know their company. Here is completely different. You want also to get people who have been successful before. They worked in startup companies, they’ve been successful, so when they go again to the same customers, they sold them before. Those customers also like what they did. So it’s very important to hire people from previously successful startups that they did exactly the same phase that you are in.
Alejandro: How do you go about convincing those, Osama, because those have all the benefits, they have now the brand that they can leverage to do more closings and sales. Obviously, when you’re talking about an earlier player, it’s more of an uphill battle. Then, there are also some sacrifices that they need to do to join you. How do you convince them?
Osama Elkady: That’s true, and it takes a lot of work and a lot of time. That’s why I said the first three to five customers you do it on your own. When you have these success stories, then you can bring people and say, “You see what I did on my own. You can, with your experience, do that much better than me.” That’s number one. Number two, there are people who always like to work with startup companies from zero to 10 or zero to 25. Those people, even in their companies, when they cross that threshold, you want to go back to smaller companies. You are always looking for those people who enjoy working on a small room, taking something from the ground all the way up. Those people, convincing them is even easy. They are looking for you as much as you are also looking for them. They want to convince you of their work history as much as you are convincing them as well. They are the kind of people that you need at that stage.
Alejandro: Very cool. In your case, you were saying that you guys were growing this nicely with the sales that you were doing. You also onboarded Kleiner Perkins and Google Ventures, really top-tier people that have invested in the business. Why did you guys decide to raise money?
Osama Elkady: We didn’t go to the VCs, they came to us. When you start making some progress — number one, also, another advice I like to give people is, you need to surround yourself with very good advisors. There are people who can help you a lot. You cannot hire them, but you can convince them to be your advisors. Those people can help you a lot with so many things. With advise of what you do today, advise about what is the next step, advise about VCs that you need to work with or not work with. So having that group of advisors, we were so lucky to build that team. Building that team was my first priority at that time. You get people who were very successful in selling their companies. You get people who are very successful in connections with VCs or understand what that market looks like. You’ve got people who can help you with marketing, and they can also help you with sales. You think about them like a board, but you don’t have a board yet. So you are simply a virtual board, and you can go to them and ask them questions. Google Venture, by the way, we were introduced to them. They tried to do something with us early enough, but we said, “We don’t need money now.” They came back to say, “I think you guys have very good names on your portfolio now as companies. Why don’t we see.” Having VC money is important because you want to build trust with their companies. If you want to go to a big company, and you say, “I have Google with me. I have Kleiner with me. I have Microsoft with me.” You are building much better trust with these companies. The most important thing about the VCs is the trust, the name from the VC, they have the money to support you, and they can also help you with other aspects: marketing, sales, [0:30:15]. We waited two or three years before we started even raising any money from VCs. It was about three years.
Alejandro: Wow. That’s amazing.
Osama Elkady: At that time, we were actually generating a good amount of money. We were running a very lean — and that’s something you also have to learn a lot is, how can you manage the money as much as — you always want to make sure that you have enough money to run full between six months [0:30:43]. You don’t want to be running in cash less than that even in the early stage. You need to always have six months in the bank. If the company runs out of cash, it would be a big problem.
Alejandro: You guys have been killing. I recently read that the revenue year-over-year was like a growth of 284%. Is that right?
Osama Elkady: Yes. That’s true.
Alejandro: Oh, my gosh. With that type of growth, how do you grow yourself as a leader, too, Osama?
Osama Elkady: You grow yourself as a leader by the people you surround yourself with. I always learn from people around me, and I always believe that you need to always be talking to people and be always learning from others. That’s how you grow. You grow by experience, and you grow from the experience of other people. Always surround yourself with successful people, with entrepreneurs who have been successful before because they can always give you the right advice at the right time. Also, with your advisors, with your board members, with the team members that you hire, this is how you grow as a leader.
Alejandro: Yeah. I had someone tell me the other day that when you are joining a table with four A+ people, most likely, you’re going to be the fifth A+, and when you join a table with B- and average people, you’re going to be the next average individual.
Osama Elkady: That’s true. Not only you but everybody under you. You always need to hire people who can replace your job. Who can actually do the job better than you? That’s the secret of success. When you have those people around you, they elevate you. They make you the next-level person, and you can depend on them to do their job and focus on what needs to be done other than their job.
Alejandro: Absolutely. When you’re growing at that pace, I’m just impressed — 284% year-over-year growth. When you’re growing at that rate, what are some of the challenges? Sometimes, you can grow so fast that you actually die out of being so successful. So how do you manage that, and what are some of the typical challenges when we’re talking about this level of scale and this level of growth?
Osama Elkady: There are two things that are very important. As much as you’re growing your customers, you also want to make your current customers happy. That has to be your number one priority even before adding more customers. Every customer of ours is always important because we always have a customer-first focus. Existing customers come before anything else, even come before new deals. Focus on your current customers; they help you get new customers naturally. They are your reference. They are supporting you always. That’s number one to make sure that always your base is very solid. You’re not losing customers. Number two is your employees are very important. You are hiring a lot of employees, but you always have to take care of your employees. Existing one, people who started the journey with you, you always want to make sure that they are treated well, and everybody in the company is treated as if the company is just two or three people. Make sure that you’re building the company with people who have the same culture, the same belief, the same attitude. You want people to work together. You don’t want people who are not smart and cannot work with others. You don’t want people who can spoil the company. If you spot anything like that then you made a mistake about hiring somebody who’s not the right person, you really have to get rid of them quickly. Not really get rid of them, but manage them out. Ask them, explain to them why it’s not working. And they understand. Keeping a healthy environment and keeping happy customers are the two most important things that you need to handle well in order for you to handle the growth as much as you want. I think we tripled our company in one year from a number of resources. Hiring all those people and making sure that their team can work together was always important for us.
Alejandro: How many employees do you guys have today?
Osama Elkady: We have more than 300 people.
Alejandro: Wow. I see on places like LinkedIn, you guys have grown by over 100% in the last year, so it’s really incredible. One of the things here that comes to mind is, you were talking about culture, you were talking about people that they need to work with each other, that you are making sure that culture stays in tack, that you have people that are high performers. Listening is key. Really listen to your people. So how do you go from listening to transitioning into taking action? What does that look like?
Osama Elkady: I have a method to manage by working it out. I always go around and talk to people about anything. I always enjoy the kitchen talks. I have a special thing called [0:36:20] that people can send me an email at any time, asking questions. We answer these questions on a weekly basis. I want to make sure that if anybody has any question, suggestion, or idea, they can call me directly. I never say no to anyone of my team calling me or sending a text message or saying, I want to talk to you.” Because you only build innovation with people you hire. You don’t have all the innovation in the world. Every person that comes to the team always has good ideas, and you need to listen to that. Now, you need to orchestrate how can you manage all of that innovation, and how can you do things in stages that match the company direction? But there are always people who have great ideas that we always listen to. Building a management, you need to avoid these [0:37:18]. You want to make a management a maximum of three. In that case of a startup company, that’s so. Almost everybody is [0:37:29]. It’s not like every manager that needs to manage another manager. The manager here is to control or manage a priority of shops, but anyone can talk to anybody at any time, and they can ask questions, they can discuss ideas. I always tell the team, feel like we are starting a company. Feel like we are all in one room. How are you going to be thinking about that? I also encourage people to talk in person. Don’t send emails. Talk. Call somebody on the phone and talk to them and discuss ideas or ask questions because sometimes the emails back and forth and back and forth will take a long time or cause confusion or misunderstanding. When people talk to each other, that’s great. Also, visiting each other. We are now all over the place. We have offices all around the U.S. We have offices in London, Middle East, India. We want to also start having APAC. We have customers in Japan, as well. So making sure that all these people can always visit each other. And I, personally, visit these offices, myself, because I want to listen to every person. I listen to everyone. I try every three months to visit every office, and I’m almost talking to every person, especially new people. I always try to listen to new people and talk to them one by one. I understand their backgrounds, where they came from, their personal life. I really enjoy that. That’s how you build that kind of relationship to allow them to come to you and talk to you.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. It has been quite a journey for you with the business. Now, you’ve been at it for about six years or so. I’m sure this experience as an entrepreneur has been far from being a straight line. As you’re looking back now, Osama, and you take a look at what you’ve achieved, which is really remarkable, I’m sure that there were perhaps some moments that were not as easy and some moments that perhaps taught you quite a few lessons. Out of those dark moments, what would you say perhaps has been the toughest time for you during this journey, and perhaps that time where you got your biggest lesson so far?
Osama Elkady: The toughest lessons when you’re running a company anyway — I want to tell you just the nice moments, and the dark moments can happen almost every day. Every day, you have challenges, and every day you also have greatness. That’s what I learned. You always need to keep hope and just work hard. Even if you are in the darkest moment, even if you think it’s done and there’s no way to take this company forward, just keep the hope and move forward. I remember at the time we were running out of cash, almost nothing. We could not even pay employees their month’s salary. All the sudden, we had 10 million dollars in the bank. I always tell my team, “Just don’t worry. Let’s focus on the right thing to do, and the good thing will happen. You work hard, and it pays off. You will never know.”
Alejandro: That’s an interesting story there, Osama. When you’re at that point where you’re very close to running out of money, it’s like a rollercoaster of emotions, and I think that your mind can start to play tricks on you, and that can lead to making poor decisions. How do you quiet those voices to keep pushing forward?
Osama Elkady: This is where the people around you in the company are very important. Who are they? Are these the people who are making you panic, or are these people who are supporting you and saying, “We’re going to make it.” That’s why you always need positive people around you. That’s very important because you cannot do that on your own, and definitely, your family needs to support you as well. This is what I always tell the team. “It’s great, even what we’ve achieved so far. See how many customers we have and so much technology that we did. We have to be proud of ourselves. Even if things don’t go well from today, we’ll always have to be proud of what we did.” That’s what keeps us moving forward and keep going. Then, you learn also, how can you make sure that you always have two years of cash in your bank, and how can you always be — not in this fundraising mode, but you always make sure that you are having a sustainable business. Business has to be good margin for profit. You have to focus on growth. You’re not just building business by selling zero-margin products. I’ve seen that happen, people grow very fast, and they collapse. You always want to make sure that you’re building a business like a big company. The only thing here is the focus is growth; it’s not profitability. But margins have to be there. So when the company grows, when you are at a certain stage, you’re not building everything from scratch. You have to build a foundation for a multi-billion-dollar company from day one, and you need to understand that building a business is a business. Everything here is about it’s a business. It has to make money. That’s why everybody’s here. We’re building something great. We’re making innovation. We’re changing the world, but this has to be a real business like the largest business. Imagine it’s your own money, and you have to keep running it.
Alejandro: You’re mentioning there, Osama, something interesting. Working on changing the world. What does the world look like when Incorta has changed it completely?
Osama Elkady: I will tell you this. I walked into one of the large companies in the world, and I told them, “You have so much money, cash in the bank.” You’ll see if they launch a product, say, last week, how long it takes them, how many products they sold in one city, in a certain city. Say, San Francisco. They said it takes two weeks. [0:43:57] it takes one second. That’s how we make companies successful, what we call [0:44:06]. When companies get that question or an answer to a question within a few minutes, even one hour, makes a huge difference than we get in a week or two weeks. This is where I see a company signing with us every day because they realize that you cannot wait that much time when it comes to your business to make a decision, especially if you’re running a big ship. There are so many values and so many numbers that businesses who are running in real-time enterprise will continue to succeed. Customers who are not at that thing, a real-time strategy or a real-time enterprise strategy, as our partner at Kleiner says, “In ten years, these companies will not exist.” That’s why even it was amazing that [0:44:59] as their first early customers. They told us, “We’ve been looking for something for many years. We’ve been looking for this, and we know that will change the way we do business.” That’s why some companies are paying us multi-million dollars a year, and they continue to do that, even a small company like us. But they say every time they show us more and more use cases, that they never were able to do that before. That’s what we really enjoy. When we see impact, one of the largest, say, retail business or food retail, they say, “We saved 40% on [0:45:41] after implementing in quarter, 25 field days after implementing in quarter, we were able to save 40%. Another company would say, “We were able to save 50%. We were able to do this.” Every time we see a company say, “This is the first time we’re able to do that.” That’s how Incorta is making a difference. When you are able to understand everything about your business in real-time, this second, this moment, that’s how we change the whole world.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. I love it. Very profound, Osama. Now, if you had the opportunity — this is a question I typically ask the guests that come on the show. It’s been quite a journey for you. If you had that moment, maybe you were able to go back in time — and obviously, this is impossible, but if you had the moment to speak with Osama that was about to give the notice at Oracle and launch the business, knowing what you know now, what would be that one piece of business advice that you’d give to the younger Osama, and why?
Osama Elkady: The most important advice is, surround yourself with people who have been successful before doing the same thing that you are trying to do. You will avoid so many mistakes, and you will be successful much faster. That’s the most important thing. It’s all about the people around you.
Alejandro: I love it.
Osama Elkady: It’s nothing about how much you can read, how smart you are, I can do that by myself. It doesn’t work this way. You always need to surround yourself with people around you, and you always want to share the wealth with everybody. Try to build something really big and have a very small share of the pie. So, not thinking, “I can have the whole pie for myself. I can do it only by myself.” The more successful people surrounding you, the much faster that you’ll get at that.
Alejandro: Absolutely. Better to have 1% of a billion, than 100% of nothing.
Osama Elkady: Exactly.
Alejandro: I totally get that. Osama, for the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Osama Elkady: People can connect with me on LinkedIn. I always love to connect with people. I always love to have lunch with them. Our doors are open for any individual who would like to start a company. They can come and share the space with us. They can have the internet and everything. We don’t ask them to pay anything. We enjoy having smart people around us. Our doors are open to any entrepreneurial companies, any people who would like to start a company, they can come and share with us. We love to have smart people around us.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. A way to pay it forward, Osama. Thank you so much, Osama, for being on the DealMakers show. It has been an honor to have you.
Osama Elkady: Thanks, Alejandro, and thanks a lot for having me. Thank you.
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