The first 12 months of partnership with Oracle were intense, we grew our company overcoming many challenges and acquiring knowledge to take our Artificial Intelligence to the next level.
There were many challenges along the way, but we achieved our goals (let's repeat: we achieved US $1.5 million in gross sales with this partnership!), and we think it is important to share this journey and everything we have learned.
After all, if we can, other startups can get great results with Oracle Cloud too.
Now let's tell a bit of our story and how it was for Alana AI to be part of this incredible experience. In this article, we have 6 main chapters:
- Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator: why it was the best option for Alana AI
- Our challenges and milestones
- Five initiatives to achieve business results with the Oracle team
- Technical guide: how a startup can migrate to Oracle Cloud in just 5 days
- What your Startup shouldn't be doing in the Oracle Cloud Startup Accelerator (if the idea is successful, obviously)
- New challenges: what's next?
1.Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator: why it was the best option for Alana AI
Alana AI was one of 6 Brazilian startups to join the Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator Program in São Paulo Cohort 1. It was six months on-site in Oracle Accelerator and 12 months of assistance from Oracle Global.
You can learn a little more about Oracle Global Startup Ecosystem here. There are residential and virtual programs.
Alana AI was 3 years old and was operating on the bootstrap model when it was selected for the Oracle Acceleration program in August 2017. We had achieved approximately US $ 300,000 in sales with our product, ALANA. It was a good result at the time, but the main challenge was to sell it to companies in a scalable model
We applied for the program because we don't have a traditional financing strategy, instead, we chose to finance the company with our clients' revenues, instead of relying 100% on venture capital money. One of the main risks in the Startup environment is the extreme dependence on Venture Capital financing, among others, to achieve tangible results. We believe that acceleration programs, like Oracle's, offer an excellent alternative to the growth of startups without losing sight.
Within our market, which is the customer experience, Oracle has a strong presence. This meant that we had the opportunity to integrate our product into the Oracle Customer Experience portfolio, positioning our startup on corporate customers and adding value to Oracle itself by providing our unique, high-precision artificial intelligence in Portuguese and Spanish.
2. Our challenges and milestones
- Increase sales: to participate with Oracle in business aimed at the largest companies in the world.
- Product expansion: solutions for complex projects that require the integration of our proprietary AI with Oracle CX.
- Infrastructure maturity: create a state-of-the-art security system for our product, with a corporate-level infrastructure.
- We signed an exclusive partnership with V8 Consulting, one of the largest Oracle partners in Latin America, achieving high quality in representation and commercial support.
- An Oracle sales channel was built, helping the sales team with a strong education for prospects.
- ALANA became the only AI in Portuguese and Spanish available in the Oracle Customer Experience portfolio.
- Alana AI met the requirements of a corporate level, as for a telecommunications customer, for example.
- We have more than doubled in size, from 7 employees during the first six months of acceleration to 21 employees on the team today.
In just 1 year of acceleration by Oracle, we achieved US $ 1.5 million in gross sales. This result proves that startups can obtain sales results at the corporate level without compromising capital, cash flow, and business vision.
3. Our next level of sales: five initiatives to achieve business results with the Oracle team
For a startup, it's all about growth, and it just doesn't happen by chance. From the first day of the program, we have created growth initiatives led by the founders.
Our strategy was to complement the Oracle Cloud portfolio, so we became the only AI in Portuguese and Spanish available on that cloud. These are the five initiatives we take to increase our sales:
Extension and integration: complementing customer experience products
We were interested not only in integrating products from a data perspective, but also in offering substantial benefits through proprietary extensions to the Oracle Customer Experience: for this, we did an exhaustive mapping of your portfolio and rebuilt our roadmap to complement the Oracle Cloud Customer Experience products and resources.
A good example was the proprietary extension made to Oracle RightNow (Oracle Service Cloud), where our proprietary AI (ALANA) manages, automatically creates, and responds to the main tickets: human operators manage only 6% of them on the platform.
"Nossa estratégia era complementar o portfólio do Oracle Cloud Customer Experience para nos tornarmos a única AI em português e espanhol disponível para essa nuvem"
This means that ALANA performs the entire back-end operation and prevents human operators from responding to tickets unnecessarily. All operator functions are done in Oracle RightNow by our Artificial Intelligence, which handles the information autonomously.
This extension was fundamental to reach our first customer with Oracle Cloud.
Oracle Sales Channel: a new process to reach new customers
To work side by side with the Oracle sales team, we invest in new professionals and methods. This means that we have created a corporate sales channel 100% focused on the Oracle Cloud, in which we offer architectural solutions and technical support for projects based on proprietary artificial intelligence from Oracle Cloud.
For this reason, we had to dissolve other existing sales channels and put all efforts into this new phase of Alana AI. We did an intensive educational process with the Oracle sales team, including training, events, and prospective meetings. This way, everyone can know exactly how our solution works and how we can help them with potential customers.
"We have done an intensive educational process with Oracle's sales team, including training, events, and meetings with prospects".
An immersion in Oracle World by the founders of Alana AI
The founders dived deeply into the Oracle world and participated in courses, prospecting meetings, national and international events such as Oracle CloudWorld New York 2018, and Oracle OpenWorld Brazil 2018. This made Alana AI learn quickly how Oracle works and how we can get great results together. We also created a shared library in Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator!
Focus on budget
We concentrate almost all our budget in the Oracle world to make products, sales, and technology adaptations. This means we discontinued or paused any initiative that was not related to Oracle or that could require non-dispensable resources.
We made a six-month plan to put time and budget efforts into achieving the expected results without relying on any new revenue during the first few months. We knew that we would need a significant budget to deal with complicated POCs and prospects, cloud migration, and changes in our product.
For example, before our first sale, we made a three-month POC and didn't even reach an agreement! However, this lost perspective was the key to closing our first deal with an Oracle client. We became experts in Oracle products and technology, especially in the customer experience portfolio.
We Migrate 100% from AWS to the Oracle Cloud
We migrated all of our systems and, with that, all new products were launched in an optimized Oracle Cloud architecture, which facilitated the development and sales of business solutions.
All of our customers are currently using ALANA via Oracle Cloud, which gives our solution more stability and credibility. Against any popular belief, our cost in the cloud didn't get more expensive: Actually, we had a positive experience - you can see how to migrate to Oracle Cloud here. "How a startup can migrate to Oracle Cloud in just five days".
Looking back, we are sure that we would not be able to achieve our results without all the initiatives presented.
"All of our customers are using ALANA through Oracle Cloud at this point, which gives our solution more stability and credibility".
Therefore, the level of our investments and strategic thinking remained a lesson learned. We entered the acceleration program with clear objectives, all mapped with initiatives as a way to increase the chances of success.
If you are interested and plan to migrate to Oracle Cloud, Marcellus Amadeus, co-founder of Alana AI and chief scientist, has prepared a must-read technical guide..
5. What your startup should not do in Oracle Cloud Startup Accelerator (if the idea is to succeed, obviously)
It is essential to learn from the mistakes you make, but learning from the mistakes that other people make is much better.
The errors below are the most common mistakes we observed during the acceleration process, and if you pay close attention to them, they are somehow related to the lack of thinking of startups that everyone wins.
You may think that Alana AI did not make any of these mistakes, but that is not true. On the contrary, we certainly did. However, we were lucky enough to learn from them quickly enough to make corrections and stay on the right path.
The analysis below refers to the program's global scenario and the startups that were accelerated by it, taking into account all countries, therefore, it is not limited to São Paulo.
Just like all the content we create, it reflects the point of view of Alana AI and does not mean that Oracle or other startups think the same way.
Error: The startup has not defined its objectives for the acceleration program.
Traditionally, startups in acceleration programs expect to be conducted. In the case of the Oracle program, which is a customized corporate accelerator for each startup, it is necessary to present its goals and initiatives in advance.
Obviously, Oracle will also help your startup with this, but only you know everything about it, not Oracle.
With that in mind, it's important to know that if you don't know what goals to achieve with this partnership and you haven't even made a plan for how you will get there, things can get confusing.
What we did: Set a clear goal (and move on!)
Alana AI, for example, since the first week of the program, presented its objectives: to make complete integration with the Oracle Customer Experience portfolio and make great sales side by side with Oracle Brazil (not only the professionals of the accelerator, the whole sales team!), making Oracle a new corporate sales channel.
This milestone was part of all Alana's AI initiatives, including our relationship with Oracle.
Error: the startup defined that the founders would participate less (or not all) in the program
As the program had mature startups, some founders thought it would be good to have less presence in the initiatives. Well, Oracle is a big company, with sophisticated technology and highly qualified professionals, so it is not a good idea to have a low involvement from the founders of startups.
For example, the founder of a mature startup, which only appeared at the beginning and the end of the program, also complained that it did not get great results with Oracle. Silly, isn't it?
What we did: We plunged headlong into the program
In our experience, our two founders were part of the entire program, every day (except for external sales meetings). Alana AI was present at events, hackathons, created workshops and stayed as long as possible inside Oracle, and learned everything it could with them, all the time.
"Our two founders were part of the entire program, every day, except for external sales meetings."
Error: The startup did not allocate the technical resources correctly
Oracle is a technology company, and for that reason, not allocating consistent engineering resources was one of the most common mistakes we've seen.
Many startups think that the corporate program is one way, but the fact is that Oracle can offer much more when it receives more.
It is the intense exchange between Oracle and the startup that generates results.
Without engineering resources, this exchange is restricted to sales only, and that will be a problem because the startup doesn't understand how Oracle Cloud or Oracle Products work. Another point is that sales at Oracle are very technical and, if the startup team of experts is not involved, the business will not happen.
What we did: We use our resources wisely
Alana AI has allocated the best engineers to learn, migrate, and use Oracle Cloud. Marcellus Amadeus, our technical co-founder, participated directly in the most significant businesses, creating real-time architectures and prototyping with Oracle's sales team.
Error: it was not the best time for the startup to be part of the program
We recommend the program for startups that already have a product. It is not possible to be part of the acceleration program if you do not have a product to sell. The critical point is that the idea of "first we sell and then we create a product" will not work in this program. You need to have something useful on hand. Besides, you must first adapt your product to Oracle and not wait for the first deal to do so.
What we did: we connected our script to Oracle
We were lucky in this one: it was the perfect time to be part of the program. We weren't young enough not to be able to sell the product, and we weren't mature enough not to take advantage of what Oracle could bring to us. We were in the initial stage, but with money available, so it was possible to adapt our product roadmap to leverage sales with Oracle.
Error: The startup thinks the program is free of any cost
Yes, the program is free of capital. Besides, Oracle will grant you many credits for using Oracle Cloud. There is a free office available, consultants, events, and more. One of the best accelerators in the world, but without capital. Nice!
However, here's the thing: if you want to sell with Oracle, you'll need to track Oracle machine sales. This machine is one of the best in the world in corporate sales. Does your startup have the budget to make the potential customer advance? Do you have a team to make your product compatible with the Oracle portfolio? Is your team able to use, or at least try, Oracle Cloud? Do you want to know how Oracle sells and merges your process to work with theirs? Can you meet the security and infrastructure requirements of an RFP (Enterprise Telecom Request Proposal)? Do you understand the point?
6. New challenges: what comes next?
With all these results, new challenges appear in your path. For Alana AI, one of them was to deal with sales and support on a corporate level and in a scalable way.
With that in mind, and with the assistance of Oracle, we reached an exclusive partnership with V8 Consulting, one of Oracle's most important partners in Latin America. They are now responsible for corporate sales and premium support for our ALANA artificial intelligence in Brazil (our largest consumer market).
With this partnership, we hope to have an even closer relationship with Oracle and offer significant benefits to customers, such as a 24/7 support room and exclusive commercial conditions for corporate sales.
Also, we decided to open an office in the same location where the Oracle accelerator is located, to maintain physical proximity.
This first year was just the beginning of the partnership with Oracle and Alana AI, and we get more excited every day. We believe that, at the end of next year, the Oracle channel will help us achieve more than $10 million in global sales with the ALANA Enterprise Solution, developed by Oracle Cloud.
Thanks a lot, Oracle!