February 5, 2021
What does it take to be an entrepreneur? According to Jojo Roy, Vice President of the Salesforce Office of Innovation, “There’s a pig-headed stubbornness that is required and also the ability to brush off short-term setbacks.”
“To be successful, you have to be committed,” he said on a recent episode of the Innovators Radio Show and Podcast.
Jojo knows a thing or two about sticking it out at a startup, having led design-driven transformation firm Sequencefor seven years before it was acquired by Salesforce. Jojo’s work with Sequence is a study not only in reaping the fruits of tenacity, but also in having a keen eye for the needs of a market, seizing the moment, and savvy management of the growing pains of a startup.
At Sequence, Jojo and his team noticed that large companies wanted to create mobile experiences for their customers, but needed to coordinate several vendors to design, develop, and eventually launch their brand experience.
“What became very obvious at that point was creating a one-stop-shop for mobile strategy, design, and development was this huge opportunity,” he recalls. Sequence jumped to fill this need and launched the first nationwide food ordering app for the iPhone with Chipotle. This quickly led to work with a broad range of customers from entertainment to retail: Best Buy, Food Network, Warner Brothers, WebMD, and more.
Sequence had a winning formula. However, given that they were offering something new in the mobile space, it was a challenge to stay focused and keep faith that they had found a solid opportunity. Employees worried that the market was not ready for what Sequence was offering.
“It’s an alignment and a leadership question” says Jojo. While Sequence leadership had compelling engagement numbers, at the end of the day they had to simply say to the rest of the company: “Trust us.”
That faith and focus paid off. By 2014, the market had caught up and realized the value of the full-service firms like Sequence. This resulted in a heated environment for mergers and acquisitions of design firms, which in turn opened up a new growing-pains question that many startups ask themselves: Does an acquisition make sense?
If not handled correctly, this conversation about uncertainty can destabilize a company, Jojo says.
For Sequence, the decision came down to several factors: The company wanted to grow quickly enough to be able to provide growth opportunities for its employees. A bigger company could provide greater stability to weather any economic or client-work cycles. And ultimately, their one-stop-shop business model meant that the more integrated they could be with the client, the better.
At the time they were thinking, “We really enjoy doing what we’re doing, we’re working for some of the biggest names, but ultimately… if (design) isn’t incorporated into the company…you don’t have a seat at the table.”
This led them to another challenge startups can face: How do you find the right fit for an acquisition? Salesforce had a similar mission and provided a vehicle for Sequence to do work that was bigger, faster, better.
Jojo was drawn to “[Salesforce Chairman and Co-CEO] Mark Benioff’s drive to use business as a platform for change,” and realized that, “even though Sequence was designing and developing a whole range of experiences for all these different industries, we would frequently look at things and wistfully say ‘Oh, if we had access to this platform, it would be so much easier for us to go and actually see this come to life.’ ”
In short, “It clicked.”
Hear more about what happened once Salesforce acquired Sequence, and dive into more of Jojo’s journey as an economist-turned-entrepreneur in his full interview here, or skip to the time stamps below.
0:01: Only in Washington
6:26: Constants in a life of transitions: big picture thinking and a bias toward action
10:27: What’s the secret to being an entrepreneur?
14:04: Managing both sides of the brain — a dance between data and storytelling
22:30: What mobile work for enterprises looked like in 2009 — and how that all changed
25:10: Why alignment and leadership are the biggest challenges at a young startup
31:27: It’s not enough to know how to sell. You must know what what people will buy
34:10: Purpose as a guiding principle for a mission-driven entrepreneur
36:34: Deciding to join Salesforce
40:21: How to manage the culture shift after your startup is acquired
46:13: How design became critical in product development
53:49: Machine learning and AI startups look like overnight successes — and are anything but
The Innovators Radio Show and Podcast highlights the best and brightest mission-driven entrepreneurs — people dedicated to making the world a better place. The show airs Mondays at 11 am PT/2 pm ET on Stanford University radio station KZSU, 90.1 FM, and is streamed at kzsu.org, Past episodes are archived here.
Taking an incremental approach can de-risk your innovation effort.