How did French company Talend tackle the US market?

Talend is an open source integration software vendor that sells its solutions to data-driven enterprises. Created by Bertrand Diard and Fabrice Bonan, the French big data firm got listed on the Nasdaq in July of last year. Vincent Pineau, partner at Axeleo, launched the US operations back in 2007 when he served as Talend’s US General Manager. For Axeleo, he explains some of the challenges he faced on that continent and how Talend became a great success. Here’s his story.

Open source evangelization was the key

 I first met Bertrand and Fabrice (Talend’s founders) in 2006 during their first visit to the US. Talend had already started to draw attention in France where open source was creating a lot of buzzes. Developers were fast to rally to the “community spirit”, and companies were intrigued by the open source approach and related business models, considering it as a potentially viable alternative to technologies they were using.

And indeed, the open source market did surge: today, it is three times bigger than eight years ago. By 2020, the French open source market will represent 6 billion euros. This sector has already created nearly 50,000 jobs and plans to create 4,000 additional opportunities within three years.

I struck a deal with Talend’s founders at the end of 2016 and returned to the US with the mission to launch its US operations. The challenge did not come across as simple but still was very appealing to me. “All I had to do” was to develop the business of a French company overseas, in a field that I was new to (albeit adjacent to one that I came from, business intelligence) introducing an alternative to a well-established market. And in fact, the company was able to disrupt the market with a competitive value proposition, an innovative technology approach and an authentic open source philosophy.

Initially, a lot of evangelization of open source was required, specifically for the US market., While the number of software vendors betting on this distribution approach was growing slowly, open source was far from being broadly adopted by IT professionals – apart from rare exceptions like Linux or Java.  Corporations were still struggling with the perceived lack of professionalism and other missing contractual terms that they considered mandatory like indemnification and escrow clauses.  Despite the real interest that our solution represented, addressing some identified needs like the ease of use and/or speed of deployment, American companies remained skeptical about open source, focusing on (perceived) associated risks and questioning its real interest.

 All of that being considered, to get a chance to open the US market to Talend, we had to adapt the business approach and our positioning. As indicated, more often than not, it required us to educate or even re-assure our prospects about the open source concepts.

 Sales: from strategy to execution

Despite some of the specific needs of the market, Talend US grew very quickly and got about a hundred employees spread over three offices (South California, San Francisco, and New York) before the third anniversary of « Talend Inc. » Setting up the sales and marketing parts of the organization was a critical step that we managed fairly well. The commercial strategy was refined and evolved throughout the growth of the company but our “land and expand” strategy relied heavily on our ability to seed the market.  The network of users and partners proved to be crucial, and leveraging my rolodex turned out to be very helpful to open the doors at the beginning.

Talend’s products subscribed to what was later labeled as “Open Core” – an open source core functionality, free of charge and a superset of “enterprise grade” extensions available for a fee as a subscription.  The open source part called Talend Open Studio was first released in October of 2005 under the GPL license. The product was designed for developers who could benefit from an innovative and complete data integration solution. As developers downloaded and used Talend Open Studio, they were considered a qualified lead and the marketing and sales efforts focused on the companies they worked for. The objective was to establish a relationship by offering accompanying services: training, consulting, support before introducing « professional » extensions.

When signing up for a subscription, companies could get access to advanced functionalities geared towards teamwork – around collaboration, scalability, and governance – they also traded the open source license for a commercial one in which they got their necessary contractual clauses such as indemnification. For three years, the sales team remained inside (“inside sales”) – all introduction calls, presentations, demos and sales negotiations happened on the phone and the number of calls placed on any given day was a KPI that was closely monitored (with a target of 70+ calls per day). At inception, the virality (word-of-mouth) of the open source model also played a major role in Talend’s growth.

Keeping a pure inside sales model allowed us to limit the cost of sale and keep productivity at a high level:  our sales team typical day was orchestrated around planning and making the calls, and we did not have to worry about time lost during lengthy -and costly- travel across the country. After a few years, we added a “Corporate Accounts” team to the sales organization. Corporate sales reps primarily dealt with big named accounts and were able to plan business trips during which they would meet several prospects and/or accounts.  This evolutionary organization made it possible to start and grow the business in a very pragmatic way, keeping control of the costs of sales & marketing.

Gaining recognition from industry analysts such as Gartner and Forrester was also critical to support the corporate accounts business, and here I was very lucky to work closely with Talend’s head of marketing Yves de Montcheuil (also an Axeleo partner!) who did a tremendous job of opening these doors for Talend (among “a few” other contributions).

During the early years, we were always above the goals. Our approach to everything was very aggressive; we were always running around getting things done one after the other regardless of the topic. We were never satisfied with meeting the established objectives and often very fast to ‘up them’ a notch.

Simple advice: go global, act locally…

Go international but be prepared: the US today is a “must” considering the market share they represent. However, while one may expect very similar behavior from a country and culture so close to ours from the outside, professionals in North America will show an affinity, a sensitivity and sometimes an ethic that is subtly different from what we are used to in France. Nothing insurmountable for anyone who cares to listen and adapt where necessary, but it is not just a matter of speaking the language, or translating a sales pitch or the whole communication strategy from French to English. Surrounding yourself with people accustomed with business in the country will save you time. There are plenty of ways to get advice so as not to fall into the traps

In 2015, Talend’s historical founders, another of the early execs and Vincent have embarked on a new adventure, launching Influans, a platform that aims to change the situation in digital marketing by allowing brands to run campaigns with a return that is 30 times higher than the current standard. He wanted to be an Axeleo partner to help startups accelerating on the US market.



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