Work-Bench Spotlight: Kelley Mak on Building Customer Trust

Dec 6, 2023
Work-Bench Spotlight: Kelley Mak on Building Customer Trust
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Kelley is a Partner at Work-Bench, where he focuses on investments in areas including security, cloud, and developer tools. Kelley also leads the firm's relationships with our growing corporate network of technology executives across the Fortune 1000 and web-scale organizations.

Given “business development” is such a trendy buzzword in the VC industry these days, we wanted to hear how Kelley differentiates and leverages a customer engagement strategy beyond transactional BD for better pre- and post-investment support at Work-Bench. 

Here’s what he had to say:

Where did the idea of building a customer network come from?

At Work-Bench, we have a mantra: “great things happen at the intersection of suits (corporates/customers) and hoodies (startups).” With most of our team coming out of the corporate IT world – Morgan Stanley IT, Cisco, Forrester – we invest from the foundation of deep research and understanding of corporate pain points and priorities.

Early on as a fund, we found that what’s missing in enterprise investing is a pragmatic understanding of how enterprise tech teams operate. At the time and even still today, we were seeing that venture firms tend to chase cool, shiny tech that often lacks any real, addressable problem. We wanted to flip this typical model on its head by focusing on the customer.

By building customer relationships ourselves, we’re able to get into the nitty gritty nuances of enterprise tech priorities and adoption, such as where budgets are being allocated, what renewals are coming, what priorities are most top of mind, and what are realistic places for innovation.

At the same time, customers are oxygen to early stage startups. Being able to leverage our network for design partnerships and corporate introductions helps give a boost for GTM development.

Who gets to be a part of this network?

As the market has evolved over the years and due to our focus on Seed-stage investments, we think of our network more as a “customer” vs. strictly “corporate” network. This means our relationships span not only Fortune 500s, but also growing tech companies, including those on the Forbes Cloud 100 and NY Enterprise Tech Index.

Being based in NYC, we have the benefit of having such a large concentration of these companies in our own backyard. And while most people know NYC for financial services and big banks, there’s been a boom in insurance, retail, pharma, healthcare, and so many other industries ripe for distribution.

The important piece is for us to create trusted and authentic relationships with these executives. We typically look to engage with those across the C-suite (those with buying authority) as well as middle management and individual contributors (those who are hands-on with the technology itself).

That said, customers are not one size fits all for startups. Customers can range in maturity, buying readiness, risk tolerance, amount of legacy technology, politics, and team resourcing, among many other factors. Depending on your stage and who your user is, selling a product can be a different experience and require a specific type of motion, which might involve a top down executive level sale, bottoms up developer adoption, or something in between. Helping define GTM strategy and ICP is a major initiative that we run alongside our companies with the help of this wide bench of practitioners. 

So what’s in it for the customer? 

These relationships are mutually beneficial. For startups, this is curated access to the most relevant people at the right time. For customers, it’s the ability to innovate with fast moving teams and work alongside these early founders with special treatment as they build the future.

What does a Work-Bench / customer event look like? 

Our investment themes include data/analytics, cloud native infrastructure, security, and future of work, and to drive that research, we’re constantly engaging with a range of personas from data engineers to DevOps professionals to Demand Gen leaders to CISOs. There’s so much value in connecting with folks working on similar problems in the ecosystem and we’re happy to be that bridge in NYC. We do everything from intimate leadership roundtables and executive briefings to operator networking and developer happy hours.

What’s one thing people might not know about what you do?

I send a lot of cold emails :)

‍‍If you’re an early-stage enterprise founder / operator or a corporate executive — connect with us directly to chat about anything GTM or check out our events page to stay in the loop on all things happening in the Work-Bench community. ‍

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