William Leonard

Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Atlanta Startup Podcast, your co-host here, William Leonard. And I’m so looking forward to today’s conversation with Sallie Jian, who is the head of SAP.io, and that is the corporate venture and innovation arm for the global software behemoth, SAP. Sallie’s early career started her out as a corporate banking analyst. Then she transferred to a CFO role at a startup. And then years later, she helped launch the venture arm at SAP. And in the few years that SAP has been around, they’ve made over 400 investments on an international scale. With about half of those investments being underrepresented entrepreneurs. I’m really excited because Sallie will enlighten us with her informed corporate venture capital perspective. We’ll talk about how the SAP.io team adds value to their portfolio companies. And we’ll also get Sallie’s perspective on how the macroeconomic markets are shaping SAP.IO’s innovation strategy. I hope you all are as excited as I am for this deep dive conversation with Sallie. Let’s dig in! Sallie, thank you so much for joining me today.

Sallie Jian

Thank you so much for having me, William.

William Leonard

Awesome. Where are you based at? Where are you calling in from today?

Sallie Jian

It’s funny, my title says head of SAP.iO New York and I certainly lived in New York for about seven years. I loved it there but I am from the West Coast originally. I’ve always loved the West Coast climate and beaches. I’ve been living in Miami for about the last year and I love it. It’s got a really great tech ecosystem for anyone who’s been coming out here. You have probably seen Miami Tech Week, Miami Hack Week, NFT Week, and Bitcoin Week. There’s no shortage of tech here. It’s only growing.

William Leonard

That’s awesome. I’ve seen a ton of investors and people make that migration move from New York down to a more tropical climate in Florida. I think I’m so jealous, I’m so jealous but let’s kick this conversation off. I’m excited because this is one of the few conversations that we’ve had on the podcast with a representative from a corporate venture development team and I think you’re gonna bring a lot of unique insights to our listeners who are investors, founders, and ecosystem enthusiasts. I’m excited about this dialogue, but would love to give our listeners the rundown on Sallie, what’s your background? How did you get involved with the team over at SAP?

Sallie Jian

Absolutely. I’ll start from the very beginning. I was a first-generation immigrant. I was born in Beijing. I moved to the States when I was five. As a first-gen as Asian American, education was very important and very emphasized in our family. I ended up going to school in the Bay Area, UC Berkeley. I majored in Business Administration. I was in the Haas Business Undergrad Program there. I graduated within three years. I was just really eager to get started in my career. I started out in very traditional finance, I was at Morgan Stanley’s TMT group on the investment banking team. I was there for two years as an analyst. It’s great because I was exposed to Blue Chip names in Silicon Valley, as well as private late-stage companies. It gave me a taste of many types of technology companies and types of financing and M&A activity. I just fell in love with technology from my first job. I was very lucky. From there, I moved to New York. I worked at a growth equity firm called General Atlantic, which is a also tech-focused private equity business. I loved the exposure I got in both of those roles. I really wanted to also step into an operational role. My next gig was at a startup. I was CFO and Head Of Business Development. Because of the small organization, I work with a C suite on everything from strategy and fundraising to product development and revenue generation. I really feel that role has really shaped who I am today in terms of how I can work with founders and understand what they and their teams are going through. Having that level of on-the-ground experience was invaluable. From there, I switched to venture capital, which was a great segue, and I was at SeedInvest for two years. I ran a venture capital team there. As you may know, it’s an equity crowdfunding and venture fund, and it was also a startup when I was there. It’s a triple trifecta of a combination of different things. I was there working on everything from pre-seed to series D and was very generalist. I would cover hardware one day and another day I would cover software. Great experience, then I found my current home at SAP. A couple of years ago, I joined to help launch a new team called SAP.iO in our New York offices and SAP.iO is SAP’s quarterback, corporate innovation venture. I also work with our SAP Corporate Development Team and through the combination of SAP.iO and SAP Corporate Development Team are able to partner with startups and opportunistically invest and even do acquisitions into companies that are very strategic for SAP. Given that SAP, which is one of the world’s largest software players, we are looking for software companies that we see will complement SAP solutions and really add value for SAP’s customers which are Fortune 500s.

William Leonard

That’s interesting. As you think about the companies that you all are wanting to work with that would be complementary to SAP’s offerings, what particular industries are you all looking at or is there more so a generalist approach?

Sallie Jian

SAP is a behemoth of an organization. We have 400,000 plus enterprise customers. We have 100,000 employees, we’re in pretty much every country, and we sell to every industry. There are top 25 main industries at SAP. We think about emerging trends and topics as well. That’s given me and my team a lot of leeways to look at a lot of different types of startups. We looked at everything from future of work, and that ties with our success factors, product line to companies in sustainability, to the commerce, retail side of things, to supply chain, to manufacturing. Looking at emerging trends such as Web3, block, and blockchain, VR technologies, and AI machine learning, to be really explorative. Because we have this ability to partner with startups through our foundries program which is a no equity accelerator, which we don’t take, it’s very founder-friendly. We don’t take equity off their cap table, we’re able to also be more explorative in partnering with really cutting edge startups that a traditional corporate may not have the ability to.

William Leonard

That’s so unique. You’re right, SAP is, like you said, a behemoth of an organization. What’s the general thesis are you all looking to lead rounds, are you all following on? Do you have any geographical boundaries that you’re looking for as well?

Sallie Jian

Within SAP.iO, our core focus is around our foundries which are the accelerator programs and we now have 10 branches in major tech hubs throughout the world. We have North America with New York and San Francisco, we have Germany, Paris, and Tel Aviv. We also have Asia and a couple of APJ locations as well. We are not bound by geography. SAP’s a global company, our team is also global. The only thing that kind of is a maybe limiter is if you’re an Asian startup developing go-to-market and looking for customers in Asia, you wouldn’t want to work with SAP.iO North America perhaps, that’s not really the best use of your time if that’s not your focus. I would just say it’s based on your company’s focus. If their ability to work with the regional customers that we expose them to because, at the end of the day, we’re looking for startups that can partner with SAP, and that we can put in front of our customers. Give them access to our customers’ share in that wealth of business development opportunities. North American customers are big enterprise customers. They’re also probably not going to be the first one to sign on as the first US enterprise customer. But if they’re seeing a lot of great traction with the startups than in the US and their US-based customer, it makes a better fit.

William Leonard

It sounds like you all have such a general scoping that you can help so many startups and really feed those startups into SAP in such a meaningful fashion. That’s the incredible background for our listeners, and for myself as well. Talk to us a bit about your day-to-day. You’re the head of SAP.iO, what does a typical day look like for Sallie as you work with startups and SAP internally as well?

Sallie Jian

We have regular business cycles and things like that. But I would say about 50% of my time is spending time with startups, whether that’s sourcing them, building relationships for their pipeline, doing due diligence, and giving them the advice to help them to be successful and work well within the SAP ecosystem, lending my own time and Rolodex to them. As a personal advisor, as well. That’s definitely my day-to-day is very much in line with working with startups. The other 50%, I would say, I work at a very large organization. We have a lot of different stakeholders and the stakeholders could be SAP folks, executives, product teams, and business units. We also have SAP customers. We also have SAP at very external facing events and things like that. I spent a lot of time evangelizing SAP.iO startups to these various stakeholders, promoting our brand of SAP.iO at conferences, or marketing events, planning, webinars, and sessions to make sure that we’re getting the word out about what SAP.iO does. Our value adds and also the amazing portfolio we’ve built. By the way, we have 400 startups in our portfolio at this point. There’s just a lot of shared knowledge, innovation, and wealth that we want to provide to everybody. That’s how I split my days.

William Leonard

That’s incredible. You’re spending about 50% of your time working with founders, as you are in the diligence process with startups that you are wanting to invest in, what are some of the value adds that you are pitching to these companies on why they should work with SAP? I mean, obviously, you all are, like you said, an international behemoth but what are some of the value-added benefits that a startup will get from working with SAP.iO?

Sallie Jian

By the way, we work with startups that already have some signals that we’re looking for that make them a good fit. It’s strategic. When I’m looking at a list of startups and before I reach out to them or ask for an introduction, I am scoping out what they do, what their use cases are for enterprise customers, and where they could potentially add value to the SAP portfolio solutions. And so all of this, I have initially mapped out in my mind before we outreach to startups, we already know there are some things that could make our relationship mutually beneficial and compelling. A lot of these startups have integrations with some of the largest software companies, right? And some of them have already integrated with SAP, or they’re looking to integrate with SAP, they’re working with a lot of SAP customers are similar profiles. And so for them, it’s kind of a no-brainer. Our ability to bring them in, streamline all of those processes for them, and find opportunities with SAP customers to put them in front of. It’s already in on their roadmap. It just makes a lot of sense. We have a global network. I might be from North America and I have certain connections but once they’re part of SAP.iO or any ecosystem here within the startup side of things, we don’t just consider them a logo on our website or anything like that. We actually have hundreds of conferences and thousands of industry sessions. We have an endless number of customer meetings that we’re going into every single day. As we spread the word as our startups get more successful, it becomes this amazing network effect that folks at SAP come to us when they’re looking for startups and innovation topics, they come to us and the SAP.iO team is the first point of contact to say, “Why don’t you look at XY and Z SAP.iO startups?” For example, sustainability is the topic for your meeting or your conference so there are a lot of opportunities there given that we are a behemoth.

William Leonard

That makes perfect sense. As a corporate VC, there are so many values adds that you can bring directly to the founders. Obviously, you all are more on the corporate side but there is the traditional side of VC as well. But the thing that we have in common is that we’re both aiming to be at the forefront of innovation, right? We have to have some things that we’re excited about to build a thesis around particular verticals, trends, the tail ends in particular industries, geographies, things like that. I’m curious if you could share some of the things that you’re most excited about for 2022 and maybe look ahead even to the decade that you kind of are driving SAP to focus on or want the team to really hone in on going forward.

Sallie Jian

Let’s say right now, I’m really excited about three types of areas. First and foremost, on Web3, everyone’s excited and just learning, right? It’s still pretty new. We have a lot of Web3that are consumer-facing products. But when it comes to enterprise, there is a smaller field of our companies and partners that we could be looking at. That’s really, really exciting for us. It’s coming from the very top of SAP and it’s coming from our customers, too. Everyone is asking us, what are you doing in this space? How can SAP technologies tie into NFTs or tie into these Metaverse opportunities, right? We’re exploring that. That’s something we’re really excited about. For the startups that we do have in the Web3 space, we’re trying to give them a platform this year and really blow them up and blow up this opportunity. Also really excited about CX, which is customer experience. I think that CX, runs the world, right? Every product that is CX-oriented is making the consumer experience better. It’s not only just improving the retailer and brand’s top line, but it’s also improving the way that you and I consume, shop, and are fed information. I think that’s a very interesting and wide-open topic. Data analytics would be my third one. That spans a gamut that could tie back to customer experience, that could tie into cyber security, that could tie into the new ESG policies are coming to play with administration. There’s an endless possibility in that, too.

William Leonard

When we think about Data Analytics, there are so many applications, and one that I think about in particular is DEI. A lot of corporate companies are focused on DEI and have been for some time now. I’m curious, does SAP have any initiatives that maybe you or somebody internally is spearheading to focus on DEI on an international or global scale?

Sallie Jian

Definitely. We’re really excited. This is what I’m really passionate about. We actually have a whole initiative at SAP.iO called No Boundaries. We made a very public pledge a couple of years ago that our portfolio would be 40% led by underrepresented founders, and we’re actually 50%. We have exceeded and we are at that goal that we created for ourselves. It’s really important for us, and when I say we’re working with underrepresented founders, we’re defining that as women, BIPOC, LGBTQ, and basically underrepresented when it comes to the world of venture capital funding and representation. We have the mandate around that but every individual I knew at SAP is also really passionate about making that happen for us.

William Leonard

I love that and that’s such an audacious goal that you all have acted on. A lot of firms and organizations set those goals, but sometimes fall short and don’t act on it, but it’s good that you all are taking such a proactive approach to mean what you say exactly. Thinking about where we are in the present day, fingers crossed, feels like the end of the pandemic in a sense, and now we’re facing new, macroeconomic situations like the war in Ukraine. Have you all seen any trends that are in the market right now, or potentially coming into the market that will impact your strategy and in some way, shape, or form relative to CBC and SAP?

Sallie Jian

I also have three points here. I think what you pointed out about what’s happening in the world right now, SAP has a lot within the digital supply chain space. There’s a supply chain shortage, there’s a lot of problems with transportation, and logistics, and so the supply chain is something that we’ve always been one of our core solution areas but it’s something that we’re also amplifying too. Our Tel Aviv foundry SAP.iO group, for example, they are focusing on a resilient supply chain right now. That definitely ties back to what’s happening in the world at this moment in time. On the corporate development side, we just announced a majority investment into a company called Taulia, which is a working capital supply chain financing to make sure that all parties involved are paid in time, can deliver on the products, and receive products in a given more efficient way. I think the second trend is really around laborers. Ever since we know the great resignation that’s happening, everyone who is going through this right now. Our team is really interested in employee engagement, retention tools, and also skills tools to make sure that employees that are at the company are being utilized to their full potential and also use utilized in a way that makes them enjoy their jobs more as well. When it comes to the way we’ve been working for the last couple of years remote work, we are looking at how to make remote workers more productive, or how to serve remote workers in a better way, have better engagement and retention, and go hand in hand. And then the third trend, we touched on this earlier around customer experience. It’s really clear that retailers suffered during COVID. Some of them have recovered, some of them have not, and some will never recover. We are really interested in tools that can help accelerate growth within these organizations. Something that we’ve looked at can include better payments, buy now pay later, and even for fashion, better sizing and fit, virtual try-on, virtual sizing so that we can increase the average cart value and reduce return. Some things in the CX technology space as well.

William Leonard

I love that. I think that’s so unique and that you all are focused on upscaling, making remote work more feasible, and payments. You’re focusing on the entire gamut here. As you said, the great resignation is one of the great underpinnings of why you all are focused there. I’m really excited especially since you are here in the southeast now. You’re based here in Miami. I’m incredibly biased but I think the southeast is one of the best regions, if not the best region in the country, just because of the opportunity here, the diverse talent here, the universities that are here, equally, the enterprises that are moving here and putting representatives here, just like SAP. I know you all invested in an Atlanta company, Goodr, which is incredibly encouraging to see as well. Really excited about you, your team, and the work that you all are doing here in the space and internationally as well. If a founder or an ecosystem builder would love to get in touch with you or your team, what is the best way for them to go about that?

Sallie Jian

You can certainly email me, it’s very easy. It’s my first name, sallie.jian@sap.com. Or you can find me on LinkedIn. Or you can link up with William and have him connect us. There are so many different opportunities. If you’re in Miami, tap the unknown. I definitely think there are a lot of untapped markets in the South. There are a lot of great companies that are amazing and not overly hyped, which is what I love about markets other than Silicon Valley and whatnot.

William Leonard

I agree. There are a lot of untapped opportunities here. But I think Atlanta and this region as a whole are going to be bursting at the seams over the next few years with just opportunity, talent, and capital flowing to the region. With that Sallie, I really appreciate you coming on today to share more about your journey of working in corporate finance, and then going to the startup world, coming back to the VC world, and how you all are really impacting positive change at SAP.iO and helping a lot of underrepresented founders get access to capital and access to the enterprise networks that are going to help them continue to grow their businesses. Really excited about the work and opportunity that you are creating here and I look forward to maybe seeing you at an event here sometime soon.

Sallie Jian

We love that. Thank you so much for having me.

William Leonard

Thanks, Sallie. Cheers.

Lisa

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