September 7, 2021 - 10:53 am
Meet the Mentor: Zack Urlocker Specializes in Product Strategy and Scaling B2B Startups
Zack Urlocker has a career’s worth of Silicon Valley knowledge that he generously shares with Traverse City entrepreneurs through the 20Fathoms mentorship program. Notably, he has helped lead four software companies to billion dollar exits: Zendesk, MySQL, Active Software, and Duo Security. In the case of Duo, Zack joined the company as employee #20 and helped grow it to over 500 people, $100 million annual recurring revenue, and a $2.35 billion acquisition by Cisco. Specializing in product strategy, go-to-market strategy, sales, and business management, he has worked with more than a dozen other venture-backed companies and helped them to scale. Currently, he serves as Chief Executive Officer of Gatsby, a website software startup. Get to know Zack’s approach to mentorship with this Q&A.
How can entrepreneurs benefit from working with a coach or mentor?
Founders often face complex challenges and don’t have a lot of people they can reach out to for relevant insight. As a mentor, I’m here to talk, give advice, and guide the founder whenever they need another perspective. Mentors bring a lot of experience and can help make connections that solve challenges.
How would you describe your role as a mentor?
I help founders build their business which includes sales strategy, customer growth, and making introductions to expand their networks. I can also help balance their workload related to executive hiring and board relations. After all, founders often spend half their time on hiring and management and I can help them make the best decisions for the future. I try to be generous with my time to help founders develop their companies and overcome various challenges.
Specifically, how might you help a founder as a mentor?
I can help founders with go-to-market needs: finding customers, validation, determining product-market fit, scaling. Market validation is critical and many founders make the mistake of not spending enough time on this step. It is super important to test the market before spending a year building a product and a business around that product.
I also help with investment strategy. Not every business is venture-backable and I help founders clarify how they should structure their business and whether venture investment is the best path for them.
What’s an example of your work as a mentor?
Recently I worked with a security company called Sqreen.io, which was based out of Paris and eventually moved half the team to San Francisco to build their business in the United States. The young founder was humble, disciplined in thinking and problem solving, and was trying to engineer the business forward. I helped him with the hiring process and thinking through the right questions to ask candidates. Over the course of several years, he grew the business and it was on a path to a medium-sized success. The founder then realized that the opportunity was much larger than they could serve on their own. They were able to build a solid partnership with a larger public company –DataDog – which led to their acquisition. I helped counsel the business through the ups and downs of the acquisition.
What is one piece of advice you would give to entrepreneurs?
Go out and listen to customers. Listen to prospects. Don’t show them your idea and ask what they think. Instead, interview and understand their problems. Once you understand their concerns, go back and develop the product to suit their issues.
What do you think about Traverse City’s growing tech entrepreneurship scene?
Michigan – and the Grand Traverse Region in particular – is very down-to-Earth. Traverse City is a wonderful place to live. In a post-COVID world, there is an opportunity for people to rework their lives to suit their lifestyle. Part of the reason my wife and I moved to Michigan was to create more of a tech startup environment here. And 20Fathoms is a fantastic organization that is helping bring that to the region! Events like Beer30 are a great place to rub shoulders with tech entrepreneurs and creative people with a broad range of interests.
20Fathoms’ mentors offer expertise in business strategy, sales, negotiation, human resources, recruiting, IT, marketing, business development, data analytics, business scaling, product strategy, investment strategy, finance, IP, company culture, and more. The mentorship program is flexible based on your needs – use it for a one-time coaching session or a longer term business relationship.