“My first rule, even for myself, is follow your heart”
Taly Dunevich, VP of strategic partnerships and alliances at Ayehu Software and Tech, talks to Michael Matias about what it takes to build mutually beneficial relationships
For Taly Dunevich, current VP of strategic partnerships and alliances at Ayehu Software and Tech, being the only female in the room is commonplace. Before beginning her career in the business world, Dunevich earned a bronze medal at the world championships for windsurfing and would spend nearly all her time practicing and competing with other male athletes. Now, as an executive at a major company, Dunevich also tends to be the only female in the room; however, this clearly does not stop her from leading one of the most important sectors within the business. In her current role, Dunevich builds relationships and creates win-win situations that benefit all parties involved. Whether it is creating partnerships or working with individual clients, Dunevich is able to utilize her knowledge and experience to help others grow and achieve their full potential. She sat down with Michael Matias, the creator of 20Minute Leaders to talk about the importance of recognizing each other’s humanity and building trust.
I just discovered that you were a world champion and bronze medalist in windsurfing. You were the Israeli national champion for quite some time as well. So, first of all, let's start with that. Tell me what it’s like being a national champion of a sport, and then what it’s like going to the world championship and actually getting a medal.
Thank you for having me. That's true. It was when I was very, very young. I'm not actually practicing that anymore. It’s an amazing feeling to get a medal and to compete against world champions. I was in high school and then in the army. I was the only woman then, and I’m still the only woman in many areas of my life, but back then, I was the only woman in the Israeli game. When we went to competitions around the world, I was sleeping with guys in the rooms, they were taking showers, and they didn't even notice I was actually a woman. They kind of missed that, so it was a very unique time. I actually think it really helps me today because even now I always find that I’m the only woman in most business environments. I’m in IT, and I feel very comfortable because I grew up this way. I'm already very, very comfortable being in a room or an ocean or a sea full of men. So, it was fun.
You're not just an executive in a tech company, but you're actually an executive in a deep technology tech company, Ayehu Software and Technologies. You're really understanding the technology and are in an industry which is unfortunately dominated by male counterparts. Is that changing, or is that sort of the norm? What do you see happening now in this domain?
I see a change. I see more women, but not enough in leadership positions. I see them more as developers and program managers. You see more and more of them, and I'm inviting more women and girls to join us.
You're an expert on building alliances and relationships, and I mentioned that I like talking about the things that the guest or the leader is passionate about. And you immediately said, "I'm not passionate about alliances; I'm passionate about people." Tell me what that means to you.
An alliance is a piece of paper where you write who is doing what, so I'm not passionate about papers and words too much. I'm very privileged to be doing what I love day in and day out. I meet people from different cultures and different backgrounds. and I just love it. I love the platform and meeting and understanding where others come from, what drives them, and what beliefs they have. I'm very fascinated by human beings in general, and my work allows me to explore more about my area of passion, which is people. When you're really interested and curious about people, what they're looking for, and where they want to get, I think it's a great way to really accomplish what you want for your business. I build relationships of trust with people because I really care and I really love them. It may sound corny, but I really love people.
Talk to me a little bit about how you form these relationships in the business setting. These are not just friends; they're business friends that you're forming alliances and relationships with. In my imagination, if you want to form a business relationship, you hop on a plane, you visit the offices, you go out to dinner, and slowly build that trust. Is that fairly accurate?
It's difficult to say that all salespeople dine and wine and do all that stuff. I do that to some extent, but not really. You don't need to take them to fancy places; you just need to speak to people, understand where they come from, and find a common ground. You always have something in common with another person: go find what it is and you can build from there. Then you have that initial connection, and once you have that, you'll learn more about each other. We're all just humans, and even if we come from different backgrounds, we have so much in common. We have more in common than not in common, and if you just take down the barriers and have trust and a connection, you can build everything with it.
Now, I want to take us to 2020. How do you build relationships? How can I build a meaningful relationship with my colleagues remotely? Is it different? Is it easier or harder?
Virtual is not the only form of communication. Yes, we use Zoom a lot, and I think it's a great medium to connect deeply with people. When the camera is on, people can really look at each other in the eyes, so I think it's very, very close. I don't see a lot of differences, and sometimes it's even an advantage. I don't find it harder to do business over Zoom versus face to face meetings.
Is that also true for meeting new people or forming new relationships? Can you get to that same level of intimacy?
First of all, I have made a lot of new relationships over the past four months since I've been working from home. I am in the process of forming new relationships with new companies and new service providers as large as ours, and it's going really well. I'm actually more efficient because I'm sitting here all day, meeting after meeting, and I can do more in the same amount of time since I don't need to travel anywhere. I can be very, very focused on what I'm doing, and I have all my notes right here. I’m very, very organized and I'm way more efficient. I'm doing so many more activities per day because I'm not traveling and I don't have office distractions; I can just really focus on work, which I love doing.
Talk to me a little bit about what it means to build an alliance in terms of the corporate world. You're part of a big organization that has IT services. Why are alliances important, and what are alliances actually in the tech world?
It's really important. In my company specifically, the alliances part represents over 60% of our revenues, so I'm responsible for that 60%. This is why it's so important; it really drives a lot of business and it’s way more efficient. In our company, we have one team that is selling directly to the enterprise and then we have the partners team, which is my team, and we're selling through partners. This part has fewer people and we sell much more. It's like opening the doors to a more strategic long-term relationship versus just selling to one enterprise and then to another enterprise. When I form relationships with our partners, the global GSIs of the world like Accenture, Deloitte, Cognizant, Capgemini, for example, we build the right go to market plan together that opens the door for my company to get to 40 of their accounts. So in forming one large alliance, we can actually sell 40 licenses. It is a great opportunity, and I really believe that SAAS companies, or any company that is selling software today, need partnerships. This will also become a more integral part of business because today, it's all about the ecosystem that you build around you. It's the ISPs, the GSIs, and all the different partners that you're strategically engaging with. And it's a win-win; it helps them and helps us.
Do the relationships usually occur between key people in both organizations, or is it organization to organization? In other words, you're building a relationship now with another organization and you're building it with key people there. Let's say tomorrow they're advancing to their next adventure. How difficult is it to transition the alliance to another person?
We do build relationships with key people, so it is kind of a top-down relationship, but I'm also taking care of the bottom-up as well. So, I’m making sure that their people are getting certified and trained on our software and making sure that I create demands within the different pockets at the business level. Then, one or two layers below, we are actually taking care of their account and making sure they understand the value, what it brings to their clients, and building the incentives for them to work with us. So, you build everything at all levels with a very defined go to market plan so that everybody is aligned around a KPI, and then it's really hard to leave. Also, if you have a personal relationship, they will not ditch you for no reason; you can identify if you have an issue that is threatening you, and you can address it beforehand.
When you want to be in alliances and partnerships, I don't believe there's a major for that or an online textbook. How do you prepare for a position like that? How do you set yourself up to go and become a VP of that at a company?
That's an awesome question. I think the greatest university for the work that I do is called "life.” For fun, I study brain sciences, consciousness, and spirituality, and I have so much interest in human beings and how we use this box at the top of our body called the brain. I love learning how we can really maximize it and understand our beliefs and how it drives us. I'm so interested in this area and how everything works that, for me, it is the best school. Everything I read or listen to is around those areas, and that really helps me in work.
How do you get to be a vice president of partnerships and alliances at a huge company? Where do you start in order to get to that level?
You don’t need to take a break from life to learn something. Actually, it's the opposite. I'm involved in J-Ventures, and now I'm helping put together an internship program. In everything I do, I’m involved with high-powered women, and the more I’m involved with, the more connections I have. I have an amazing Rolodex: I know a lot of people and I have a great network. Anywhere I want to get to, I can always get connected by somebody. People will always help me. My door is always open to helping others, and my mission in life is to really help others grow in whatever they desire. I think you don't need to take a break to learn that: be engaged, stick with people, and network. Be fully in the game of life, and that will really help you in business development and alliances positions.
How knowledgeable do you have to be on the tech side of things? Because you're not actually selling, you're finding ways to collaborate. Do you consider it selling?
Well, it's true, but I've been compensated for bottom lines and for the revenues that I actually bring into the companies. What I’m bringing is very, very measurable and it's on my paycheck. So, that's very much sales, but how do you have people get into the tech side of it? I'm not a techie or an engineer. At some point in the process, I do bring on an engineer to help me through calls and answer the deep technical questions, but at a high level, I'm good enough to convey the benefits, the business outcomes, and to run through a demo and be a bit technical to a certain degree.
Taly, what should I take away from this as a young entrepreneur as I go on my next venture? What do I need to know in terms of partnerships, alliances, and maybe even just selling products to others?
My first rule, even for myself, is to follow your heart. I'm trying to follow mine and trying to understand what it tells me even at times when it's not very clear. That is my first life advice. I think you'll be a great candidate for any business development position because you're such a people person and you have no problem interacting with just about anybody at any level. You have everything you need; you just need the content to discuss.
Before we leave, I have to ask you the most important question, my favorite question: three words that you would use to describe yourself or that any of your clients would use to describe Taly.
People person, a constant learner, and driven.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Amanda Katz