Working with corporates as a startup

Many startups seek to disrupt existing industries. Some of them seek to disrupt them by competing with large companies. Others seek to disrupt industries by collaborating with, or selling to large companies. This article is for the latter.

As a startup, here are some tips on doing business with large companies.

Learn how the company has worked with technology and startups in the past.

A little research will go a long way. Look up what kind of technological innovations the company has implemented in the past. Were these technologies built internally or did they work with an outside vendor? Have they worked with or invested in startups in the past? What kind of startups are they? Who are the people mentioned and quoted in the articles that discuss technological innovations this company has explored? What other notable projects have people in this company explored relevant to the value you are seeking to provide them?

Google it. Google News it.

As you start engaging with this company, try to understand the “politics”.

Whomever you start to engage with within a company, they report to somebody. That person reports to someone else. All three of those people have slightly different “goals” within the company. As a startup looking to do business with a large company, part of your job is to assess what role different people and departments have within the organization and how they interact with each other. How you navigate this can determine how fast or slow your deal might proceed.

Seek a champion.

As you do the above, your goal is to seek a champion. For a large company to start working with a startup, it often takes a champion to sell this idea internally. This champion may have to bring you up multiple times in various meetings. Look for the individual or department in the organization whose goals align closely with the value you seek to provide for the organization. As you engage with any company early on, your goal should be to identify, meet, and provide value to this champion. As you start to engage with many companies, you will likely find patterns that help you seek the champion quickly (often times a specific title or department).

Provide tools for the champion to sell you internally.

Once you’ve identified this champion, your job is to provide tools to help this champion sell you internally. Provide language that resonates internally. You need to provide a simple pitch the champion can remember and repeat. This will likely be slightly or significantly different from the elevator pitch you use with investors. Decks and other material they can pass around or present can help.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Large companies move slow and take time. A deal may suddenly fall through for reasons out of your control. Don’t spend so much time on making one deal happen that you have to shut down your startup if it doesn’t go through. It’s happened before and will happen again to somebody – but not you.

Why did you start this company?

“Why did you start this company?”

“Why are you working on this idea?”

We investors love asking these questions. We’re assessing your passion for the idea. Starting a company is difficult, and we want to know that you are going to persevere when times get tough.

It’s not a simple question.

Usually, the reason you’re working on your startup is more confusing than a simple story. It’s a mix of consequences and coincidences. You should be aware of all the reasons that led you to you working on your idea.

Where did you notice the problem you’re solving? Why do you care about this problem so much? Why does it have to be you solving the problem? Why not just help guide someone else already working to solve it? How much are you risking to start a company? Who else might lose if this doesn’t go well? Why risk so much? Why not risk more? What’s your ultimate goal here?

Those are just some questions you should be able to answer.

“What’s the ‘Why?'”