FountainBlue’s June 8 High Tech Entrepreneurs’ Forum, our final high tech event, was on the topic of Entrepreneur Success Stories and featured:
• Facilitator Sara Rauchwerger, CCICE and BG Strategy
• Panelist Matthew Denesuk, Partner, IBM Venture Capital Group
• Panelist Victoria Livschitz, CEO, Grid Dynamics Consulting Services
• Panelist Pascal Lorne, CEO, Miyowa
• Panelist Lynda Ting, Director, Emerging Business Team, Microsoft
The stock markets are down, salaries are down and job security is low, which means that stress levels are high, as is unemployment. But it is the nature of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to be resilient and remain optimistic despite all the bad news. Our rich infrastructure, integrated network, robust technologies and entrepreneurial culture support that optimistic nature. An integral part of that resilient entrepreneurial outlook is the success stories of entrepreneurial firms launched in partnership with corporate venture partners.
Notes on the conversation are below:
Our esteemed panel shared their wisdom and their learning with the entrepreneurs in attendance, emphasizing the importance of win-win partnerships, which benefit start-ups as well as corporations, fluidly serving the needs of customers and markets, leveraging your experience and connections, building and leading teams, and together, resiliently and passionately sallying forth to fulfill the corporate vision.
Corporations are under tremendous financial pressures to cost-effectively innovate to round out/expand solution offerings, and partnering with smaller, nimbler independent start-up firms in alignment with their corporate goals is a key strategy for fulfilling this need. Start-ups also need the infrastructure support, products and services, relationships, partnerships and channels that corporations can offer. But only the start-ups who are well prepared to partner with corporations, and who are best in alignment with the current and future needs of these corporations, and who are in a hot technology space in general, will be able to successfully develop corporate partnerships.
Whether the company is large or small, the focus must be on staying attune to the needs of customer and the shifts in the market overall. Feature set prioritization, channel partnerships, development schedules, etc., must be tied to the needs of the customer in order to maximize both sales and service. Fluidly tracking the customer needs and responding to these needs will separate a company from its competition, regardless of the size of the company.
In this time of difficult financing, it is more important than ever for early stage companies to find the customer BEFORE designing and implementing the solution, and only AFTER products and customers have been established is the company likely to secure financing. It is also more important than ever before for founders to be even more resourceful and resilient than before. The entrepreneurs on the panel each spoke of how they took advantage of serendipitous opportunities to connect with decision-makers for corporate ventures during the formative stages of their organizations, and how those initial conversations materialized into corporate partnerships that accelerated the growth and potential for their respective organizations.
The panel shared many words of wisdom for aspiring and early stage entrepreneurs:
• With IPOs real anomalies in today’s market, and with no end in sight for this trend, partnering with corporations is essential for start-ups interested in accelerating growth, but one must be strategic in terms of which organizations and individuals to partner with and how to go about initiating and managing that partnership.
• Focus on your core strengths, your specialized skills, and deliver technology solutions for a growing market.
• Plan your growth so that you can scale optimally.
o Design initial products so that they can be scalable, but don’t add the advanced features until after you’ve proven a market need with initial products with more basic features. Then collaborate with your customers to add features prioritized to their needs, and keep delivering products and services with the same standard of excellence.
o Don’t expand your sales and marketing teams too early, too quickly, especially if your product is not yet successfully developed and launched. Instead, rely on channel partners who would also benefit by distributing products and opening markets for you.
• The biggest risk is not getting your ideas to market, so err on the side of disclosure when it comes to IP, while using common sense on who you disclose what to when.
• Although partnerships are important, your focus must always be on the vision for the company. Find a way to focus on that, despite the external pressures you will receive from partners, investors, staff, even initial customers.
The panel concluded that success will always be dependent on having a compelling company vision well executed through clear, constant and transparent communication to all stakeholders. Collectively, they recommended the following books as resources:
• Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm
• Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, by Jessica Livingston http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1590597141
• Reality Check (and other entrepreneurial books) by Guy Kawasaki http://www.guykawasaki.com/books/