There is forever a problem to be found, regardless where you may look. Inevitably, corporates are really good at this. There are a ton of people within large organisations whose job it is to find problems. They aren’t necessarily there to solve them yet they are incentivised to look. As much as this sounds like an issue, it’s one of the odd godsends of working with a corporate. I can guarantee you that at a startup, where just getting shit done remains top priority, a lot of necessary things are often left out for the good of the above-mentioned goal. This often leads to problems down the road. Hence, as a startup, if you are smart you use this to your advantage.
I can imagine that a large group of founders is moaning right now that I am crazy. Corporates are despised, especially in the startup world. Yet, trust me, every last startup is always happy to land that big elephant initially. They suffer learning how to work together with them but the smart ones take advantage immediately. Some even partner with them early and benefit immensely from the relationship. It is possible and the following are a couple tips for how to leverage the relationship with a corporate, be it as your customer or partner.
First and foremost, figure out their legal department. Lawyers are expensive. Corporates have many lawyers. If you work with them, even if they are technically against you in contract negotiations or whatnot, they will review everything. Hence, get everything possible into the contracts you work on with them and let them proof it. Call often and ask questions. You aren’t paying per hour for what they do and usually, they are savvy enough to get the really bad stuff out of the way. and work with you. Yes, they are slow and often not as interested in helping you as you’d wish but trust me…I’d often rather have slow and thorough than fast and expensive.
Almost a close second behind legal is accounting and tax. These organisations within a corporate can help you avoid a ton of issues. Have them proof everything related to the structure you are creating. Have them think ahead and iron out any issues which may pop up down the road. Heck, even ask them about personal tax issues. They can give you a ton of free advice which you’d pay through the nose for elsewhere.
Marketing and PR departments can also be a godsend. Their monthly budgets may be your year’s funding. They have years of relationships built with the right people. They know where things can and can’t get done. Make them your friends. Further, they are happy to have new things to talk about and can often see you as a benefit to their day to day. Position yourself properly and they may feature you all over the place. I know of cases where startups were on stage with a CEO at the corporate’s user event and thereafter couldn’t get their phones to stop ringing.
IT is a tough one. Their teams are so bogged down in their core business that they often are quite hostile to adding anything to their plates. Nevertheless, they may be necessary to make the relationship or partnership work. If you are dealing with IT, find the people bored with their usually mundane work. They’ll be super happy to get to work on something new and often may be looking for a new gig outside of the corporate. I am not saying you should recruit and piss of your partner, but if some of the people working with you switch sides down the road, it benefits both parties. IT also tends to have fairly large budgets and can help you get a lot of your code tested under real world conditions. If possible, let them help you make your product better.
Finally, M&A could be your exit. Even if you aren’t considering selling the business to a corporate, building a relationship to their M&A department puts you on their radar and may lead to an option down the road. This may not be your ultimate goal but why limit your chances of finding what works best for the company at the right time. As a vendor or partner, you will have far more access to an M&A department than you ever would have coming blindly from the outside in. Never underestimate the benefits of the proper relationships.
One of the most important take-aways is that at corporates, people dream of being at startups. Yes, often startup employees dream about the security of a corporate but this tends to be a one-way mindset. Therefore, you can use your status as a startup to excite people inside and get them on your party boat. They will have something exciting to work on (or more exciting than their usual tasks) and you can seriously benefit from this. Position yourself to be a sexy project that people want to be involved in and you can help yourself often to a buffet of services you’d otherwise not have access to or would pay dearly for.