David Doesn't Have to Fight Goliath


I had the privilege of appearing on a panel at the Advertising Research Foundation a few weeks ago- the theme of the event was how large corporations and startups should work together. There were presenters from both American Express (63,000 employees) and Nielsen (45,000 employees). Those presenters had some really interesting thoughts on how to approach and work with large companies. 

Here’s an aggregation of the best takeaways from the event:

  •  Don’t go after a ton of large corporations at once. Obviously you want to sell to everyone all the time, but you won’t be able to manage more than one or two large customers if you only have 3-10 employees.
  •  Understand why they want to work with you. Ask these key questions:
    • Is it only to create their own sense of innovating?
    • Can you really save them a lot of money?
    • Is someone trying to get promoted?
    • Are they testing out your idea to get it done internally?
  • Target the right department to enter the organization. This is a normal piece of advice I try to give all startups approaching any sized customer, but the larger the corporation, the more important it is. With 63,000 employees, you can waste a lot of time at American Express trying to find someone with a budget and a willingness to spend it with a startup.  There are often innovation departments under which the responsibilities of working with startups falls- try to find those teams and engage with them to ensure you can get the most out of the opportunity.
  •  Pilot, pilot, pilot. Very few large corporations are going to hand over a huge chunk of cash to an unknown startup on a regular annual contract.  Set realistic expectations for both sides and make sure there is a regular communication schedule for the progress.
  • Get paid. While it’s tempting to give away your product for free in exchange for testimonials or exposure, you’re missing a key component of your business if you’re not charging.  I’m not referring to getting the actual cash, which is obviously important, but rather the understanding how ready you are to issue invoices, follow up for payment, collect feedback and collect.
  •  Make a plan for feedback. Managing all of the feedback you’re going to get can be a daunting task.  Consider embedding an employee with the team to gather instant feedback on how they’re using your product so that you can adjust immediately.

It was a terrific morning spent exploring the ways to make the interactions of startups and large corporations productive- take the time to make your interactions work.