How To Build A Company With Corporate Clients As Your First Customers
Startups and young companies are the job growth engines of many industries. Because they so often hold the key to sparking innovation, large corporations are taking notice, looking for ways to collaborate with startups to stay ahead of competitors, avoid disruption and access new technologies.
Yet, many entrepreneurs remain guarded about approaching and working with large corporations. They’re wary of copycat syndrome by the corporates and investing time, effort and funding on a project that might not develop to production and more. But is there a happy middle ground?
Startups And Corporations: A Mutually Beneficial Approach
When it comes to startups and corporations teaming up, there are plenty of incentives on both sides of the equation.
- Startups can access the corporation’s markets or turn the partner into a customer. They can tap into industry and customer data as well as development resources and capabilities. The initial success of a first project can lead to potential expansion later down the line. There’s always the chance, too, to obtain financing.
- Corporations benefit from faster innovation, access to creative thinkers and early insight into advanced technologies and new verticals. They might be looking for quick solutions that improve agility and transform how they work. Of course, the potential return on investment can always be a big draw.
A recent Unilever study on corporates and startups working together found that 80% of corporations believe startups can have a positive impact on their approach to innovation. The report predicts that by 2025, most corporates and startups will be working together in the same space to meet changing consumer needs.
Go Big: How Startups Can Succeed At Corporate Partnerships
Today, the options for corporations to collaborate with startups include everything from codeveloping products, cross-selling each other’s products or services, integrating with their APIs and more. For startups looking to get this type of collaboration right, it can seem a daunting task.
While there’s no one fail-safe approach for every entrepreneur, there are some consistent best practices that can help lead you down the path of success.
Be Bold And Be Persistent
Clichés are clichés because they tend to be true. You’re probably familiar with the adage about life not being about how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up. Boldness and persistence on a startup’s part project confidence in its abilities and solutions. It inspires respect and ensures you stay top of mind with potential corporate partners.
Be Patient And Keep On Chugging
Slow and steady may win the race, but better counsel might add a third ingredient to the phrase: deliberate.
Unlike startups that are flatter in their organization, corporations take longer in nearly every business aspect. There are multiple departments involved in decision-making, hierarchical differences and many debates about where and with whom to allocate resources.
When you understand and accept the way corporations function, establishing a rapport becomes more straightforward — and productive. To build trust and drive meaningful conversations with potential corporate partners, you should be authentic, professional and empathetic. Instead of focusing on operational differences, look for points of commonality.
Mind The Gap
Nearly all partnerships between corporates and startups have some level of culture clash. For instance, startups are usually taken aback by the complexity and slower pace of corporate processes. Corporations often initially see startups as mercurial and inconsistent.
If not recognized and acknowledged, these differences can cause friction that gets in the way of the two parties moving forward. Communications, expectations, scheduling and delivery are all areas that need to be openly discussed if there’s any hope for developing a fruitful way of working together. As a startup, it’s essential to be open to meeting in the middle.
Make It Personal — And Mean It
To avoid getting held up in a frustrating holding pattern, accept that it will likely fall to you as the startup leader to be more tireless in pursuing the relationship. Be willing to wear your heart on your sleeve and show the other party just how fully invested you are. Going the extra mile always pays off but be careful not to overpromise and underdeliver. You may find yourself pulling some all-nighters, but your commitment to the cause could be repaid many times over. Along the way, remember we’re all people. Find a balance between forming a business relationship and a working friendship with your corporate partner.
Open Communication And Transparency
Go big or go home, right? Well, yes, with a couple of caveats.
There’s nothing wrong with adopting a bold strategy that avoids small players and focuses on the big players, particularly if you believe you have a solution that solves a serious problem in your sector. And there’s a lot to be said for setting a high bar and approaching industry veterans who can help you bring your product or service to success more quickly.
Just remember you’ll need to be open and honest about any hiccups and setbacks that arise. Not going to meet a deadline? Don’t leave your corporate partner in the dark until the last minute. Be upfront about the obstacles you’re facing. Who knows, they may be able to help you meet that target date after all.
The ability to believe in oneself is what differentiates successful people from the rest. While there are those who are naturally confident, they are few and far between. Luckily, you can learn to be more assertive about the value of your innovative product or service. And when you project self-confidence, others naturally want to align themselves with you.
Remember, as they’re always searching for ways to optimize their business processes and develop new business models, corporates find startups extremely attractive. Knowing the value you bring right out of the gate can go a long way in giving you the courage to approach the big guns from day one.