The global business landscape is transforming at a speed of light. Why? - Rapid digitization. Not only did it boost the creation of many new products and services, but a new way of thinking. Big companies, aka corporates, are now stepping up and speeding up the game by finding external technologies and innovations rather than developing those in-house.
In fact, based on the results of a recent survey (study by the Unilever Foundation) of 204 corporate brand managers and 114 startups about how their companies planned to collaborate together: 80% of corporates believe that startups can have a positive impact on a large company’s approach to innovation; 89% of startups believe they’re able to deliver business solutions which can scale. Great numbers, right?
Before acting on them and starting collaboration with startups, let's review some crucial questions that each corporate and its CTO (or Head of Digital) has to answer.
What questions you should ask your organization and yourself before going to bed with startups?
Question #1: Do you know what you want to achieve?
Sounds basic and trivial? Maybe. But often companies embrace startup-corporate collaboration for the wrong reasons, that are not aligned with company’s short-term and long-term strategies, across departments or among corporate’s leaders. Understanding what is the main target and why to partner with startup is crucial. It is also about setting preliminary goals in accordance with available resources (budget, people, time, know-how etc.) within organization.
Question #2: Did you decide what type of collaboration is suitable for your organization?
There are many ways to build collaboration with startups. Are you seeking for new technologies, innovations and solution providers to collaborate with? Is your main goal to find an investable company? Are you serious about acquiring a promising startup? Or perhaps you are looking into establishing in-house acceleration program? Or it is just about becoming a client for an interesting startup company utilizing / redistributing their products and services? Could it be something entirely different? Drawing a clear path for partnership is not only one of the main criteria for startup scouting and validation, but a fundamental internal strategy to be agreed upon in advance with staff involved in venture collaboration.
Question #3: Do you have a dedicated person or a team for venture collaboration?
Undertaking a project like finding new technologies or building sustainable relationship with startup(s) is a herculean task, that is not to be tackled alone. It would mean recruiting/assigning a dedicated person, or a team, or even an entire department to oversee venture-collaboration activities. It is of the essence to ask: Can we validate ourselves which startups/technologies are the right ones, or we do recruit an external partner with in-depth knowledge about startup ecosystem? Are we going to scout relevant technologies through digital tools, consulting firms, events or elsewhere, and what human resource do we need in accordance to the chosen path? Assigning roles and responsibilities before diving into the world of startups and growth companies is one way to minimize risks and assure successful collaboration.
Question #4: How do you feel about the future of your industry, and your company’s place in it?
Take a look at your industry, its trends, its market leaders, its growth. Nowadays, timing is a pressing matter. With more Ubers and AirBnBs challenging big traditional players, corporate giants need to act fast to the changes in the industry, predict future trends and compete with new, more agile growth companies and technologies. Approach it as a standard interview question: “How do you see your organization in 5 years?!” And continuing: Will the industry still exist? Are you confident that your current direction will strengthen your position on the market in the near future? Are you fast enough to find promising technologies, growth companies and innovators? What are other corporates doing in this focus area and are they succeeding?“ Senior management needs to understand how new technologies may impact their business field in order to recognize and develop relevant solutions.
Question #5: Are you ready to adapt startup culture?
Good startups are like good programmers. You don't choose them, they choose you. Ask yourself: what can we offer to a startup? Are we sexy enough? Can we move along with the same speed? Here are just a few major differences and pitfalls in innovation and organizational structure that you might face: (1) Startups cannot be approached top-down way, but rather at eye level. (2) Failure is a natural milestone for a young company, wherein in many corporates even the slightest sign of failure has a heavy cost for those involved, hence are often avoided and not openly acknowledged. (3) Things move at a speed of light in a startup company - few months can mean growth or death valley, new corporate deals, radical pivoting etc., wherein corporates might take months just to make a decision on venture collaboration.
At the end of the day, it’s all about expectation management, ambition level, speed and adaptability. Senior management has to be ready to adapt, make fast decisions, and throw overboard conventional and tested ways of thinking, i.e. be curious and open-minded.