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Entrepreneurship

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of presenting, together with my friend and colleague Ken Goldberg, to a group of technology entrepreneurs brought together by CRDF and TEC.  We talked about establishing alliances with much larger companies – a topic that’s often daunting for new ventures. Its a subject that’s near and dear to our hearts because we’ve spent lots of time on both sides of those relationships.  Some do’s and dont’s that Ken and I discussed:

Do

  1. Have a Plan – Develop an approach, time line and road-map. It will focus your efforts and help you assess progress.
  2. Be Relevant – Understand what’s in it for the partner and the partner’s customers
  3. Be Aggressive – Attack top down and bottom up, be creative, be persistent.
  4. Behave Like a Mature Company – Have policies, approval processes, multi-level teams.  Don’t send in your CEO until you have a meeting with a key decision maker.
  5. Be Unique – Articulate what you can offer that others in your category can’t.
  6. Think Big Dollars – Demonstrate that you can have a big impact on revenue and help the partner win big deals.
  7. Prove It – Be ready to show integration, value add, or joint customers.
  8. Find a Sponsor – Use your network to find an internal cheerleader (or 2)
  9. Negotiate Smart – Share the risk and get mutual commitments
Don’t
  1. Bet on one partner -We’ve seen multi-million dollar companies disappear because the one big partner changed course.
  2. Be vague – Vague, unsupportable claims about your products or capabilities create doubt, not progress.
  3. Lie – Exaggerating the number of people on your team? Claiming a few extra deployments?   Savvy bus dev professionals will notice, and likely drop you from consideration.
  4. Over-promise – Either you’ll fail and lose the one opportunity at a critical alliance, or you’ll be forced to commit too many resources, distracting from your company’s other important priorities, and risking too much on a single relationship.  (see #1)
  5. Expect or make 1-sided investments – Expect some skin in the game from the partner.  It shows you have confidence in the value of your own investment.
  6. Forget it’s a relationship – Focusing too much on the deal and ignoring that you’re building a long-term relationship is a mistake.  Signing the agreement is when the real work starts.  Even if you never sign an agreement, the people you worked with may change their minds next year, or next month when they switch jobs.
  7. Give up – If not today, tomorrow. If not this decision maker, call another one. If not this company, talk to all their competitors.
Have a few of your own? Please share.
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On Recessions and Forest Fires

by Lilia Shirman on April 27, 2009

in Economy,Entrepreneurship

Photo by a brilliant photographer on Picasa (TJ7779)

Several weeks ago, I was driving through the mountains around Tahoe, returning from a weekend of skiing.   As we passed an area that had been devastated by a forest fire, I saw hope in the destruction.

I realized that this recession is very much like a forest fire.  Giants that had been standing for decades are suddenly gone.  Others are still standing, but have been badly singed.  The devastation seems all-encompassing and permanent.

But a closer look at the barren hillside told another story.   Forest fires have another effect that is easy to forget in times like these:   They create the space for new growth.  They are nature’s mechanism for renewal.

The recession, as painful as it is for all of us, is creating room for growth as well.    If we allow it, the difficult times will provide the space and light that are needed for new ventures to get visibility, new ideas to take root, and new ways of doing things to get tried and adopted.

How has the downturn inspired you or your company to get creative and start anew?

(Photo generously provided via Picasa by TJ from Davis, Ca)

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What advice would you give small companies trying to prioritize target industries?   Robbie Baxter of Peninsula Strategies, an expert in on-line, recurring revenue streams, asked me a this very interesting question!

At companies with a sales history, industry-specific activity and resources are focused in two kinds of areas:  Where most revenue is coming from already (this is by far the more common focus area), and where there is greatest opportunity for growth in the future.    There can be lots of complex analysis, but in reality few big companies do much proactive planning.  That’s a whole other blog, though.

With a smaller company, the first part of that equation is missing. They don’t have the sales history, references, and channels to naturally leverage into an already-active vertical market.

So, here is a try at some things I’d look at as a small business deciding where to focus.

1. What industry will value what you do most? Where will you impact mission-critical results?

2.  Over time, what group of customers are going to be needing you more and more (and feeling increasing pain you can solve) due to external pressures and trends in their industry?

3. Where are you best able to access the financial decision-makers? (This is a combination of your company’s existing connections and lists, and the target industry’s propensity for doing business with small companies.)

Note that its easier to find ways to reach financial decision-makers than to change the core value of what you do or convince an industry to focus on non-critical issues.  Unfortunately, many small companies start with #3 as the first, not last criteria for selecting target markets.

Please comment with your own thoughts on selecting target industries at small companies.

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