22 Tips For Startups Working With Big Companies From SXSW 2012 – Austin

I’m in Austin, Texas covering SXSW Interactive there are hundreds of seminars and things to do – lots of learning for startups, entrepreneurs, small business owners and professionals of every type.
My first panel of SXSW was entitled, How Startups Do Deals With Industry Titans.
The panelists were include:
  • Alex Barnett, Group Mgr, Intuit Partner Platform, Intuit Inc/Innovation Lab
  • Jay Lee, VP of Partnerships & New Business Dev, American Express
  • Pamela O’Hara, CEO, BatchBlue Software
  • Scott McMullan, Prod Mgr, Google Inc
  • Sunir Shah, Chief Mktg Olarker, Olark
 Here is their insight and tid bits of the discussion:
  1. American Express OPEN is looking for SaaS companies who are democratizing technology for business owners.
  2. There are two types of partnerships: 1) a partnership program that’s simply online with a web site (or some other transaction based web site) and 2) a more formal arrangement with negotiated deals and very specialized.
  3. What matters most when you are evaluating a partnership? What are the resources needed to implement the partnership and what is your relevancy to the partnership.
  4. Ensure that you (the startup) and they (the titan) are trying to accomplish the same thing.
  5. Is your startup ready for the big company’s way of doing things – lawyers, government regulations, etc
  6. Are both partners making money (or getting something from it).
  7. There are  many problems that Intuit can’t solve by themselves – by partnering with startups, Intuit can serve these customers better. 
  8. From the partners perspective they want to know how can partners leverage Intuit’s [or another titan] channel to grow their business.
  9. Ensure there is a win, win, win for everyone.
  10. Scott McMullan said that very often partnerships sound great in theory but if they don’t deliver sufficient magnitude or scale then be prepared to walk away.
  11. The small talk about the deal can often be friendly but how can you really tease out the details is important.
  12. Shah said you should ask the titan if they going to commit to promote you and you want to know if you (the partner)  is part of the titans core partner strategy.
  13.  Jay Lee suggest to ask is this deal really important to the titan or is it something that’s just on the side.
  14. Understand who is sitting at the table during the planning meetings.
  15.  Pamela said to start small and have lots of coffee dates.
  16.  One tip Pamela suggested is to ask for a small change to the NDA (or other legal document) – as a test to the partnership – does it take too long? If it takes a long time or is difficult to do, this could be a warning that other parts of the relationship might be VERY complicated or take a long time. This is not bad, but at least you know.
  17. Ask the titen what is important to the them so you have the right alignment.
  18. Extract as many metrics as you can on what you’ve done before, related to the partnership. Winning partnerships get won by having numbers or facts (prooof of concept) before the partnership goes full scale.
  19. If you find it hard to meet or be introduced to titans, work your relationships – successful partnerships come down to great relationships.
  20. Make sure you’re out there and visible – the titan is going to find you. Have great web site, marketing, etc – titan’s want to find the right partners. Show titans that you are a success already and that you can speak to their alignment
  21.  Alex Barnett said that you will get Intuit’s attention if you are delighting the CUSTOMER.
  22.  Partners gossiping about other partners is a warning sign about a possible not so good partnership or individual you are working with in the partnership. Don’t gossip – keep your mouth shut.

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