2 different worlds
You can think that start ups are totally opposite to big corporate companies in many aspects.
In startups environments, you find flexibility, action-oriented mindset with few approvals needed to push new processes in a test mode, while big companies seem to be clogged in long decision-making processes and strong sense of hierarchy, which can make everything very “political”.
Startups have to care about costs all the time because of a relatively restrained budget, where big companies are fine with business class travels and champagne reception for clients (not talking about Christmas parties!).
Startups teams are small and made of young people with not a lot of years of experience but full of energy, passion and ability to make it happen, where corporates have a large number of employees, a strict hierarchic structure and people with years and years of experience in top management.
Startups are all about experimenting straight away, iterating if needed and scaling fast once the right model is found. Corporates are taking more time in any decision-taking and have a whole set of processes around it.
Seen this way, startups seem like the perfect environment to work. And yet — corporates also have many advantages.
They offer a more secure and stable contract, for those who do not want to risk seeing their job gone from one day to another. It is a reality in the world of startups that such a scenario could happen at any time, despite the big rounds of money raised.
You can be sure to find experienced people you will learn from in big corporates, while in startups you might end up working with a bunch of young interns and graduates and you’re all learning everything on the job.
Corporates have an established brand and credibility which makes clients acquisition easier, while startups have to build this from scratch.
All the above proves one thing: both startups and corporates have assets and weaknesses, and both worlds can definitely learn from each other.
The question is: how to make this happen?
How to make startups and corporates collaborate?
Because startups and corporates are such different environments, the communication and understanding is hard to establish.
I was myself part of a project of startup to be launched within a big company.
We built an awesome business plan to convince them to give it a go, but it was very obvious they were not ready to accept the inherent risks of a startup, ie that despite the market research and all the homework, there is always a likelihood it will just not work. It’s all about the ability and strength of the team to figure out if any iteration is needed and perfectly execute.
A couple of things can help out counteracting this kind of misunderstanding between the corporate and startup world, if you are a startup working or willing to work with a big corporate company:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: it is very important to set up some clear communication channels. Typically, corporates can be reassured by things like weekly KPIs reports. Kick off your collaboration by sitting together and deciding on a couple of key metrics you want to reach by next months / in 6 months etc and prepare a nice report you can send them every week with qualitative comments so they can easily have a grasp of what is going on. This is what I set up for the main clients I am working with atStuart such as Just Eat, Sainsbury’s, Burger King. These are big companies partnering with a startup, Stuart, and it is working well for both parties!
- Be proactive: Try to guess the big company’s concerns/needs to always push some new things that could be valuable to them: reports, process, etc
- Bring up the big picture view to the table: investment plans, unit economics, some P&L elements that can show that you will be around for a long time — not all startups are bound to disappear!
- Last but not least: be proud of being a startup! It can be intimidating to be a startup sitting at the same table of corporate people with years and years of experience in their industry. And yet -never forget that both parts have learnings and best practices to bring to each other. You will teach the corporate about building an innovative product in limited time and with limited budget, they will make you benefit from their expertise, money and network.
At the end, it is all about “selling” and then “account managing” to the big company, with extra care to bridge the cultural gap and not make it a blocker to any collaboration. Once the relationship is established, you will be able to learn a lot from each other and go big… together!