Engaging with Major Enterprises – How to Ride the Tiger

Mike Tattersall is Partner at TrueStart and Head of Strategic Partnerships, with over 20 years’ experience in the retail and consumer industry. In this blog he highlights TrueStart’s edge and how to approach and build upon corporate opportunities. 

A key differentiation of TrueStart as a place for entrepreneurs to build their businesses, is our large network of senior figures in the retail and consumer industry. Our sector specificity is unique and drives a huge amount of interest from companies, large and small, who are seeking structured and pre-emptive access to relevant and actionable innovation – all of which can drive measurable Return on Investment in a rapidly changing consumer environment. In the last year we have welcomed more than 200 senior executives to our office, making countless introductions to entrepreneurs, sowing the seeds for further interaction, building use cases and conducting trials all on a path to full commercial integration (and, therefore, recurring revenue).

Facilitating these introductions is central to the value TrueStart can provide entrepreneurs. Access access to senior executives – who are capable of driving new initiatives from concept to completion – in major corporations is extremely difficult to achieve for almost all young companies. Moreover the companies engaging with us, exemplified by our close relationships with our Strategic Partners Bourne Leisure, John Lewis, Land Securities and Morrisons, and Associate Member, EY, are by definition motivated by the incentive of securing the business benefits of applying new technologies, services and products to their existing operations. The will to engage with entrepreneurs, coming from the highest echelons of management (our relationships with major companies are typically, and deliberately, anchored in the ‘C-Suite’) via engagement with TrueStart is palpable.

We genuinely believe our ability to accelerate the development of startups via our ecosystem of contacts is unparalleled within our industry. One of our portfolio companies, Photospire, has built a raft of impressive use cases (and recently became one of a handful of official Facebook Marketing Partners in the fast-growing content marketing sphere) on the back of introductions we have been delighted to facilitate. Photospire’s CEO, Ger O’Meara, has a simple answer to the question of why his company has stayed so close to TrueStart since completing the Summer 2015 Collection programme (and continues to work from our offices):

“Why would we go anywhere else?”

Of course, commercial lift-off requires more than introductions and “door-opening” on our part; we are often asked what differentiates those who gain traction from these opportunities. Clearly there isn’t a magic formula for this but some common traits stand out:

  • Firstly, recognise that the major corporation probably needs your product/service/tech rather less than you need them, however remarkable your business or innovation. Humour, humility and basic likeability exponentially increase your prospects of advancing from introduction to negotiation.
  • Secondly, it is important to know not just your product but the market you operate in, the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors (large and small). Acknowledge and be prepared to rectify any limitations within your nascent proposition. Be able to quantify the upside (in hard financial terms) you offer.
  • Thirdly, try to empathise with the (potential) client on as practical a level as possible; what position do they hold in the organisation, how important is the problem you solve/opportunity you offer to them, can they sign off on your commercial arrangement or do they need to “sell” your company internally, how can you make them look good/save them a problem in their organisation, who do you need to convince to “make the sale”?
  • Fourthly, personalise. Show how your product or service will look in the context of the organisation in question. Not only does this demonstrate forethought and diligence in your approach to client interactions it provides immediate and understandable context for the company. It also implies readiness to act.

Which brings us onto the final characteristics of startups who prevail in our boardroom; speed, flexibility and perseverance. It is an observable fact that most companies – and there is a correlation with size here – talk “fast” and move “slow”. Being able to integrate quickly and painlessly (off site, minimal disruption, particularly across different teams, capex free or light) massively increases your prospects. But don’t expect your counterparts to move as quickly as you can, or would like – dogged pursuit is a key attribute of the successful entrepreneur. To paraphrase the military aphorism about strategy not surviving first contact with the enemy, similarly innovation faces an unequal struggle with the rigours of day-to-day trading. This is particularly true in a challenging consumer environment.

Building a business is hard. Few people, probably no one, will be as enthusiastic about your business as you are. And nor should they be. Getting your voice heard, product noticed, service trialled or technology tested is one of the biggest challenges you will face. If you operate in the retail and consumer industry, no one is better placed or motivated to help you succeed than TrueStart.