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At CES 2017, I hosted a panel with Amazon, Ford, and Motorola as well as founders from LISNR and HERO to discuss how to engage and leverage big brands. I have worked with well over 100 corporations developing deals with founders, and this panel had some great recommendations to get a deal moving, get it closed and make sure you are successful in the engagement.


Find a Champion and then Make a Friend

Rodney Williams, co-founder, and CEO of LISNR emphasized that you will need multiple contacts at each big brand you want to work with. Find contacts who are willing to make the extra effort and build relationships with them. Then, keep those relationships active, even as that champion moves throughout the corporation and even into other organizations.  

Rodney says, “We follow our champions,” as they move to other companies and then leverage that relationship to extend our network with someone we already trust.


Figure Out Where You Fit and Make Your Role Obvious

Every time you get traction with a big brand, they are engaging with you for a purpose. It may be aligned with a new PR initiative, a new client, an internal initiative or even government regulation.

Alex Crosby, CEO, and Co-Founder of HERO highlighted that for him, “The brands are the connective tissue,” he needs to be successful.  HERO delivers a solution to help those who have had a bit too much to drink get home safely. Since brands want to demonstrate they are helping reduce drinking related issues, they are very interested in working with authorities. HERO facilitates these connections and has a clear and measurable plan for the brands to work with local officials, such as a Mayor or Governor. Then the conversation shifts to focus on planning and execution, and not on why they should work with HERO.

Be Ready — But Don’t Move Too Early

Everybody wants that big deal or to launch their latest product on Amazon. But, Jenny Hagemann, Business Development Manager at Amazon, and the individual at Amazon who is responsible for helping startups get launched on their site, says it’s best to test elsewhere, before launching on Amazon.  

Amazon has tools on LaunchPad, such as pages to help tell your product story, and contribute to get that first pool of reviews. But, once you go live, and people start consuming the product, then the reviews start coming in. It is very hard to recover from poor reviews, so best to pilot on Indiegogo or Kickstarter and be prepared for that big launch.

Plan, Then Execute with Your Big Brand Partner

Before pursuing and engaging with a big brand partner, make sure you understand what the opportunities are to work together. Engaging a big brand is different than just finding a customer and filling the pipeline. Many have clearly defined startup programs and these programs describe how they want to work with startups.  


Motorola recently launched the Motorola Moto Mods, a platform for startups to build hardware add-ons to their phones. Stephen McDonnell is the Director of the program, and they have developed a program in partnership with Indiegogo to give founders an easy platform to work with and a way get the solution to users to test it. Stephen emphasized how important it is to have a plan when engaging a big brand and know what you want. Jessica Robinson from Ford stressed being open and honest with the corporate brand and be willing to work together to create a plan that starts slow and scales as your startup scales.

In Summary

More big brands than ever are willing and ready to work with your startup. To be successful, you need a plan that makes sense for all of you and you need to develop strong and trusted relationships with multiple champions at your target corporation before you can be successful.

In the end, successful execution can launch your company into a new level of visibility and success.

Watch the full recording of the panel here.


Dave Drach
Dave is the VP of Corporate Strategy at Techstars, building relationships between startups and corporates so they can prosper together. He has worked at the interface between some of the most innovative startups in the world and the largest corporate partners for over 20 years. At Techstars, Dave has built a wide variety of engagement models with companies like Google, Chase, Amazon, Verizon, P&G and IBM.