Startups Interacting with Large Corporations: Lessons from Target

We recently held an AMA on corporate innovation with Cory Hooyman, lead innovation manager at Target.

We talked about corporate innovation and how to bring new practices and methods into your team and company.

Is there one thing that startup founders need to know to best interact with large corporations?

Ryan: The nice thing about our program in particular – especially when we’re working with a large corporation or retailer – is that there’s a massive gap between the corporations and the startups. It’s on both sides of it.

The startups, in a lot of cases, do not interact with an enterprise level corporation because they don’t speak the language. The timelines are off. A lot of the time, the professionalism of the startup needs to improve in order for them to interact with these very large organizations.

On the flip side, the corporations – and Target has done an amazing job of this – admit where they need to improve in order to interact with the startups. Not everything is going to be at the level of a huge consulting firm or a massive software company when it’s just three or four people who are iterating an idea.

When we look through the companies during the application process, we always try to project the potential of that team in their ability to work with the enterprise level companies. Just because they don’t know how to speak that language right now doesn’t mean we can’t work with that and hopefully get them to a level where they’d be able to actually interact with a 10,000 person company or 300,000 person company. That’s a big thing for us.

When we talk about team, team, team for the participants in the program, clearly, it’s about the entrepreneurial skillsets and the stuff that we identify as Techstars as an organization. But for companies that are trying to work with massive corporations, we also have to think about the potential of that team, their ability to interact with those large corporations.

Techstars sits right in the middle, between the startups on the one side of it and the corporations on the other. We plant ourselves right down the middle and try to be the middle ground between the two of them so they can hopefully speak the same language.

Cory: There are certain things that founders should watch out for. If the time is not right, the corporate yuckery can take place. They can in some way, shape, or form drown your company by not being aware of some of the things that Ryan mentioned, like the gaps.

I’ve talked to people who have, not through this program, but I’ve talked to companies locally who are on their (and I am not exaggerating this number) 28th, 29th or 30th meeting with Target. They’re still hoping for a pilot. People get passed around to various people in the organization with the intent of maybe this person might be somebody good to talk to.

Really, the only reason they keep getting passed around is because nobody has any money to do what these people are trying to accomplish. If you knew that up front, you might be like, “I’ve had my fifth meeting. I get it. I’m out. I’m going to go focus on something else.”

But because people don’t want to tell you they don’t have access to these resources, they just pass you along with the hopes that somebody else can deal with it.

Do you have a question about interacting and working with large corporations? Let us know in the comments!

Applications are open for 11 global Techstars Mentorship-driven Accelerator programs. You can apply now or check to see if the Techstars Roadshow is stopping in a city near you!








What Actually Motivates a Corporation to Pilot with a Startup?

Working with a corporation can offer all kinds of opportunities to a startup. It lets you test new functions of your app, figure out implementation techniques and, most importantly, learn from and build a lasting relationship with a potential partner.

I’ve watched this process first-hand at the Techstars Retail Accelerator, in Partnership with Target, where many of our startups have run successful pilots with major retailers. We kicked off our second class on July 17, and I’m watching our latest class set themselves up for potential pilot opportunities in the near future.

Sadly, many pilots end up failing, and I think one of the main reasons is startups do not clearly understand the motivations of their pilot partners.  

So, why would a corporation run a pilot with a startup?

Learning

None of us knows everything, even in our own field of expertise. Pilots let corporations explore areas of strategic interest without betting the whole house on something new or unfamiliar.

Testing

A pilot lets a corporation test your startup’s idea, and whether a potential partnership is actually feasible and worthwhile for it.

Assessing Workflow

Few things derail a partnership faster than two systems that just don’t work well together. You want to be peanut butter and jelly, not peanut butter and…sushi.

A pilot gives you a way to better understand the contours of a potential relationship without risking too much.

Employee Motivations 

While the corporation’s strategic motivations get you in the door, the motivations of the employees you’ll be working with are what ultimately get you the deal. Always ask yourself, “Does the success of this pilot somehow influence your internal champions’ bonus?”

If the answer is “yes,” you will have much higher engagement. If the answer is “no,” you may not ultimately have a path forward with this company.

Find Budget 

Running a free or discounted pilot allows the testing to move forward while a corporation actually finds budget for a larger roll out. Sometimes this is just a matter of budget cycles, but it could also be budget reprioritization, which takes longer.

Customers 

In a B2B pilot, it’s ultimately your customer’s customers who will vicariously sustain your business—i.e., if your customers die, you die. A good pilot can teach corporations more about their customers, and whether your product helps serve them better. That’s the ultimate return on their investment in you.

Iteration

In addition to thinking big picture, pilots also teach you what granular tweaks separate good ideas from great ones. In a pilot, you can experiment with what changes to a product bring the best results, and what trainings for employees supercharge adoption and boost impact.

Now that you (hopefully) understand the motivations behind piloting, how do you actually pull off a successful pilot? Check back soon as we lay out the key steps to actually implementing a successful pilot.

This was originally published here








Zaki Fasihuddin’s Tips for Corporations Working with Startups

Techstars Mobility Accelerator mentor Zaki Fasihuddin recently joined Volvo Cars as VP of Digital. Zaki has been an active corporate mentor in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Techstars Mobility Accelerator programs. In this post, I interview Zaki who shares some tips for ways corporations and startups can work together.

The entire transportation industry is going through a historic change. Automotive companies are shifting from bending metal to bending bits. Soon they will be offering software and services to complement manufactured metal.

Driving this massive transformation is the need for the large corporations to become more innovative and nimble like startups. These companies are looking to partner and work with emerging technology startups instead of being merely disrupted by them. Innovation teams are being formed at large corporations to build processes around structured engagement with innovative startups.

At the Techstars Mobility Accelerator program, we have 10 corporate innovation partners for 2017. You can read more about these new corporate partners in this post. These include Ford, Verizon, Honda, next47 (the independent investment arm of Siemens), Bosch, InMotion (powered by Jaguar Land Rover), AAA, Dana, Munich Re, and Michelin.

These corporations are not only learning from startups but are offering mentorship and support to help these startups thrive in the changing transportation industry.

As we kick off the third Techstars Mobility Accelerator program (and 109th class to go through Techstars, wow!), I’m excited to interview one of our mentors, Zaki Fasihuddin who has worked at innovation teams at both McDonald’s (a 2015 and 2016 Techstars Mobility corporate partner) and now Volvo.

Mentors are where the magic happens at Techstars, and we have an all star list of Mobility mentors. It’s even more amazing when mentors come back year after year to support the program. It’s equally impressive when those mentors change roles at large corporations but still find ways to be engaged and to get their company involved. At Techstars we have a saying “#Techstars4Life” and it’s powerful to see this in action.

Zaki first started as a Techstars Mobility mentor when he was running the McDonald’s Digital Hub in Silicon Valley. He mentored many mobility startups, helping to support internal connections, paid pilots, and relationships throughout the industry. He offered unique corporate insight because of his previous startup experience being a co-founder, early team member, and investor in several software companies

In June of 2017, Zaki gave me a call after transitioning to his new role at Volvo’s Mountain View office. “How can I #GiveFirst and support the 2017 class?” I smiled knowing that two of our incoming companies (SEEVA and EcoG part of our 2017 Techstars Mobility class) were already asking if we had any mentors from Volvo. That’s the power of the Techstars network!

Here are some tips from Zaki for both corporations and startups on ways to work together.

Why is it important for corporations to work with early stage startups?

Zaki: There are several reasons why corporations should consider working with early-stage startups that include:

  1. Range of experimentation of new ideas: For startups, there is no such thing as “we don’t do that here…,” or, “…that conflicts with our current business model…” Startups tend to be trailblazers into new unproven market spaces and have the ability to experiment, fail fast and try again, often in rapid iterative cycles.     
  2. Speed: Startups can change direction on a dime. By partnering with startups, corporations can see signals or proof points faster on testing of hypotheses. Startups don’t need permission to act and are less constrained when they do by building scrappy solutions that are fit for purpose. At Techstars they call this #DoMoreFaster and two Techstars founders wrote a whole book on it.
  3. Cost effective learning: Taking on additional internal overhead cost to research technology and new business models in-house is not always feasible. That’s why programs like Techstarsthat offer a turnkey accelerator program with a methodology of proven successare so attractive. They can be run with minimal cost that can show a huge boost in experimentation, research, and overall accelerated learning in co-creation partnerships.
  4. Outside perspective: Fresh lenses can offer different approaches to problem-solving or frame opportunities differently. For example, a startup may “mash-up” technologies in a new way or apply a new business model that hasn’t been tried before. By their nature, startups are empowered to challenge industry norms by thinking differently.
  5. Talent: Being involved in the building of a startup was one of the most challenging experiences of my career.  Entrepreneurship is sometimes thought to be glamorous, but it is actually the opposite. It’s more like the movie Groundhog Day where every day is a grind for survival mixed in with some healthy paranoia while the main thing that powers you is an illogical belief. It is the ultimate trial by fire that tests your fortitude on so many levels. Now if one can learn how to properly apply those skills and passion inside a corporation, they can make a sizable impact. Startups can not only serve as a talent pipeline but can also help inculcate a culture of healthy paranoia so corporations don’t rest on their laurels

You’ve now seen many corporations engage with startups. What do you think is the single biggest lesson corporations can implement to work with startups successfully?

Zaki: Be consistent, dedicate resources and follow through. You need to have a dedicated team that is truly engaged and committed, who understands startups and has a path to go from idea to proof of concept to pilot and potentially even production.

This means investing the right amount of time with a startup and the founders and jointly sharpening the problem statement, the scope of engagement and the outcomes that you will be trying to solve for in the collaboration. Companies that have invested the time to do this come out with far better results. It all comes down to engagement and commitment.     

What would be your top 1 or 2 tips for a startup to work with a corporation?

Zaki: Be focused and specific for what you are trying to achieve. Don’t view the project as a one and done. Agree on a project that is feasible to achieve and doesn’t have a lot of dependencies to deploy. Don’t be smitten by working with a name brand, instead have a clear understanding of why you are seeking a particular partner and what tangible value it will create for your company.

For startups, time is not on your side. It is easy to go off on a tangent by making some bad choices which can cost your company more in the long run. We all need to learn to do more faster together.

What excites you about the Mobility space and in particular the opportunity for Detroit?

Zaki: Coming from a different industry, the exponential pace of change and innovation in the Mobility space is mind boggling. Places like Dubai, Singapore, and China are creating favorable conditions by fast tracking new regulations and offering seed investment to attract global mobility startups.

Detroit has more to offer entrepreneurs when it comes to world class research-based educational institutions, a massive transportation-focused private sector with knowledge workers, an affordable cost of living and a public sector intent on re-inventing the city. Detroit has an opportunity to become the global destination of choice for mobility entrepreneurs.

The Techstars Mobility Accelerator program has 10 corporate innovation partners including Ford, Verizon, Honda, next47 (the independent investment arm of Siemens), Bosch, InMotion (powered by Jaguar Land Rover), AAA, Dana, Munich Re, and Michelin.

We have over 200 mentors from another 100+ different corporations from around the globe. If you’d like to learn more about becoming involved in Techstars Mobility, please contact me.

This was originally published on TedSerbinski.com








How a Corporate Board Member Can Influence Innovation in Their Company

I was on a panel recently sponsored by the NACD, the National Association of Corporate Directors. I was joined by Diego Rodriquez, Global Managing Director of IDEO, Barbara Mowry, board member of the NACD and curated by Catharine Merigold, independent board member and board member of NACD.

It forced me to reflect on the Techstars corporate programs we have run and how our programs, and more specifically our founders, have influenced the corporations they work with and how the board was involved.

The primary impact of our programs on our corporate partners is a disruptive transformation of those entities, usually in ways they did not imagine. I like to think of it as entrepreneur driven pragmatic disruption.

We see the greatest impact when our programs are led by the CEO and direct report CXO staff and even more so by the chairman of the board and board members. This has been the case in our programs with Barclays, Nike, Microsoft, Ford, Target, METRO, COX and Disney.

So, how can a board member influence innovation? Here are a few suggestions:

Innovation Objectives  

  • Build specific objectives, such as implementing and running innovation programs, into the objectives of the CEO and executive staff members.  Make sure these objectives have measurable outcomes.  
  • Do not base these engagements on venture investments, but on new products or offerings either through partnerships or trials.  
  • Make the CEO’s pay tied to progress against these objectives.

Disruption Ecosystem

  • Innovation cannot come from within your existing management and operating infrastructure (the innovator’s dilemma clearly defines these challenges).
  • To support business sustainability, you must encourage testing of products and services that are disruptive and potentially cannibalistic to your existing offerings.  

Build opportunities for partnerships with entrepreneurs. You can do this effectively without disrupting your current operations and then deepen your partnership with those startups that prove effective.

Encourage Transactions with Startups  

  • The most effective ways you can transform your company is to hand over some of your company operations to a startup operator. For example, digital account planning, AI analysis of logistics, drone inspections, robotic audits, or improved employee health.  
  • Work through your procurement process to ensure effective vetting of startup services, but simplify the procurement and contracting process for them. You want to encourage procurement for innovative services.
  • Define a target volume of business that the executive team must transition to an external startup entity.

Get Engaged  

  • #givefirst is the Techstars mantra. It seems very egalitarian at first, but in today’s world it is essential.

Some of the most disruptive ideas and subsequent solutions have come from serendipitous conversations with complete strangers. Open your door to those who really want to engage.

  • Encourage your executives to allocate time to mentor, to discuss concepts on panels, to judge presentations and to contribute their domain knowledge to those building the new companies of the future.  Encourage, but do not require mentorship. Not everybody is cut out to be a mentor.
  • Define targets for each senior executive around engagement. It might include mentorship, blogging, developing a new initiative, or a board seat on an entrepreneur focused non-profit. The personal learning as well as the open reputation you develop will result in the kind of engagement that can lead to success for all parties.

Lastly, demand agility. When I hear the corporations I work with say we just need to be more agile, my response is, you can’t, because it’s hopeless. There is simply no way that a large organization can move like a small, nimble startup. It is cognitive dissonance.

I have been on both sides of this innovation transformation for 10 years, let the startups be agile. Build in agile processes in procurement, product evaluation, implementation and legal to support engagement at a startup pace. Leave your existing, price, efficiency, and risk mitigation procurement processes in place for your standing vendors.

Managing externally driven innovation and disruption is a discipline that must be developed. The primary fiduciary responsibility of a corporate board is the sustainability of that corporation as a going concern. Maximizing rents is a noble goal but certainly not achievable when it’s not feasible even to survive.

Today’s corporate board must hold the executive team accountable to the pragmatic disruption of their business. Disrupt or be disrupted.








To Succeed at Startups and Innovation, You Need Great Mentors

West Stringfellow is the VP of Internal Innovation and Operations at Target Corporation as well as Entrepreneur in Residence. He is a mentor for Techstars Retail, in partnership with Target. This is the second post in a series on corporate innovation, originally published on LinkedIn

This past summer, Target launched its first-ever startup accelerator in partnership with Techstars. We chose to partner with Techstars because of their unbelievably high success rate in launching startups.

You can boil Techstars’ track record down to one thing: mentorship.

Techstars has mastered the art of mentoring. Without it, most startups – and many innovation efforts – fail.

Here’s what amazes me: the proven value of mentoring is right out in the open, yet the vast majority of innovation initiatives fail to leverage it. Mentoring is literally the secret sauce of every accelerator.

For example, Endeavor Insight studied thousands of startups and interviewed nearly 700 founders, and they validated the powerful role of mentoring. 33 percent of founders who were mentored by successful entrepreneurs went on to become top performers.

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Why Mentorship Works

Following our successful retail accelerator program this summer, I took time to assess what worked and why.

  1. Entrepreneurs and Innovators were willing to accept help: The startup teams that participated in our program were ready to absorb knowledge from anyone who walked into the accelerator space. As a result, teams didn’t waste time struggling with problems, but instead sought out experts who could help guide their decisions.
  1. Experts were willing to offer help: We were fortunate to have a large number of mentors who were willing to educate, collaborate with, and provide general help to our startup teams. Collaboration was especially important because it provided opportunities for teams to pilot projects and thus refine their capabilities.
  1. Positive ways to say “no”: No one wants a lame mentor, so we encouraged mentors to be honest about when and how they could help. One outcome we saw repeatedly was a statement to the effective of “I don’t know, but I will help you find someone who does.”

Contrast #1 with the way many innovation efforts proceed. An “innovation team” goes off in a corner and tries to come up with something new. They are cut off from the larger organization and don’t have much interaction with the outside world. Unless their team is filled with experts, you can be guaranteed they DO waste time struggling with problems and they DON’T routinely seek out experts.

I feel so strongly about this that my advice is that you are crazy to launch an internal innovation effort – or a startup – without first understanding how you will gain access to mentors. Not just one or two, but multiple mentors with expertise in the numerous specialties you will need master to succeed.

In my next post, I’m going to examine reasons to be a mentor, and I want to give you a preview by suggesting that the only way to truly be an expert is to share your expertise with others. The very definition of expert means that you are someone others turn to for knowledge, wisdom, and guidance. Without helping others, you may be knowledgeable, but you are not an expert.

Said another way: true experts function as mentors.








How to Build a Startup Accelerator at a Large Company: Lessons from Target

West Stringfellow is the VP of Internal Innovation and Operations at Target Corporation as well as Entrepreneur in Residence. He is a mentor for Techstars Retail, in partnership with Target. This is the first post in a series on corporate innovation, originally published on LinkedIn

As I described in my last post, we just wrapped up our first Target + Techstars retail accelerator. Today I want to share some lessons about building an accelerator that is attached to a company of scale such as Target.

Recruit Companies who have a Strategic Fit with Yours, but that also want to do Something Meaningful

We started with the hypothesis that we should be recruiting retail tech companies. We knew that Techstars has a spectacular ability to select the startups most likely to succeed, but we didn’t know which ones would excite Target’s team members… and thus foster the most productive collaborations.

Luckily, we selected a few companies that not only aligned strategically with our company, but that also are seeking to do the right thing for humanity.

For example, Revolar combines an app with a wearable safety device designed to help protect women from abuse and assault. Inspectorio helps to guide overseas factory inspectors throughout the supplier compliance verification process; their work focuses not only on quality but also on detecting socially damaging practices with regards to factory workers.

Our CEO, Brian Cornell, found both of these endeavors compelling and his passion helped to ignite engagement among so many of our Team Members and other mentors.

Create a Broad Mentor Pool

Top-down support from leadership is critical, yet some of the strongest mentors will be the on-the-ground specialists.

Startups are often in more need of fundamental tactics as in “here’s how you get little things done”. These are often simple business mechanisms that seem unremarkable to the people who understand them best. But when, say, an engineer is trying to figure out the best way to package a product and make it look pretty, such tips may be lifesavers.

Thus, bring in mentors with numerous perspectives and from many different levels across your company. Then maximize interactions between startups and team members. Do not try to force business partnerships; enable team members and startups to spend time together – in both informal and formal mentoring settings – and partnerships will emerge organically.

Remember this: if you build an emotional connection between the people, mentorship works much better.

Watch out for Cultural Differences

At Target, people might not get back to each other for a week after a meeting, as they explore possibilities and work out necessary details. But the startup mentality is far different, and after a day with no response, entrepreneurs start to wonder what went wrong. The better your ability to identify and understand such differences, the easier it will be to diffuse them.

Look for Winning Teams, Not just Ideas

Ideas will evolve and pivot throughout the program; teams are the reason a startup succeeds or fails. Focus on companies that are eager to learn. Startups that entered Target with the sole goal of learning – and weren’t just focused on selling – emerged with the strongest relationships and partnerships.

The Ability to Scale Matters

Let’s face it, entrepreneurs can talk big. “Sure, we can easily scale.” But it’s a sobering challenge to sell to – and serve – a large enterprise. When a founder tells a Target Team Member that they can handle scale, that Team Member is likely to respond with something like, “OK, let’s run a test today of your ability to handle 200,000 transactions per hour for two hours.”

(Gulp.)

There are good ideas, and then there are good ideas that scale. You want to find startups whose teams have the ability to scale.

***

Launching this accelerator had a huge benefit for Target: it taught us how to be better at mentoring, and we are now applying those lessons internally across our company. That alone makes this program a gigantic win.

Our next Target + Techstars accelerator will be next summer, and we’ll start taking applications in January. But, in the meantime, we built a website that allows startups to introduce themselves to Target.

P.S.: If you missed the Demo Day and are keen to catch the highlights, please do so here.