By Tom Still
MADISON, Wis. – Tracie Rotter may not fit whatever image is rolling around in your head when you think of a veteran tech industry matchmaker.
She’s young, a woman, and blessed with an informal presentation style not always possessed by people accustomed to working the C-suites of the world’s largest corporations, tech or otherwise.
After spending 10 years as a manager with GV, the $5-billion investment fund formerly known as Google Ventures, Rotter knows what it takes for emerging companies to catch the eye of major firms – as well as what those “BigCo.’s” need to know about working with startups.
In fact, as the main architect of GV’s partnership practice, she learned over time what works and what doesn’t.
Rotter offered tips for people on both sides of the business aisle Wednesday during a virtual presentation at the Wisconsin Tech Summit, jointly produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Healthcare Business Forum. About 80 young companies engaged in 15-minute “speed dates” with 22 major firms throughout the event.
Whether they are seeking investments, selling a new product or hoping to be acquired, fast-moving startups need to realize their pace often doesn’t match with the schedules of larger companies, which can be “very slow.”
“They have their own timeline,” Rotter said of many major companies, and it’s often not in sync with startups that feel they are burning time and money by the day.
That makes it more important for young companies to get their pitch right the first time to attract the second and third meetings with a corporation.
“Frame it in a story: This is a day in the life of a user,” said Rotter, who encouraged emerging companies to simplify their pitch where possible. Thinking of a one-liner that captures the essence of the company or its product helps, as does quickly explaining what the product allows its users to accomplish.
Believe it or not, Rotter said, some young companies don’t explain their own products effectively during a pitch with a potential partner.
“I have been in the room with C-level executives after a startup presented and (they ask after) … what is it? That is the last thing you want them saying after you leave the room… what is it? It is shocking how many companies miss this,” Rotter said.
Young companies should tie their solution to a business or consumer “problem” to the business goals of the major company with which they are meeting. What is the value of the emerging company solution in a dollars-and-cents business sense? What might a corporate pilot study or trial look like? Does the emerging company have what it takes to make a strong partner?
For established firms, Rotter said, pitching and relationship building “is not a spectator sport.”
She urged attendees from major companies to be purposeful and actionable to have successful conversations with young, potential partners.
Corporations that have an interest in working with startups should have an internal “navigator and translator” who understands how those young companies work, Rotter said. Big companies should communicate goals throughout the structure, whether those goals involve investing in young companies or working with them to incorporate their technology or boost sales.
Large companies should also set up internal systems to test a product or service. Rotter described it as a “sandbox” where people inside a corporation can get a better idea of how the product or service works.
Finally, big companies need to be honest with young companies who aren’t a good fit.
“If it’s a no, says it’s a no,” Rotter said. “No plus feedback equals growth for a startup.”
More major companies are looking outside their own walls for innovation, investment possibilities and ways to better serve their customers. The tips offered by Rotter to participants in the Tech Summit can help make the process more seamless for both sides.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.