I had coffee with a smart entrepreneur today, and he said something that struck me. He said: “We had a great meeting with Microsoft.”
It’s a line we all utter so naturally, but when you think about it, that’s kind of a strange statement. We often tell others and ourselves that “I’m meeting with Big Company” without stopping to consider the obvious: that we do not have meetings with Big Companies.
We have meetings with human beings who happen to represent that company.
We don’t have meetings with Microsoft. We have meetings with Sally from the Office product management team or Jim in the Windows Phone user interface group or Jennifer from the Xbox Live Customer Experience division.
Microsoft doesn’t decide on whether to buy your product or enter a partnership; Sally or Jim or Jennifer do, and they bring along with them their own personal motivations and organizational politics that can help or hinder your efforts. What matters to Sally may not matter to Jim or Jennifer. The problems you can help them solve will be different.
When you’re talking to someone at an early stage startup, very often you’re talking to someone who can speak for the whole company: a co-founder, a business developer, a lead engineer. Smaller, younger companies lack the organizational divisions that Big Companies evolve over time, and so any given employee may better represent the best interests of the entire company. Often what’s best for the startup is also best for the startup employee.
But in a Big Company, when you speak with a representative you may not be speaking with someone who has that same alignment with the organization as a whole. They may have interest in doing a deal, but not the authority to make it happen. Or they may overlook the inherent value that a partnership may bring to their company because they personally don’t see the value. Their place and position within the organization matter, as much as the value that you can provide.
You don’t solve the problems of a company. You solve the problems of Sally or Jim or Jennifer. Speak to them. Have great meetings with them.