How To Get Corporate Clients Without Sacrificing Your Startup’s Innovative Spirit

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Any founder knows it can be tough to get your first paying client. But how about getting your first corporate client? Working with corporations not only demands a higher caliber of service but also awards zero room for error.

For startups, proving that you’re capable of meeting such expectations and delivering at a large scale is an incredibly challenging endeavor. But so too is getting corporations to take your solution seriously – or even consider you in the first place.

Nevertheless, chasing corporate clients is a challenge well worth undertaking as a catalyst for your startup’s growth. Apart from the fact that bigger clients mean bigger contracts, securing a corporate client can quickly build a strong reputation for your company and stir word of mouth referrals that build a healthy sales pipeline.

So how can your startup prepare to land corporate clients? In our experience working with companies like Ford, Jaguar, and Amazon – among others – we’ve learned there are few key steps:

Build A Core Technology Team

As a startup, you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew. In other words, you shouldn’t look to solve all of a corporate client’s problems; rather, you should develop a focused solution to a very specific problem they are having. Too often, startups develop a wide range of products and services that are not targeted at the specific needs of their customers. A better strategy is to first demonstrate that your company can solve one of their problems very well, before expanding your offerings.

With this in mind, you must build a core technology team that is responsible for steering your company toward its true north – that is, its overarching mission. In our case, we picked the best brains available to us to be part of our core technology team, which is responsible for maintaining our core GPS technology. At the end of the day, corporate clients look for reliable solutions that they can implement quickly and easily, which requires a seamless, well-packaged core technology that can only be delivered by a top-notch team.

While employing talent with an entrepreneurial mindset can really add to innovation, these individuals are not always the best suited for the core team. Entrepreneurial people always want to build something new, which can ultimately lead to a number of different algorithms and frameworks that detract from the main technology. In our experience, we found that meeting our corporate clients’ demands – and staying true to our company’s mission – was best achieved by using these individuals in satellite departments to tackle issues in specific verticals.

Create Small Entrepreneurial Units Outside Of The Core Team

A great example of a core technology that is supported by auxiliary business units for purposes of innovation is the Microsoft .NET framework. The main components of the technology are also used as the core technology behind Microsoft’s other products and services, as well as a number of third-party applications. In essence, the core technology team acts externally with the client, but also internally as a vendor to the individual business units.

These separate, innovative business units can work outside of the core technology team with autonomy to tailor specific solutions for individual corporate clients. Spotify is just one example of a company that has implemented this strategy with great success; Amazon and Netflix implement similar structures as well.

Ultimately, you can use this same structure with their corporate partnerships to not only meet the expectations of your clients but also maintain your company’s innovative identity. The autonomy of these business units speeds up the delivery process, which allows your team to meet the hard deadlines set by your corporate partners. And while the deadlines and other KPIs demanded by corporate clients often threaten the culture of a startup, entrepreneurial business units also serve as a way for startups to save their agile cultures and continue innovating.

Get Certified And Protected

A final consideration is that before landing a corporate partner that will help build your credibility, it’s crucial to have already established a basic level of credibility yourself. If corporations are going to take a bet on your startup, they want to guarantee that you can deliver a certain level of quality.

A great way to do this is by getting your company’s management system, delivery lifecycle, product or service aligned, and where possible certified to a recognized standard – particularly check ISO 9001 for quality management, and others like ITIL, CMMI, PMI or Prince2 for delivery. Also, don’t forget to combine these with Agile or Scrum principles. At the end of the day, it’s imperative to follow some sort of standardization rules or best practices, as corporate clients will often demand this as a bare minimum, and in some cases, it might even be required by law.

Beyond standards and certification, though, corporate clients will also expect a strong commitment to security. As we have seen with the recent Facebook scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, poorly handled personal data can cost an organization not only huge sums of money but also trust from customers. Moreover, with the new GDPR regulations protecting user data, corporations may be extra wary of working with startups, as many do not have sufficient security standards in place.

To prove that your startup’s security practices are actually up to par, it is imperative to demonstrate that you have invested – and continue to invest – in personal data security. You can start by getting your organization certified to ISO standards 27001 and 27002, but you shouldn’t stop there. In addition to investing in training for your R&D team on how to develop secure software, you should also schedule regular OWASP audits and employ ethical hackers to test the security of your services. And with regard to GDPR, third-party consultants can help make sure that you do not mishandle user information and run afoul of the law in the process.

While landing a corporate partnership is undoubtedly a formidable endeavor, startups have a lot to gain from doing so. However, for the best chance at success, you should take the proactive steps of earning quality certifications, building a core technology team and creating autonomous entrepreneurial business units within your company. With all of this in place, your startup will be well-positioned to begin seeking out corporate partners. And once you’ve landed one, the rest will follow.



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