Strategic Partnerships and the Innovation Dating Game

Over my career I’ve led investments and built partnerships with innovative companies ranging from startups to mid-sized businesses. I’ve typically represented the “strategic partner.” That means I represented the company with the resources but lacked the technology or nimbleness the small company brought to the party. We were looking for new markets, you were looking for a strategic investor to take your game to the next level. Sounds like a perfect match, doesn’t it?

The problem is you (small and nimble company) and I (large company) are just too different. Sure, going skydiving on our first date sounds great but I need to check my insurance policy, research the type of aircraft we’ll be using to ensure its reliability, and make sure my extended family is good with it. Is it OK if I get back to you in a couple of months? Wait, what do you mean you’re not willing to wait that long?

My point is that big companies and small ones just operate differently. They have to. So if you’re a small company looking to partner with a large one, realize you need to put yourself in their shoes and understand their world. This also applies if you’re a small to medium sized business trying to sell to large company.

If you are looking for a strategic partner, do your homework, understand their world, and build your tribe (champions) within the company.

There are always exceptions to what I’m describing. However, in my experience this is more common that not, particularly with unproven technologies and new markets.

What’s been your experience?