Your Pride Doesn’t Make You Popular

There’s a reason we’re obsessed with getting revenue to startups: If they don’t have revenue, they can’t survive and thrive for the long-term, which means they won’t create jobs and provide valuable products that help make our lives richer and our cities stronger.

But, there’s a good chance that most of you reading this live in an “everywhere else” city—somewhere outside of New York, San Francisco, or London. You understand how hard it is to find the deals that get your company revenue. The companies that could do business with you are (literally) not at your doorstep, and you have to work your butt off to get deals done.

In light of that, our goal is that every GAN Accelerator and every GAN Partner will each have 10 startups with $10M or more in revenue by the end of 2020.

It’s audacious, but we believe it’s possible. Not just possible, but essential. Because if startups are going to be everywhere, we need to help create opportunities for them to build powerful businesses, exactly where they are.

Corporates engaging with startups is one of the biggest opportunities to make this happen. When a larger company actually does business with a startup, it’s one of the best, most sustainable ways to get startups the revenue they need.

Service Before Sales

I spent some time over the weekend thinking about corporate partners we know that are doing a solid job helping startups run their businesses “everywhere.” The main difference between the partners doing it well and those who aren’t: A proactive, humble approach to how they meet startups in the first place. Because if they start off on the right foot, the relationship seems to actually work. (I know, surprising.)

In practice, these corporate partners aren’t assuming that the startup should work with them, putting out a call to action and then waiting for responses. Instead, they put in serious work to learn about individual startups before ever moving forward, getting to know startups intimately before even speaking with them. And because of this mentality, startups are actually getting the help they need to run their businesses everywhere.

Four companies came to mind when I thought about who I see doing this particularly well…

Setting the Bar

Last week, I sat down with one of our Partners, UPS, while at CES. We were talking about things I typically talk about with a large, Fortune 500 company: Why they’re engaging with startups, the goals they have in doing so, how they’re going about it, and how GAN can continue to help drive high-quality engagements between their companies and the founders in our community.

There’s a prevailing attitude in the startup space, where large companies often believe that startups should be honored to work with them. But something was different about this conversation. The UPS team shared that they actually want to spend most of their time getting to know a startup before they ever talk with the founder. Meaning, they want to spend hours researching any startup they’re about to talk with so that the second they actually begin a conversation, they know exactly how UPS can help.

A bunch of you saw my comment in my last newsletter from Tony Blank at SendGrid. I got this message from him over the holiday break:

“I’m compiling end-of-year SendGrid stats and we support startups everywhere. Companies who joined our program in 2017 are from 108 countries. Thought you’d like that! Hope you’re having a great holiday break!”

As you probably know, that doesn’t just happen. It’s because SendGrid created a Community Development team spread across the entire world. But while most larger companies would stop there and think, “We have a team dispersed around the world so that should generate business,” SendGrid takes the view that the Community team needs to meet with startups individually at accelerators and events. And before ever talking about SendGrid, they just ask, “How can we help you?” Which isn’t a question of how SendGrid can help them; it’s a question about how that person can help that particular startup get setup with much-needed connections that will help grow their business.

It’s because SendGrid has a “give before you get mentality” that you see them growing…everywhere.

GAN Ventures reviews about 50 companies a month for potential investment, and—as you can imagine—my partner Reilly and I can’t know everything about every industry. So of course, we have to ask for people’s opinions a lot.

A few months back, Comcast started inviting founders to small dinner gatherings around the country. They’ve been taking time to sit down and hear from tech entrepreneurs who are helping cities thrive across the U.S.

Instead of approaching these dinners with an, “If we build it, they will come” attitude (e.g., “If we have a dinner and put our name on it, startups will show up”), Comcast is:

  1. Being selective and inclusive, mindful of the mix of people in the room, and
  2. Being selective and intentional about which Comcast team members should attend dinners. This “startup team” of Comcast staff transcends all of Comcast’s business units, allowing them to connect each startup with a specific group inside of Comcast that would find that specific startup’s technology interesting.

One of the reasons this has been so successful for Comcast is that there are only around 20 startups at each dinner. Which means that the Comcast startup team actually gets to know each startup well. Marty on the GAN team attended one of these dinners last year and came back with glowing reviews after seeing how relationships were happening so successfully.

Not surprisingly then, when GAN Ventures ever has a question about a startup in the cable or entertainment industry, we almost always reach out to Comcast about them—because, 90% of the time, they’ve already met with that startup somewhere in the country.

TokBox, providers of a live video API, does an incredible job of choosing which startups to engage with. Rather than going to every accelerator and asking for an introduction to every startup, TokBox uses a more individualized approach to outreach. They literally go through each accelerator’s portfolio of companies, do research on any startup that seems interesting, and then say to an accelerator manager, “Here are three very specific ways we can help companies X, Y, and Z. And, if there are any other companies that you think could be a fit, we would love to chat with them.” So far, when we have connected TokBox with accelerators, 100% of them said they would be happy to connect TokBox with one of their startups.