It's not a secret that engaging with startups and emerging technologies is crucial for every business. It's no longer about being good enough, it's about being the best and taking advantage of new products and innovations comes with the territory. My primary motivation to engage with startups is to deliver business value at Flex. My secondary motivation is to learn from people smarter than me (the entrepreneurs I meet) about the latest technologies, products, and solutions being created to shape the future of enterprises.
Our business priorities are very clear and we work as a team to figure out which technologies (and then companies) will help us drive our goals. This top-down approach is methodical - we have a budget and a structured approach on how to work with vendors (big or small) to select the right one. The bottom-up approach is equally important, and requires a team that is passionate about technology to make it work. One example for us is that, as a team, we spend a few hours every Friday morning learning about new technologies, products, and innovations that may be helpful for us. We then come together as a team and share our learnings. If one or more products stand out, we dig deeper and explore how we can leverage it at Flex.
Regardless of top-down or bottom-up, seeing a meaningful ROI is generally important to us. That doesn't always hold true, but these are rare exceptions, not the rule.
Startups we engage with have a few things in common:
We believe in helping the startups in our regional community, part of being a news media company. As part of that, I encourage my management team to attend startup events and I do as well. When we identify a potential startup of interest, we engage them in discussion and invite a demo. We have a process of consideration and evaluation. We allocate a % of time and budget to working with new startups and emerging companies annually. If it's a viable technology, we can look at integrating into our stack and planning. Enterprises that encourage startups through a defined process can help their local and regional economies.
As an established enterprise, you tend to focus on solving larger problems. Startups, on the other hand, excel in finding gaps and building solutions to solve for those gaps. It’s exactly that ability to problem solve in my blind spot that makes me want to engage with them.
In choosing the right startups to work with I usually gather data from two sources – 1. My personal network, 2. VC firms I come in contact with.
1. My Network
After identifying the startup, I first check in with my IT executive community here in the Bay Area. I prefer it when someone in this community has worked with this company and can speak to their experience. It allows me to validate my choice. Also, why redo the work some else has already done?
2. VC firms
If my network falls through, then I put this company through the standard vetting process (e.g. requiring customer conversations and feedback). One thing I like looking for in this process is who is backing these companies – i.e. which VC firms they are working with. I know some of these firms well and trust their due diligence process. Their support adds weight to my overall decision making.
Agree. We engage with startups to address gaps, but also to keep pulse on emerging trends relevant to our company and industry. However, it is a conscious balance between functionality/agility and the risk that the company may not exist in the near future.
I engage with startups to fill gaps in current products that are out there and with startups I get a far better customer experience as they really want to produce results and make us happy. In addition, startups sometimes fills the talent gaps where I may be missing key expertise in some areas. If you define your needs well, it is easy to find a startup that can help. I love working with the founders of these companies and watching the companies grow and potentially take over a market category. I feel very lucky to live in Silicon Valley and work closely with a lot of these startups. I could never have rock n' roll IT without engaging the startup community.
Yousuf asked a siimilar question a few weeks ago. Putting the link here to tie the conversations together (hope this works).