The Jetski and the Shipyard


Large companies are often trying to innovate. Many of them don’t understand how to work with startups. It’s simple: to serve founders with aligned interests. Few do it well, but it has gotten much better.

Startups are like a jetski. When you turn them left, they go left in a fun/furious manner. It's also very easy to turn right, go back and forth, etc. They move, iterate, and do what is necessary first to survive. Only when you survive, you get the chance to thrive.

Large companies are shipyards. There are teams responsible for their startup programs and corporate innovation initiatives. They have a lot of meetings and internal presentations. Decisions take months, not hours. It is often slow, political, and complicated. Often not serving founders. They have thrived. Now, they care about surviving.

There are large companies that get it right. They hire competent partners to run corporate programs. It is also necessary to have champions inside the motherland. These managers are important. They build political goodwill with executives. They make sure the startups in their programs connect with the right people.

As we invest in the US and Brazil, it is wonderful to see a few public companies doing an excellent job with startups. In the US, Amazon, Google, SAP, and Microsoft are names that come to mind. In Brazil, I would highlight Visa and BTG Pactual. Both have been doing a good job, based on what the founders have told me. That is the most critical feedback.

10 years ago, when I started working with startups, it was much worse. I remember when I was at Nimbuzz. We were a top #10 Symbian app in the pre-iPhone days, trying to cut a deal with a carrier. That meant a lot of meetings with the VAS people (Valuated Aggregated Services). I remember them as the Godfather, making "offers we could not refuse". God, those were terrible times. People didn't care about startups, didn't understand innovation. I'm thankful for the iPhone and the App Store.

You can sink a shipyard with a jetski. Hit it hard enough and poach a whole it in. It won't happen overnight, but patience is a virtue.

As a founder, be a jetski. Poach daily, small little holes in large companies. Remember what the great Sun Tzu master said:

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

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