The first question most Startup Companies or Venture Capitals ask me is – “What do you do again?” It’s almost too hard for them to believe that Microsoft would care about small emerging companies and venture-capitalist portfolio companies. And often times I say well, it’s probably useful if I start at the beginning and give you some backdrop about the group, our motivations and how the group was started approximately 5 years ago.
It began with Dan’l Lewin, a successful 25-year player in the Valley tech industry, who contemplating his next career move. After working with companies such as Apple, (where he helped launch the Macintosh) and Next and launching some startups, he was ready for a new challenge. He came across a .NET speech by Steve Ballmer, and was so inspired that he sent Steve e-mail and was quickly offered a position as corporate vice president for .NET Emerging Business.
In addition, he committed to spearheading efforts to build strong relationships in Silicon Valley (and latter across the world) and help Microsoft better understand the area's unique culture and business dynamic. One of Lewin’s big pushes has been to make sure that Microsoft has a seat at the table, in terms of community engagement (i.e. Silicon Valley and key investment centers around the county).
“We’re better corporate citizens now because we show up at the table. In the beginning they thanked us for just showing up, and now they just expect us to be at the table.”
The venture-capitalist community has been wary of Microsoft, from past war stories about Netscape and others. The company’s broad success made startups apprehensive about launching new products for fear Microsoft would compete with them. Lewin began repairing this relationship by going to the VCs, analyzing their portfolio companies and letting them know how the Microsoft platform can help them.
“By responding quickly and consistently we have shown that we can be a great partner, and the feedback shows that VCs now recognize this much more than they did five years ago,” Lewin said.” It’s all been about building trust and showing them that we’re a helpful partner instead of someone to be feared.”
VC’s are now actively engaged with Microsoft; “We've been involved with EBT (Lewin’s Emerging Business Team) and Dan'l from inception and have found the program to be extraordinarily useful,” said Brad Feld, managing director, Mobius Venture Capital.
My role with the Emerging Business Team (EBT), is to be apart of an extremely focused group of people who are widely networked across Microsoft. As a result, we can help the startup [and their VC backers] understand their relevance to Microsoft, best partnering approaches, and get people connected quickly. In addition, we host and organize an annual Venture Capital Summit, attended by more than 100 top VCs and an equal number of Microsoft executives, as well as regular VC roundtables. High-profile Valley startups such as AmberPoint, Akimbo, AtHoc and DigitalPersona have benefited significantly from EBT support and guidance. Their mutual goal is to rapidly and successfully bring products and services to market using Microsoft tools and platforms.
As Dan’l Lewin reflects on the past five year road map; “A lot of people inside Microsoft have been incredibly supportive over these last five years which has allowed us the flexibility to do this work, and the results have paid off. What we have learned here about becoming a better partner and helping emerging companies become successful using our products and programs, will be helpful to other business and innovation centers around the world.”
Across the community, reflections of improvement;
It is hard to quantify how far Microsoft has come. It’s fair to say that three years ago the company’s relations with the Valley were unfavorable. Today, indications are that Valley community relationships have improved considerably, though the company realizes that it still has a long way to go to solidify the trust that has started to emerge.
Our Silicon Valley press agent Doug Free quotes; “Anecdotal feed back as well as coverage by the media indicates things are improving. In all our interactions, we strive to be open, thoughtful and consistent,” Free said. “Over time, we’re seeing people engaging us with an open mind. We don’t have to overcome as many negative perceptions to be heard.”
I hope this gives you a strong understanding about the group’s heritage and the importance Microsoft holds towards the VC’s and their portfolio companies. I’m always eager to share this story and proud to be apart of such an innovative team and leadership of dedicate professionals making a huge difference in one of Microsoft’s biggest challenges – overcoming skepticism.