David helps Goliath: how startups can work with tech giants

The three-person startup that got a deal with Microsoft.
iStock/InnaFelker
Alan Newton
Co-founder and COO
Eventopedia
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Toby and I had limited tech experience, but we started out with two laptops, a healthy number of years of hospitality industry experience and a black book of contacts.  Three years on, we’re only at three full-time employees, yet we’ve partnered with a tech giant.

The good news is that you can also gain support for your ideas and dreams from larger businesses.  Getting a tech giant on board may be more straight forward than you think, but – as with most things in life – it will require commitment and work.

When we started Eventopedia in April 2014, my co-founder, Toby Heelis, and I had a very clear and disruptive vision.  With 37 years’ combined industry experience, we strongly believed in the sharing of knowledge, data and insights for the common good of the $565bn global meetings and events industry.  Little did we realise that two years later – after a successful Seedrs crowdfund of £127,000 – we would be pitching to and securing support for our vision from tech giant Microsoft.

Many entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs know it’s not easy making a success of a startup and amidst the seeming tidal wave of advice and support out there, it ultimately boils down to the Nike mantra – “Just Do it!”

Our first “Just Do It” moment came one year after we first met whilst working in our previous roles as buyer and supplier in the hospitality sector.  We shared our frustrations at various issues that plague our industry and – crucially – had been compounded by existing and emerging technology solutions.  Someone needed to take the bull by the horns and resolve the issues.

Eventopedia is a global hospitality insights and management platform. Our technologies allow hospitality professionals across two sides of the market to share knowledge and data that helps drive actionable sales and marketing behaviours.  We help our industry tackle inefficiency and waste via cloud-based public, hybrid and private event platforms and digital services.

There have been several “Just Do It” moments since starting out, but one the most critical was reaching out to tech giant Microsoft. 

How a startup can approach a big corporate

Our research informed us that Microsoft has become a different company under CEO Satya Nadella.  He has revolutionised the business from a closed ecosystem to an open one, bringing down walls and encouraging the fostering of relationships that help expedite innovation.  Microsoft has demonstrated a desire to support companies utilising core products, such as Azure, that can scale and be major players in their sector.

Although we had loose conversations with representatives at other large tech giants, we were looking for a partnership and technical innovation. We felt there was a great synergy between Eventopedia and Microsoft that promised real long-term value throughout the relationship.  So, with that clear in our minds, we needed to develop the story and figure out the best way to approach the company with a pitch.

Microsoft operates a programme called BizSpark, which supports startups with free software, services, technical support and Azure cloud credits. They have partnered with 200 of the world’s leading incubators and accelerators, which is certainly an avenue for entrepreneurs to consider taking.  However, we were looking for something more strategic and took a gamble in making direct contact with Microsoft through a second-degree connection.  We’ve frequently been told of the importance of referrals during our startup journey, whether it’s customers, advisors, investors or partners. 

LinkedIn was an excellent tool for conducting careful research to ascertain key information:

  • How does Microsoft operate?
  • What are their pain points and key areas of focus?
  • Who are the key touch points and decision-makers within Microsoft?
  • Who, within our network, has strong personal relationships with the right people at Microsoft?  If our network doesn’t, who has a second-degree connection that does?

Our tech advisors had worked with Microsoft previously and established a strong relationship and level of trust. After investigating the right avenues, we were invited to pitch to the Catalyst team.  We were patient and understood that building trust and understanding is not instantaneous.  We signed up to a number of Microsoft events and increased our touch points, whilst reinforcing those we had already established.  After a few months, we were introduced to the Microsoft Developer Experience (DX) team to pitch our long-term vision for the company.

We were enrolled onto the BizSpark+ program, which is aimed at small businesses with big ambitions.  Eligible companies receive funding and access to Microsoft’s suite of software and expertise to realise their vision. We had a clearly-defined strategic business plan and technical product roadmap that we refined and evolved during the engagement process, clearly identifying the synergies across the Microsoft product ecosystem and how we could integrate to create powerful industry-wide solutions.

There are a host of Microsoft products that we could innovate and move forward with, and more than a handful of Microsoft applications and products are perfectly aligned with helping resolve decades-old issues across our industry. We’re already working with the beta versions and are very excited with the early results. The ability for us to create solutions that drive even greater efficiencies for our customers is an integral part of our ideology.

My key lessons from this experience are:

  1. Believe in yourself
  2. Do your research
  3. Create a narrative
  4. Utilise your network
  5. Just do it!

We have big plans for the future. We’ll be further developing our SaaS platform and expanding into the global market. Right now, it’s just a question of resources but we’ve found a long-term partner in Microsoft and that is the kind of foundation we need.

About Alan Newton

About Alan Newton

An event industry professionals that believes strongly in the sharing of knowledge, data and insights for the common good of the whole industry. 

We benefit the whole industry by utilising cutting-edge technology and vast sector expertise to create highly-functional, intuitive and user-friendly products & services designed to knowledge, data and insights.

We develop web 3.0 cloud-based public, hybrid and private event platforms & digital services.

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