70% of startups believe it is relevant to collaborate with corporates, and so do we. Corporate-startup engagement lies at the heart of Startupbootcamp. We actively partner with global and local large-scale organizations for our accelerator programs and facilitate collaboration between the world of startups and the world of corporates.
In this context, we interview our respected Intrapreneurs in Residence at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam. Our goal is to learn from the trenches how corporate-startup engagement works. In this interview, we talk with Max Kranendijk, Senior Innovation Manager at VodafoneZiggo. Vodafone has more than five years of experience in working with startups and was one of the first partners of Startupbootcamp in Amsterdam. In this case study, they will share their insights and lessons learned with our readers.
Why are startups interesting for VodafoneZiggo?
Startups keep corporates sharp and are not inhibited by long term strategies or investments and therefore, have the space to be disruptive. From that perspective, startups are relevant and interesting for VodafoneZiggo. We have created a clear governance model, which facilitates quick collaboration with startups (and other partners) so they can pitch their innovative products and services. Usually, startups get feedback within one week and if we decide to proceed and build a partnership we can approve it internally within 6 to 8 weeks. In order to achieve this, we have a ‘light contract’ for pilot agreements with startups starting with as little as 2 pages, depending on the size, impact, and risk of the cooperation.
Access to the Startupbootcamp ecosystem is very relevant for VodafoneZiggo as we can explore different industries like Smart City and IoT and look for high potential startups to collaborate with. Nowadays, corporates can learn a lot from startups. Not only to spot new products and services but also to learn from their way of quickly validating customer interest and finding out what works and what doesn’t. The last one is often neglected because it is hard to pinpoint the value of knowing what doesn’t work. We know that if you fail fast, it is possible to save big budgets and resources on projects with partnerships that are doomed to fail.
Tell us about your experience with collaborating with startups?
Startups are of course very passionate about their product or service and love to pitch their solution. What is very important is that the pitch is relevant for the corporate. What’s in it for VodafoneZiggo? Don’t use the one pitch deck including the same unique selling points for every company by only changing the company name. A corporate is not just another corporate. Take the effort to do your homework and know what the strategy and focus areas are of your potential partner. The startup really needs to add value for the corporate because often the startup is competing with (other) internal innovations or fixed suppliers.
Depending on the progress that startups have made, VodafoneZiggo and other corporates can help to develop the prototype further or test it with real customers in order to validate the product market fit. Depending on the readiness we can decide how big we want to launch or how to involve the customers. This way, we can collect a lot of feedback which helps to develop the product or service further. We understand the importance for startups to work with minimal viable products (MVP) in order to accelerate learning in a fast and cost-effective way, but at the same time a corporate needs to protect its brand. If you are an A-brand company, customers expect A-brand products and services. It really helps to talk with each other in what way an MVP is presentable to the market, from internal testing, early customer validation, and pilots to a full nationwide launch.
What kind of pilots did you run with startups and how did they go?
Over the past years, we have run many pilots and partnerships with startups. From small ones to even nationwide campaigns. The most straightforward one is that we resell a product or service from a startup, like KiGO, Blendle, and Tespack. With KiGO we ran a campaign to make it tangible for customers that we were the first provider to have full coverage at the coastline in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. Parents could provide their children with children’s watches so they could locate them and send messages to them thanks to our Global Internet of Things connections. For the coast guard this is very beneficial because currently, they spend over 70% of their time looking for lost children or bringing them back to their parents. With Blendle we started a partnership by doubling the top-up credits of customers and followed-up by offering 6 months of free usage of their premium subscription. For Blendle it helps to increase brand awareness and grow its user base, we benefit from being able to offer our customers an innovative service to get more out of their smartphone.
Moreover, we’re one of the launching customers of FuelUp, a B2B startup search and match platform that connects corporates to startups.
How do you select the startups that you would like to work with?
For VodafoneZiggo it is important that there is already a stable working product or service in case of a B2C focus. We don’t need to be the first mover per se. That’s mainly because new trends and technologies startups work with are not known yet on a wider scale. In order to validate more innovative products and services before moving to mass market, we have our own channel: www.vodafone.nl/plaza. On the other hand for the B2B market, it is easier if the product or service is not final yet, so it can be adapted or changed to the needs of our customers. Therefore, when you approach a corporate it is important to know what your target group is and what you are willing to change in order to build a successful partnership. Choose the timing of approaching a partner wisely. Do you want to (further) co-develop a beta product or are you only looking for a sales partner? It is important to be open and transparent from both sides about your intentions and requirements of a partnership.
As the program partner, the Selection Days and the acceleration programs at Startupbootcamp are very useful because you can get to know the startups, be part of the selection process and follow the progress of the selected startups. For me personally, it is very useful to get a better understanding of the progress that the startups have made so far compared to others. If the progress is not far enough or not developing fast enough, VodafoneZiggo will not directly do business with the startups. If there is progress and we have faith in the team we will ask the team to send a pitch deck. This way we can scan and validate the content of relevance and as an Intrapreneur in Residence make sure that the startup also talks with the right people internally when we see the potential. Besides the Selection Days, I make sure I stay in touch with relevant startups. If startups made a pivot, why did they do it? What insights and feedback did they gather that helped them make this decision?
For VodafoneZiggo the main question is, “how to spot and engage with the most promising startups at the right moment”?
Can you describe your role as an Intrapreneur in Residence?
My role is to select and filter possible potential startups and connect those teams with relevant internal stakeholders. In the next step, I’m going to inform the relevant stakeholders about the startups and check the startups with my innovation manager colleagues. These checks make sure we stay focused on the key innovation themes for VodafoneZiggo, so a strategic fit is guarded. If we decide to start a partnership or pilot I build a business plan with the help of the involved departments and lead the project myself or hand it over straight to the core business.
Because VodafoneZiggo is a large organization with a lot of ‘on going’ activities and projects, (IT) agendas are usually packed. With larger cross departmental innovations you need to have the buy-in from C-level. To arrange that we have an innovation board meeting every 2 months where we provide an update on the innovation initiatives and can pitch new ideas and partnerships (with startups).
We subsequently have mainly three follow-up possibilities:
- Light variant; we place new products in our online shops and communicate about them through our channels.
- Medium variant; next to online, we are going to try to sell the product or service through own account managers and Retail stores.
- All the way; actively going to sell the product ourselves and integrate them in our core propositions.
The above-mentioned partnership options depend on the product and services of each collaboration, and mainly on the core services which are included such as connectivity or content. For startups, it has great value when we push their products. In return, we can offer a new product or service that our competitors may not have.