How do startups best partner with big biz? Advice from IBM’s Nigel Beck

In the startup world, the allure of partnering with big business can be tantalizing. You’ve got your killer product but now face problems building a customer base, reputation, and the momentum needed to become continuously and securely viable.

However, as many an entrepreneur or VC will tell you, partnering with big business can be a huge, potentially dangerous, time suck.

Does that mean you shouldn’t even try?

No, said IBM’s Nigel Beck, VP for Ecosystem Development, at a recent talk at the F50 event in SF. The trick lies in figuring out what makes that big corporate decision-maker tick and making yourself notably valuable.

He started by explaining what might seem reflexive but what you shouldn’t do: launch in with a big pitch about how great your product is and how it’s going to transform a market (quite probably one that the big company exec cares little about).

Neither is it worth getting too deep too fast into the economics and showing impressive growth numbers. Let’s face it, you’re David to this Goliath and no matter how much you talk up your slingshot, your words will be met with guffaws.

So, what is a good initial approach?

Do your research and tie your product to the message driving the big business. If they are all about big data, show how your wearable can bring in new inventive data streams. If they are a cloud provider, sell the idea that your app will make their platform look cooler. That’s where they are struggling, and to quote the oft-used adage in the startup world: you need to address their pain point. Quite often that will be getting their message to resonate with a market which barely sees them as relevant.

F50 Nigel Beck Social Card Oct 2014

Just in case the big business you are interested with partnering is IBM, check out the Global Entrepreneur program.

Oh, and if you want to take a deeper look at why big business might partner with startups, check out the Business Tech Trends study which highlights the growing role citizen developers are playing in transforming top-performing businesses.

From STEM to STEAM: it’s a carnival!

Now, if you hang anywhere around the education and tech space, you’re probably familiar with the STEM acronym: science, technology, engineering and math(s) – the core skills on which a tech industry is built. Or so it used to go.

What’s missing from the equation (excuse the pun) is the creative mind. The importance of design and art. Think of how Mr Jobs was more fixated on Bauhaus than physics, and used those principles in his iconic tech designs. Our own Phil Gilbert pointed out that when it comes to technology, the nuts and bolts of development have now been largely commoditized. There’s a service and script for just about everything. So how do you differentiate your product or app?

Design is the answer!

Hence that takes us from STEM to STEAM: science, technology, engineering, ART and math. The Maker Movement on high-tech psychotropics. Burning Man step aside.

The STEAM carnival is coming to LA on October 24-5. To set things off, IBM has teamed up with Tl;dr and Two Bit Circus to throw a hacker preview party on Thursday October 23.

The afternoon program includes:

  • Sneak preview of the games and amusement
  • Networking, entertainment and demos
  • Open bar and cocktails made by our robot bartender
  • An app challenge with $7,000 in cash prizes!
  • Lasers, fire and robots!

Want to come along and show off your inventions?

Check out the event and register for an invite.

And of course, let me know your STEAM creations in the comments here.

SMBEB: Sharon Profis’ expert tips on personal branding

I’ve seen a few talks about personal branding in my time but I have to say Sharon Profis’ presentation this week at Social Media Breakfast East Bay was definitely up there as one of my faves.

It could be down to the fact that it’s pretty much her day job as a tech journalist, and her passion for her day job shines through Winking smile.

So, what were some of her top comments? This is what stood out for me:

  • Interact with your social networks the same way you would with your friends. Don’t just reach out when you need their help. Stay involved. Share often.
  • Remember that this is human2human contact: allow yourself to show your imperfections. Don’t apply too perfect a sheen: remember what we relate to!
  • As a journalist, she’s found value in showing the process behind the creation. Even if that process is messy and not perfect. There’s a great story in the process.

One thing I got to thinking watching this presentation: how social allows us build our own personal brand, and with that personal brand it can change our relationship with our employer. Sharon succeeds as a journalist in part because she has a large social network. A network which also brings value to her employer C|Net (who also help her build her network). A lot of journalists are in the same position.

But as we see the growth in employee influencer programs, we can see this same impact of social celebrity empower those who can master the medium. For instance, think of a professor that offers much of their lectures online. Their relationship with the institution can in fact be weakened and it may be in their interest to be partners with universities rather than employees. Much as we see organizations leverage citizen developers (take a look at the Business Tech Trends webcast).

More on Sharon Profis

Simple use of video to explain the most complex (The School of Life)

Funny, just when I needed it, this video by The School of Life showed up: a glistening example of how simple video can explain a complex idea:

There you go: everything you needed to know about Heidegger in a neat 4.17 min package.

I’m not suggesting this was done on a shoestring, but there’s enough use of stills and tight-shot studio video to make you realize this is within the grip of anyone who has a smartphone and a few well-chosen props. That gives way to a truth of modern life: the technology to produce media is as prevalent (and often the same) as that used to consume media. It’s down to us to explore the possibilities of production and get jiggy with it.

Finding a Google+ numeric ID

If you are working with the Google+ API for tracking or other purposes, you may have noticed that you need to match against the numeric ID for the G+ user account.

This isn’t the easiest thing to find and took me and a vendor quite a while so let me share what I figured out.

There are effectively 2 ways:

1) Via the URL of the profile page

This one is pretty straightforward Winking smile For some accounts, clicking on a profile will take you to a URL like this:
https://plus.google.com/116376707133710026460/posts

Here the numeric ID is 116376707133710026460.

2) Via the link URL in posts

Now, for some G+ accounts, the URL structure is different. For instance, if you click on my G+ profile, you end up here:
https://plus.google.com/+darylpereira/posts

So, how do I get to my numeric ID? You go to one of the user’s posts (you need to have public posts for this to work) and right-click and select ‘Copy link address’ or ‘Copy URL’ or whatever the option is for your browser:

Google Plus Numeric ID

If you paste this URL into a doc, you’ll see it’s in this format:
https://plus.google.com/112665405531807287877

So, the numeric ID for my account is: 112665405531807287877. 

Voila! I hope this helps if ever you have a service which needs numeric Google Plus IDs.

Comments on ‘Advocate Marketing Explained’ (@briangladstein)

I like the way Brian Gladstein makes his point in this presentation on Advocate Marketing:

It’s interesting that Brian focuses on the customer as advocate and not other groups such as employees or partners. That said, he does make the case why customers are increasingly important for SaaS providers whose customers can switch services at the drop of a credit card.

What struck me as interesting:

  • You should think way beyond just social media activation, but consider engaging advocates for product innovation, speaking at conferences, training.
  • Buyers get 57% of the way through the buying process before they talk to a sales rep. I’ve seen similar stats for the amount of time purchasers spend off-domain before they visit your website. Bottom line: you need to externalize as much of your marketing as possible. 
  • The agreement is one that should have mutual benefit. Make sure you are giving as much as you are getting!

If you want to find out more about Brian and this area, check out Explorics.

Don’t undervalue the power of the dorm room citizen developer

One of the big findings from the 2014 IBM Business Tech Trends study was the fact that companies are finding more value from attracting armies of developers who had no previous affiliation with themselves (who we call citizen developers). For instance, IBM in partnership with the City of Honolulu opened up a platform to allow local programmers to build useful mobile apps based on information such as bus timetables and walking routes:

Anything new? At one level, barely. After all Linus Torsvalds energized a body of developers to build the Linux OS and revolutionize the software industry almost 20 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of Kaggle, Kickstarter and hackathons in just about every major city bringing ‘citizen developers’ to work on all kinds of projects. 

However, at another level, we are now seeing businesses big and small really start to engage the citizen developer. Why? Huge amounts of compute power are now available via the cloud. Mobile has simplified the distribution and consumption of applications. Analytics helps organizations understand which services are most popular and prioritize those.

Get it right and businesses can get many more solutions faster to market than they could ever do with their internal teams. Also, many times citizen developers build apps that are useful to themselves and by extension a broader audience.

So, if you’re bought in this far and wondering how you get hold of a bunch of citizen developers, I’d suggest there’s two great places you should look: inside your own walls and inside dorm rooms. Look for a follow-up post on the employee as citizen developer. Right now I want to focus on the student developers.

Why do students develop code?

So, what’s their motivation? They are itching to build a name for themselves. They often have more time on their hands and they may be to some degree suitably disgruntled with the status quo. Enough to try and shake it up.

In an excellent post in the New York Times, writer Ariel Kaminer, looks at students that have been building apps to make college life simpler using available college data, many times without the knowledge of the college. Based on the work of these student citizen developers:

“Students now arriving for fall semester may find course catalogs that they can instantly sort and re-sort according to every imaginable search criteria. Scheduling programs that allow someone to find the 47 different classes that meet Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., then narrow them down to those that have no prerequisites, then narrow again to those that count toward requirements in two majors.”

Can you think of a better way for a CompSci major to stand out with their peers?

Ariel goes on to show how some schools have embraced and legitimized these kinds of grassroots applications, but in other instances these have caused a headache for unprepared colleges, bringing down parts of their IT services.

There’s a clear lesson here for business: if you bury your head in the sand and don’t think citizen developers (students or otherwise) can scrape your content and build applications on top of it, beware! On the other hand if you build a platform and enable the citizen developer, you may be pleasantly surprised.

As was the University of Stuttgart when they ran a hackathon on the IBM Bluemix PaaS platform. Within 24 hours student teams had built apps that “ranged from the photo-sharing via Twitter analysis to the weather-dependent wake-up call, the eventual winner app.”

Getting started

So, businesses can potentially get better by engaging citizen developers, some of whom are on a local campus. How can you engage them?

If you have a training arm or other part of your organization that works with educational establishments (even if it’s predominantly faculty you work with), reach out and see what opportunities exist. If you don’t have current links with educational institutions, you can look for on-campus computer science clubs or even reach out to specific computer science faculty members (many of whom are listed on college websites these days) and look for effective partnering opportunities, eg: 

- Engage in hackathons like the one in Stuttgart

- Embed cloud-based platform and data services into the classroom experience

- Bring students onto your premises to show them your development process

If you want to learn more about organizations that are partnering in inventive ways with citizen developers, check out the IBM Business Tech Trends 2014 On-Demand Presentation.