Let’s Meet: How to Prevent Big Companies from Wasting Your Startup’s Time

“Big companies most effective asymmetric warfare tactic against startups: requesting endless meeting.” That was the tweet which started a funny back and forth of corporate-speak that Pando’s Michael Carney summarized in Shit Big Companies Say. My original quip was prompted by a lunch with a friend who works at a BigCo CorpDev and often meets with startups. She’s awesome – very smart, understands BigCo very well – but seemed surprised when I suggested she was probably underestimating the time impact of these meetings on startups. “But usually it’s just a 45 minute or hour chat and we don’t ask them to prepare anything,” she said. Hmm, that’s kinda like sitting down in a restaurant and assuming the amount of time you spent eating is all that goes into making a meal, forgetting the total effort it took to gather, prep, cook and serve.

It’s usually innocuous. BigCo isn’t trying to harm the startup. There’s actual interest from a product manager, executive or other stakeholder to speak with the company and understand whether there might be a relationship to create. But while it’s true 100% of consummated partnerships started with a meeting, it’s also true 100% of discussions which went nowhere started with a meeting. As a startup, figuring out how and when to engage is essential to not losing focus and driving the process towards a desired outcome. Some thoughts:

  • Don’t Take the Meeting Unless You Know What You Want Out of It: You don’t actually have to meet with BigCo, especially if they won’t tell you what the goal/agenda is, who will be in the room, etc. Just stay head down and keep building.
  • Make Sure Right People Are in the Room: If you’re meeting with Facebook, it’s not about insisting Zuck attend but you want an informed decision maker in the room – a lead engineer, product manager, business or operations manager. Someone who isn’t just summarizing what you said and relaying back to the team but someone who you can engage in a discussion of where your market in going. If you get stonewalled on this request, ask what data/information can you provide in advance to make it worth this person’s time to attend. Or attempt the end around – get in touch with this person via a mutual friend and say you were invited to come present to someone at Facebook but would really like this person to be there too. You may piss off the person who contacted you in the first place, but if it’s just “hey, I asked a mutual friend for advice and that friend reached out on my behalf” then it’s less risky.
  • Unless You Know Goal & Prepare for It, Make the Meeting Less Formal: Don’t half-ass it but don’t over-ass (?) it unless you are trying to produce a specific outcome. That’s to say, if it’s just an intro meeting, don’t spend that week asking your design lead to make pretty slides and your eng lead to get a demo ready. Waste. Of. Time. Turn it into a meal or walk n’ talk instead to remove the ‘presentation’ aspect. That said, if you’re trying to accomplish something in particular, don’t just storyboard the meeting, but also start to think about follow-up and the cadence after. Use the momentum of a meeting to push push push. Don’t let them say “thanks for coming in” and just walk away.

and lastly….

  • Turn Every Meeting Into a Recruiting Opportunity: Get the contact info of everyone in the room. You never know when you might want to reach out to them to join your company.