A couple of years ago in the City of London, I walked into a medical technology innovation event hosted by a friend and got an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“Great to see you, Nick”, he said, “I need a favor. Someone just cancelled on a panel we’re hosting tonight and it’d be grand if you could stand in for them.”
“Of course”, I replied, “what’s the panel about and when does it start?”
“Startups and corporates, innovation, that sort of thing. We’re on in five.”
Say anything you want, as long as it’s interesting
It’s important to know your role on a panel. There was a government innovation expert and two senior pharma industry people. I was the only panelist in jeans and a scarf, so I was clearly there to be the startup guy. My role was clear: make things lively.
Sing for your supper
As the mike slowly worked its way towards me, my three colleagues all shared variations on how innovation was vital and they were working jolly hard at it. I was the wild card, so when I got the mike, I asked the big pharma guys the obvious question. “What do you actually buy from startups?”
Show me the money goes both ways
There were cheers and applause from the startup people in the crowd. It was an after work event and startups love a free bar, so I had a vocal base of support. To their credit, the pharma guys were game. The conversation turned away from the all-too-frequent discussion of what startups need to do in order to be attractive to corporates. It became a more equal talk about what both sides need to bring to a relationship.
Sometimes being rude isn’t rude
There were claps on the back from a couple of folks after the event and talk of speaking truth to power, but the fact of the matter was much more straightforward. You can’t bridge the gap in understanding between corporate innovation and startups without helping both sides see the other’s perspective. The big pharma guys needed to hear my question.
Pro tip: Pay their invoice upon receipt
There’s a varsity-level follow up to the “have you bought anything” question, which is “under which payment terms?” If you’re a corporate and you want startups to love you, pay them upon receipt of the invoice.
But that’s not how we do it normally
Yes, that’s not how your firm pays bills normally, but your usual terms are asking a cash-strapped startup to wait three months or even longer for payment. What seems like a detail to you can cause serious cashflow problems at a startup. Be a hero. Do the right thing. Pay them when you get the bill.