We began our business week in Seattle with one of the most famous companies in the world, the one that allows us to write you these lines and that probably also allows you to read them, Microsoft.
Microsoft is linked to Seattle’s recent history as it is where the success story of Bill Gates and his friends began.
We visited the headquarters of the Redmond firm, their so called “Campus”.
Microsoft employs nearly 40, 000 people on-site on its main location, (as a comparison, SFU “only” hosts 35000 students). The headquarters looks like a small town with all related infrastructure: food courts, sport facilities, shopping malls, etc… Microsoft also provides its own transit system to navigate into the streets, with buses that took us from the transportation station to the visitors building, where we were expected.
While in transit between buildings, we had a quick overview of the life environment of Microsoft employees. Everything is designed to provide employees with everything on hand ans allow them to be part of the Microsoft community and way of life.
Jim Brisimitzis, project manager for the US start-up program of Microsoft, welcomed us and introduced us to the company.
He presented what Microsoft does for entrepreneurs, and how the company has missed several technology shifts. For instance, Microsoft had a prototype for a smartphone well before Apple released the Iphone but didn’t manage to put it into the market. As Jim explained to us, Microsoft is lucky to be a tech giant, but as a giant it also has some biases like a lack of speed in their innovation process and their exploitation of new markets and opportunities. That is why Microsoft set up the project Jim is in charge of, a program, called BizSpark, which aims at detecting, supporting and partnering with start-ups. So far, thanks to the big data system for sorting the high potential project, Microsoft supports more than 41K active start-ups in the US and partners with 20 accelerators such as Y Combinator (one of the best startup accelerators in the world), from whom they took inspiration for their screening process. With the BizSpark program, Microsoft provides the start-up cloud and brick & mortar services with access to potential users by creating an ecosystem around them. Ultimately, it has created an entire Microsoft startup ecosystem where every stakeholder benefits, creating a domino effect. The main objective of Jim’s team is to win the heart and minds of start-up developers, be visible in partners’ ecosystems and create compelling stories.
We were wondering what makes a great start-up because we all want to eventually create or work for one. So we asked Jim, from his vision and experiences, to describe the attributes of a great start-up.
Here are the clues : 3 main items and 2 mindsets.
First a great start-up must have a great product, a product that solves a real problem. Otherwise it is just a gadget. Second it must also have real customers, actual people willing to buy the product that the company provides. Finally, it needs capital, i.e find investors. When those 3 things work together, it creates a dynamic that all successful start-ups experience. Then Jim emphasizes the 2 mindsets start-ups must follow to succeed. First, people matter, start-ups (and big companies and investors) have to take into account the fact that they deal with real people and that frictionless solutions are expected from start-up. As is the case when dealing with an actual person, they also have to think about the entire ecosystem. It is exactly on this point that Jim’s team works with start-ups, links the right people at the right place at the right time to empower potential success. Second, business model matters, Jim makes a differentiation between Platform startups and Features start-ups. The model drives the strategy to adopt and the market to target.
The start-up journey is a long game. Microsoft, and especially Jim’s team (which is only composed of former successful entrepreneurs), knows that. They are ready to support young entrepreneurs on their path, from the idea to eventually the successful completion of post accelerator financial round.
We quickly ran out of time and asked for a final advice from Jim. After a moment of thinking, he came up with a little story about his father and ended up with a sentence for us as business students : “bottle up your passion in a business”.
We then visited the Microsoft showroom where some of the newest technologies are displayed. Most of them were virtual reality for increasing the user experience especially in shops.
The lecture was really interesting, our speaker was open-minded and passionate, but we didn’t have the opportunity to discover the back stage of Microsoft. we didn’t have the chance to observe how people work (we heard a lot about the agile method, but didn’t see it in action), what their missions are and how they manage to keep such a big place so pleasant and innovative.
To go further:
Here is some start-ups partners that Microsoft has already worked with: Tech Stars, Atdc, Atlanta, Amplify, Capital History, Combinator.
Here are some start-ups they have supported: Logdna, Leadgenius, Pyze, Joy, Ginkgo Bioworks, Brendanalytics, Bizible, Gitlab, Rapchat, Switch….
Article by Corentin Charneau, Pauline Gaillard, Laurène Hermant, Clotilde Lamorlette, Alizé Natali, Capucine du Rostu