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David vs. Goliath – Startups pitching to the big guys

Howard Kingston is co-founder and CEO of Future Ad Labs, the adtech startup that monetised the captcha. In his first guest column for Tech City News, he explains how he successfully worked with majors brands including Heinz and Nestle.

You have a great product and initial investment, but getting your idea in front of a major global brand is one of the biggest challenges a startup can face.

So how do entrepreneurs break through the barriers of their startup status to work with a major business?

Our own journey has been incredibly exciting and along the way we’ve been fortunate enough to work with household names including Heinz, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser and the BBC. There is undoubtedly great potential for startups to collaborate with powerhouses such as these brands to deliver new and innovative technology. Working with iconic household names has multiple advantages as your team is exposed to best practices and benefits from the opportunity to learn from industry experts.

There is also a ripple effect as brand deals often result in an introduction to their agencies, presenting another opportunity to build relationships and cross-sell your product to other businesses. Moreover, once you secure that first global brand it adds huge credibility to your offering, making it easier to reach out to their counterparts.

For startups looking to pitch to large brands, here are some tips on how to go about it:=

1. The sales cycle

The sales cycle can take longer than expected, so don’t be disheartened if things don’t move as quickly as you would like. To aid the process, always be transparent about progress from your side, update project timelines regularly, and be honest about delivery times to manage expectations.

2. Go in at the top

Understand the best person to target by identifying key decision makers in the organisation and research the key influencers within their support network.

We invest time in mapping out a contact strategy and leveraging our networks to ensure we lobby the most relevant senior person. In the long run, this is an approach that saves time, and can easily be done through LinkedIn. Networking at industry events is another no-brainer for meeting well-connected people, who in turn can make further introductions.

3. Clear proposition

Remember that senior decision makers are busy, so their time is precious. Communicate the benefits of your proposition to their brand and target market in a clear and concise manner.

We use the well-known acronym ‘WIIFM’ – what’s in it for me – to put us in the client’s shoes. The pitch tends to focus less on the product and the technology behind it, and more on the benefits to the brand and their consumers. Highlight metrics, statistics and KPIs, which will make it easy for them to see the potential return on investment. This may require you to initially invest in research to determine the effectiveness of your product or offering, but this transparency is imperative to building your story – and storytelling is fundamental to any good sales pitch.

In addition there are some great accelerators, such as The Bakery London, dedicated to connecting high growth technology companies with some of the world’s largest brands.

Finally, be sure to maximise endorsements using PR and marketing where available. The more noise and buzz you can generate around your offering, the easier it is to get the attention of global companies.

In summary, it is hard work and requires investing time and effort to get in at the top with the key decision makers. This said, a clear proposition, knowing who to approach and building your story will all help to secure investment from your target clients.