Crucial Connections: Takeaways from Graduation Week at Microsoft Accelerator London
Leonid BelkindCTO, Luminate
Last month, I had the unique opportunity to represent our company, Luminate, at Microsoft Accelerator London Graduation Week. This truly invaluable experience offered me solid takeaways.
Last month, I had the unique opportunity to represent our company, Luminate, at Microsoft Accelerator London Graduation Week. As a recent participant in the advanced growth program of the Tel Aviv Accelerator, the opportunity to connect with some of the largest British, European and International companies—as well as with Microsoft teams and a wide range of Microsoft partners—was a truly invaluable experience that offered me solid takeaways as a technology entrepreneur.
In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to visit London multiple times and participated in various Information Technology and Cyber Security events. London is a city which buzzes with energy, diversity, and innovation, and all of these elements seemed hyper-charged within the walls of the accelerator. Each of the event participants played their part in making those two uncharacteristically warm summer days as active, engaging and motivating as possible.
Here are some takeaways from my time at the London Accelerator Graduation Week:
Space to grow
One of the most important questions I had in mind going into Graduation Week was how the ecosystem of an established global enterprise vendor, such as Microsoft, would react to innovative startup ideas. When you have such a big position in the market—as Microsoft has had for the past three decades—you have a very heavy responsibility towards your partners and customers, and generally risks are not taken lightly.
However, throughout the whole event, I was delighted to see how much Microsoft embraces innovation and focuses on being a thought leader driving the paradigm shifts that are taking place in the IT industry today.
Over the course of my time working with Microsoft, I have evolved from being a cautious innovator to a confident evangelist in the knowledge that Microsoft is supporting the messages I am projecting and that the company truly cares about these new ideas being delivered to their customers.
Standing out from the crowd
As someone who cut my teeth working for large corporate companies that were well known internationally, the ability to ‘stand out from the crowd’ was never much of an issue. However, as the CTO of a fast growing—but still largely unknown—startup company, visibility and accessibility to major potential customers is one of our main concerns.
Being linked to Microsoft is validation itself; but meeting with existing Microsoft customers and partners helped me clarify our company’s value proposition and build out tactics for developing meaningful conversations with potential clients from different parts of the world. While our main target market is the US, being pushed to explain why our product and company is so valuable to enterprises who may not have heard of us was extremely useful. Especially as an enterprise-level SAAS product, taking the first step and initiating conversations is often the most challenging part of the sales cycle.
During the event, Microsoft facilitated meetings with senior representatives from at least four of the top ten financial institutions in the world, along with other amazing contacts, all in the space of one single day. This was a fantastic opportunity for any entrepreneur, and not one which I took lightly.
Becoming a part of the bigger picture
While access to customers and insights into the real needs and constraints of modern enterprises in Europe were great, for me the most valuable learnings came from my time spent with Microsoft account managers and sales executives.
Over half a day, attendees had the opportunity to meet with some of Microsoft’s sales A-players and learn about the challenges of targeting customers in different verticals as well as the best ways to sidestep roadblocks. The meetings provided extremely valuable input in regards to the challenges faced by a global enterprise with the brand reputation, resources and reach of Microsoft, and highlighted the realities of ‘going alone’ in taking a product to market as a less visible startup.
My most prominent takeaway from the sales meetings was the huge growth potential being a Microsoft partner would offer our company. At the end of the day, the only thing that really guarantees a successful transition from “great potential” to a real functioning, profitable business is having a common agenda with partners and customers. Microsoft is putting a lot of energy and resources behind helping enterprises shift from traditional data center platforms to new-age hybrid cloud companies based on Azure. We have found a terrific common ground with Microsoft around enabling enterprises to deploy corporate applications and services in Azure and consuming them via our platform. The event highlighted just how well our strategies and agendas fit with those of Microsoft, and highlighted a lot of potential for mutually beneficial partnerships in the future.
Microsoft Accelerator brings together the corporate and startup worlds. Normally, startups excel in innovating and creating great products, but then are in danger of struggling to gain recognition and break into new markets. On the flipside, corporates have the reach, the resources, the networks and the reputations, but often struggle to innovate internally.
By focusing on later stage startups, the Microsoft Accelerator program merges the best of both worlds, boosting innovation and helping develop amazing products that solve real problems for consumers while also offering access to a network of mentors and customers. This can put the wind in startups’ sails to succeed long-term. Best of all, Microsoft acts as a facilitator in creating long-lasting, successful products and teams, but at the same time, allows companies to follow their own paths and stay true to their own missions and values.
Based on my experiences during Graduation Week and throughout the whole growth accelerator program with Microsoft, I can only hope that our company can continue working hand-in-hand with Microsoft and its partners and moving forward together to meet our common goals: making processes easier and more secure for users. The collaboration between a forward-thinking software giant and innovative startups is a move in the right direction, and a worthwhile investment for everyone involved. I would highly recommend any business-minded entrepreneur working within the same markets to consider this program. It offers a ‘leg up’ which simply doesn’t exist elsewhere.
Persuading company bosses to take on new, disruptive technologies can be a struggle. Luckily, there are a host of benefits to taking on new and emerging tech – it’s just a matter of finding ways to sell it to those C-Suite decision makers.
Joining Microsoft’s San Francisco Founders’ Day gave me a chance to engage with other Microsoft alumni, and an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities I face on a daily basis as a startup CEO and founder.