Former Managing Director to Techstars Korea Accelerator Eunse Lee sat down with Nathan Millard of G3 Partners to answer startup questions on how to find the best fit when seeking corporate partnerships or investments, how to reach out and prepare for their first corporate meeting.
This session is one of Seoul VC Connect’s four Bootcamp sessions. Operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and G3 Partners, Seoul VC Connect supports Seoul-based startups in their international fundraising goals.
Q: How can a startup find the right people to connect with, especially in a large organization? And how can they take the approach that is relevant for them?
Before spending time trying to find the right contact in a large company, it’s important to take a step back and consider if the organization you’ve selected is right for your business. Large companies have strong visibility in their industries as they’re actively covered or quoted in the news. Also, content produced by companies on their website and social media channels make great preliminary resources to use in your search for the contact relevant to you. For instance, if your industry is 5G, you should search for contacts in the company’s 5G team or department. Linkedin, which is extremely underused in Korea, is a powerful platform that you can use to perform such searches efficiently. As a startup, your bandwidth is naturally limited so when handling such (Proof of Concept) POC projects it is important that you focus on quality rather than quantity.
Q: Once a startup has found the right person, how do they take the right approach?
After you’ve done your homework on your contacts, personalize your outreach. Large companies are not there to help your startup, rather they’re interested in delivering services to their customers. So you need to do ample research on how your company can offer value to them and their customers. Essentially everyone in a company has their own mandate, so as a startup you need to see if your mandate and the mandate of your contact align.
Additionally, it helps to follow your current action or step with a series of clear next steps or CTAs with a time frame. For example, including a follow-up time or date at the end of your message or email to your contact makes a huge difference as it puts a degree of pressure to respond.
Q: What should a startup prepare for its first corporate meeting?
As I mentioned before, you need to make sure your goals align with your contact’s goals and convince them of that, too. Especially in the case of large corporations and what’s often seen in Korea, you need to be aware of your contact’s position and arrange a meeting with your team member who has the same or similar status in your company. So essentially if your contact is a manager, you’d want to send a manager from your team to attend a meeting with your contact instead of an intern. If your contact is a CEO just like you, but you’re not confident in your language skills, you should nevertheless be present at the meeting. It shows that you’re serious about it.
Communicating is not just about language and most entrepreneurs are good at communicating despite having difficulties speaking English or any other foreign language. You can always bring another colleague with better fluency in the target language to boost your confidence.
Q: What should a startup do during the first meeting and when following up?
You need to respect and value your contact’s time by getting to the point right away. You can start off by building a rapport with your contact for a few minutes and then jump into the heart of the matter that interests your contact. This would concern their pain points and how you can support them or bring value to their business. Be bold and be honest with your answers. It’s also very important that you walk into the meeting with a clear sense of what it is that makes you a good fit or the collaboration valuable. It shouldn’t be something you start thinking about during the meeting. This first conversation sets a foundation for your follow-up meetings with the corporate company where you’ll dive deeper into the practical details and see how you can expand your solution or service. So keep your first email and first meeting simple, directly addressing the key talking points. Also be sure to always be active through efforts such as email newsletters to stay within the corporate’s sight.
You need to understand the structure of the corporate company and how it works as an entity. Don’t be afraid of asking questions and following up with the company about how it operates.
Q: It seems there is often a disconnect between startups, SMEs and big corporations. Why do you think this happens despite having good chemistry together otherwise?
I don’t necessarily think the issue is disconnection but rather it boils down to a combination of factors having to do with your knowledge, their needs and what you have to offer. Also who your contact is makes a difference. So you want to communicate with the real decision makers that will be interested in your solution and will put your proposal into action. And again, always be proactive about asking questions and explaining how you do things as a company because that will help you meet in the middle and proceed things efficiently.
Q: When startups are exploring international opportunities, should they target corporations or other startups?
It really depends on what you find out when you do your homework. As you don’t have much bandwidth as a startup, it’s important that you focus on the actors that give you the best quality.
Q: Many big corporations have a corporate venture arm. Is there a difference between speaking to a CVC from a traditional venture capitalist?
I don’t think so. Different people act differently but at the end of the day they’re all investors and your approach on that level should be the same. You need to understand, however, that in the case of a CVC, their operation is part of their corporation’s strategic initiative. So if they don’t see value in your solution and their strategic initiative they’ll easily lose interest. You need to really put thought into what you want value you want to get out of your relationship to figure out what type of investor to approach whether they be traditional VC, CVC, strategic or financial.
Q: Are there any practical skills to have a better chance at attracting corporate attention?
I can’t stress enough on preparation. Be fully prepared for any kind of question about your company, including details about your financials and any other form of question you can anticipate. And again be honest about where you stand as a company to earn their trust.
Also be very specific about what you want to talk about if you’re approaching them and in case they request a meeting with you don’t be afraid to ask exactly what is the value they are seeking to best understand if you can provide it and how.
Prior to joining Techstars, Eunse headed BEYOND STARTUP as Managing Director and worked with very early-stage companies in their 0 to 1. Preceding Beyond Startup, Eunsee Lee was based in LA, CA serving ELEVEN:ZULU CAPITAL – a Los Angeles-based VC as a Co-founder and Special Partner. He also taught business strategy and entrepreneurship at Yonsei University and Yonsei School of Business Global MBA in Seoul, Korea. Prior to becoming an investor, Eunse was a strategy and management consultant and was recognized for the proprietary business strategy framework called the Fan-oriented Strategy. As a consultant, Eunse led multiple domestic and cross-border projects in industries such as ICT, services, automobiles and FMCG. He also served as an advisor to a number of Korean government agencies.