As one of Google's Principals for New Business Development, I am on the front line of inbound business proposals. I would gather I see 40-50 per day. The launch of Google Talk has probably added another 15-20 per day.
So, as I sit with trepidation considering how many emails I have flagged for follow-up in my inbox on this Sunday afternoon, I thought I would take a minute to type out some hints that will make it easier on both of us and increase the likelihood that your company and mine will get some business done. These are in random order and I might expand the list as time goes on. As always, your comments are welcome. Anything I missed? (Keep in mind, this is my personal blog and nothing herein is approved by my employer.)
Email Rules - Phones are very yesterday. Voicemail is so broken. Until someone can really make it easy for me to extract a number from a voicemail, file the message away for later, label it, quickly find it again, search over it, forward it, reply at my convenience, etc etc, I am going to stick to email. Email is awesome (especially Gmail). It allows me to ensure that I get back to you. It also helps me bring in all the folks within the company whose input would matter on your topic. So, please, please, please - email. If you insist upon calling, you will hear a message saying that I won't check your voicemail anyway. So, before you think me rude, I implore you to please send email.
Thesis Statements - Lead with what you want. Please, put it in the first sentence or two. Just tell me how we can work together. You can expand on it later, but please don't make me go too far. This is particularly tough when I have to forward your message to a lot of other execs who are also looking for a thesis statement.
What problem are you solving? - Hand in hand with the thesis statement is identifying the problem you are solving. Many times I have conversations with folks who can't answer that question. We are obsessive about solving problems that enhance our end-user experience. We are lucky in that the company doesn't even ask us to make money with each enhancement. We are instead rewarded for the impact we have on users. So, please tell me what about their experience is broken now, and how we can fix it together. (By the way, we are very humble about this and realize there are myriad ways to improve the experience. Just help us by being specific.) Also, please keep in mind that we try to solve big problems. Huge problems. Problems that affect millions and millions of users everyday. In that light, some of your niche proposals may be cool, but it often comes down to a matter of prioritization for us.
Differentiate - Tell me right away why you guys are different and what comparative advantage you have on the market. Why are you the best to help us? 90% of the time we realize that we would like help in a space, but we need help finding who is best positioned to be our partner. Kick that off right away and accelerate the process.
Follow-up - Following up by repeat email is perfectly fine with me and may often help if I have fallen behind. When doing so, please propose a concrete next step. That said, what doesn't help is when you go over our heads to other execs. At the end of the day, those random emails to the big guys come right back to me and just leave me a little less excited to collaborate. So, don't be afraid to ping me by email if need be.
Google is Bottom-up - That last point reminds me that Google buying/partnering decisions are made bottom-up. Meaning, product managers and engineers are your ultimate clients. Sure the deals may be signed by VPs, but they are just endorsing the recommendations and leadership taken by the PMs. Our executive team truly empowers folks here to get done the deals needed in their spaces. You want to partner with Google Talk? Our CEO is not going to drive that. The Product Manager for Google Talk will be your guy. So, my advice is to avoid shooting for a meeting with a bigwig and instead, know your audience. I assure you that your deal will get done faster.
Meetings aren't always necessary - Often, vendors are in a rush to meet in person. They want to bring a big team in to press the flesh. I went along with this for a long time and soon saw my schedule descend into gridlock. Truth is, meetings can be inefficient. Let's start with email. Send us a deck. Maybe next we can do a brief call. There is no need to hold a meeting with me to build a relationship. I swear I have done business over instant messaging networks.
NDAs aren't a helpful start - As an IP company, NDAs can be frightening. Asking us to sign one before we are really getting into the nitty-gritty of a partnership will likely grind things down. I will ask you to just not share anything with us that is confidential. I think NDAs have just become automatic in the Valley. However, when people stop to consider them and the pitfalls, they realize they can be superfluous in many instances.
Lead with engineering - I would rather have a meeting with technical people in the room than just business people any day. (Note: This is a statement against self-interest as I am only a wannabe geek and am not an engineer by background.) At the root of 99% percent of our partnering decisions is evaluation by an engineer(s). We like to dive into the nuts and bolts of what is currently broken, how we will fix it together, and what that collaboration will look like, all with specificity. A deep technical understanding on both sides is a precursor to starting any conversation about who pays whom, etc. So, thanks in advance for bringing your smart people into the loop with our smart people.
PR is a distraction - As a matter of principle we tend not to do PR with our partners. Truth is, I think PR is just a distraction. I know what it feels like to be a start-up and craving some public awareness. I have definitely been there and can sympathize. However, PR can be very empty and doesn't add much concrete value to anyone. Focusing on building something cool that users will really dig is the best path for both of us to succeed. Believe me, when that happens, your company and mine will get all the exposure we could want, and more. So, let's avoid the PR discussion for now and just concentrate on making cool stuff work. If it rocks, the world will know soon enough.
Threats don't work - A surprising number of people write to me saying "If you do not act in 5 days I am taking this to Microsoft . . . " or "This note will be forwarded to Terry Semel . . . " I am very inclined to let those proposals go. To me, partnerships are as much about the partner as they are about the technology. I am not psyched about working with people who want to coerce me into action. Microsoft and Yahoo are both awesome companies, with solid engineers. They are both tackling big problems and having a lot of success with many pieces. I think each of us has our strengths, and, in the end, it might just be possible that one of them might make a better partner for you. While I wouldn't seek your exclusivity upfront, please give me a break on the threats. I would rather you spend that energy on explaining why Google is uniquely positioned to make a great partner for you. Thanks.
Don't assume we have thought about X already - One of the most entertaining things for me to do is read the blogs and see how much credit folks give us for our alleged next moves in a particular area. They presume we have a big honking master plan document somewhere and have the next few years set forth step by step. Truth is, we are constantly learning. We tend to launch early and launch often. However, this doesn't mean we have it all figured out. You have a killer idea for us? Are we missing the big picture? Can you help us? Fire away. For instance, you guys who have been thinking about VoIP for years and years, what would you do if you were Google, and how can you work with us to get that done?
Consider working for us - If all of the above comes instinctively to you and you have got lots of fabulous ideas, experience getting things done/built, and are looking for a fun environment in which you can shape/make decisions affecting millions of Internet users, then I strongly urge you to come work for us. Check out our jobs page and shoot me an email if you find anything interesting.
Bottom line is that I/we want to work with you and your company! Partnerships are an essential part of our strategy and have been the impetus for massive value creation at Google. We humbly admit we can't begin to accomplish a fraction of what we would like to without teaming with others. That said, as you can imagine, we are beyond busy, so I beg your forgiveness if sometimes I am not able to get back to you on a timely basis. Hopefully keeping all of the above in mind, we will get more done together. So, send those proposals and let's do some cool deals! Thanks.