Working with a corporation can offer all kinds of opportunities to a startup. It lets you test new functions of your app, figure out implementation techniques, and, most importantly, learn from and build a lasting relationship with a potential partner.
I’ve watched this process first-hand at the Techstars Retail, where many of our startups have run successful pilots with major retailers. We kicked off our second class on July 17, and I’m watching our latest class set themselves up for potential pilot opportunities in the near future.
Sadly, many pilots end up failing, and I think one of the main reasons is startups do not clearly understand the motivations of their pilot partners.
So, why would a corporation run a pilot with a startup?
- Learning – None of us knows everything, even in our own field of expertise. Pilots let corporations explore areas of strategic interest without betting the whole house on something new or unfamiliar.
- Testing – A pilot lets a corporation test your startup’s idea, and whether a potential partnership is actually feasible and worthwhile for it.
- Assessing Workflow – Few things derail a partnership faster than two systems that just don’t work well together. You want to be peanut butter and jelly, not peanut butter and…sushi. A pilot gives you a way to better understand the contours of a potential relationship without risking too much.
- Employee Motivations – While the corporation’s strategic motivations get you in the door, the motivations of the employees you’ll be working with are what ultimately get you the deal. Always ask yourself, “Does the success of this pilot somehow influence your internal champions’ bonus?” If the answer is “yes,” you will have much higher engagement. If the answer is “no,” you may not ultimately have a path forward with this company.
- Find Budget – Running a free or discounted pilot allows the testing to move forward while a corporation actually finds budget for a larger roll out. Sometimes this is just a matter of budget cycles, but it could also be budget reprioritization, which takes longer.
- Customers – In a B2B pilot, it’s ultimately your customer’s customers who will vicariously sustain your business—i.e., if your customers die, you die. A good pilot can teach corporations more about their customers, and whether your product helps serve them better. That’s the ultimate return on their investment in you.
- Iteration – In addition to thinking big picture, pilots also teach you what granular tweaks separate good ideas from great ones. In a pilot, you can experiment with what changes to a product bring the best results, and what trainings for employees supercharge adoption and boost impact.
Now that you (hopefully) understand the motivations behind piloting, how do you actually pull off a successful pilot? Check back soon as we lay out the key steps to actually implementing a successful pilot.