Startup success is (largely) about the team

Great startups require a great team – and so does partnering with startups

As Microsoft’s Chief Evangelist, I get to work with a community I love:  Developers.  In fact, Microsoft loves developers <shameless plug> which we’ll demonstrate at our developer focused Build conference in SF on Apr 29-May 1 </shameless plug> and we get excited when we get to collaborate with developers one-on-one, in hackfests, when we build solutions together and when we enable developers to succeed through our platforms, tools, and channels.  As software eats the world, developers are rightfully recognized as the lifeblood of innovation.  One set of developers (and business leaders) that are truly energizing to engage with and learn from come from the startup community.  This is a community that we want to continually improve our support for…and engagement with. 

In support of this, Microsoft has been increasing our investment and focus on startups including partnering with great accelerators like Y Combinator among others, improving our offerings, and increasing our dialog with the community.  Recently I had a chance to meet a leader in this area, Scott Coleman, who shares my passion for helping the startup community to succeed.  Scott’s background working with VCs and helping startups grow is perfectly aligned to help Microsoft continue to push forward, help build the next generation of amazing software and amazing companies, and to do so, in part, by driving stronger partnerships with the venture community.  So with that in mind…we hired Scott.  So please join me in welcoming him to the team!

I’ll turn this over to Scott so he can introduce his new role at Microsoft. 




Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.

Bill Gates

As background, for the past 15 years, my career has revolved around banks and technology.  I started off as an equity research analyst focused on networking stocks, which taught me a lot about the perils of relying on past successes.  Then, wanting to develop broader expertise and gain operational experience, I moved to a role in IT where my goal was to find innovative companies and then test, adopt and deploy solutions that could advance enterprise technology.  In this role, I learned more from failure than success (and learned from many of you the value of failing fast).

Putting obvious differences aside, these two jobs shared the common theme of exploring how technology might change our lives in the years to come. I spent some of my time coaching emerging tech companies on their growth initiatives, from early stage startups to those getting ready to go public. Eventually, I became a champion of outside-in thinking, advising on product direction and development, helping in fundraising via due diligence, network mining to find key executives, and helping with go-to-market strategies and execution.

While I learned plenty and (mostly) loved these positions, I recently found myself thinking about how to focus my work hours on just one challenge: Helping emerging companies grow and succeed. In other words, I wanted to strip the job down to working with the emerging tech world of founders, funders, and the startup community. And I’m happy to report that Microsoft has offered me an opportunity to do just that. I’ve accepted the role of General Manager at Microsoft Ventures.


Why Microsoft?

From the few folks in the venture community whose advice I sought with this transition, two questions tended to arise: Why Microsoft and how can Microsoft Ventures help me and my portfolio companies? 

First of all, the company is answering the existential question of ‘what’s next’ with an approach that embraces an open ecosystem, partnerships, and collaboration. Yes, some (many?) may scoff at this perspective, but clearly under Satya Nadella’s leadership the winds have changed. Recent partnership announcements with Dropbox and, despite large investments in competing products like OneDrive and Dynamics, are indicative of this shift.  Additional evidence are acquisitions of small but exceptional companies like Acompli and Sunrise that complement Microsoft’s great back-end email and calendaring experience with a breakthrough front-end mobile user experience, as well as tapping into new developer audiences through larger acquisitions like Mojang (the Minecraft developer).

Second, the deeper I dug into this opportunity, the more I realized Microsoft’s assets make it unique in the world of large cap tech companies. Microsoft boasts a leading infrastructure, development, and SaaS platform in Azure, one billion devices running Windows globally, X-Box, global presence, and a nearly unrivaled go-to-market expertise spanning enterprise and consumer markets. I believe these assets can be leveraged into deeper engagement with the startup and venture capital community – we can help you and you can help us. 

And third, the company has a deep and ongoing commitment to engaging with startups. 


Microsoft Ventures

Microsoft and startups, you ask? Well, to steal a line from my colleague Alec Saunders, Microsoft does a lot with startups but is uncharacteristically humble about it. Microsoft has relationships with 200+ top-tier accelerators globally and runs seven 1st party accelerators under the Microsoft Ventures umbrella in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin, London, Paris, Sao Paolo, Seattle, and Tel Aviv.  Over the past three years, nearly 350 companies have gone through our 1st party accelerators, nearly 80% of which have subsequently been funded with an average of $2.6m of new capital upon graduation, and there have been 17 exits.

In addition to these existing activities, Microsoft has asked me to build a global team focused on venture capital and startup engagement — we want to make your companies successful and help them grow. As altruistic as I am, of course we want this to happen in ways that benefit Microsoft by having our fingers on the industry pulse, spotting new trends as they emerge, and finding ways to deliver our platform and tools to the emerging tech ecosystem. Taking what I learned working with financial institutions, if we partner correctly and have the right offerings, we can help emerging tech companies succeed. If they succeed, so will their investors, and together this will drive success for Microsoft.

As I did with many of you in my prior roles, I welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your portfolio companies to discuss Microsoft’s technology strategies, priorities, needs, and partnership opportunities; review your portfolio to assess a potential fit; and, where appropriate, make the right introductions to leaders across Microsoft, including partnering with product teams, business development, corporate development, and developer evangelists.

If your companies are having technology challenges, I’d like to think we can help. For companies looking to scale, we will work to find ways to access Microsoft’s channels and customers. Together, I believe we can partner to help companies grow and succeed, and in so doing, help Microsoft.

Now, who’s ready to get started?