Have been working with a wide range of start ups recently (CSR, water treatment, asset management, AEC design services); developing and validating 'go to market' strategies'. In the initial or early phases of maturation (both for the company and most times, the market segment itself), direct sales by the founders and other 'visionary' staff (both internal as well as advisors / directors) is critical to get early successes: pilot projects, demonstrations, regulatory review & approval (if appropriate) and brand awareness. If thinking of being acquired, it's better to develop a strong alliance first
But as the start up begins to grow, the markets for the technology solution (that is: the product, team expertise, company vision, and solution roadmap) will require that the solution most likely be integrated into a larger business solution (think of a new roadway; wastewater treatment & distribution system, environmental remediation, etc). This is particularly the case for those cleantech start ups that are targeting industrial clients as well as governmental clients. At this stage, start ups need to build partner 'ecosystems" consisting of complimentary technology and services firms; which requires the development of an alliance & partnership strategy.
Some insights are provided here:
Position yourself to allow your partner to lower the cost of their customer acquisition efforts & identify 'up-selling' opportunities
For the larger and global AECs, the real opportunity for growth is to continue to develop their existing accounts and user bases; providing more value to them (such as incorporating energy modeling solutions, or facility management services). Case in point: can your solution allow the AEC firm tap into other technology or operating budgets in the clients' organizations, that the AEC would typically would not be able to access?
Don't be the obnoxious sales guy when representing your company
CEOs of start ups need to focus on the partner's business model; how can they assist in driving more value and solutions of the partner through the partner's channels? (so: don't go in to a discussion with executives at an AEC firm saying: " I would love to get access to your clients so I could sell my stuff to them".......not a good idea)
If you have something special, they will find you...although it may take some time
Most of the global AECs have executives whose roles include responsibilities to constantly survey the cleantech / green landscape: interview companies, and make recommendations on strategic alliances and acquisitions. Chances are, if you are making headway in your market sector and are building brand awareness and a sustainable client base, that the AEC firm already knows about you. Your alliance strategy should take into account how you can leverage these sales channels to build relationships with the AEC practice leaders as well as with the alliance executives at larger complimentary technology companies. In many cases, a great way to begin the development of an alliance is to focus on specific key end - user accounts where both your company and the AEC may provide a joint solution.
Much of the acquisition activity during the IT growth period of the last 10 years has been a result of demonstrated joint customer success, alignment with product strategies, and some synergy between corporate cultures and goals of the start up and acquiring company. I think this trend is quite applicable to cleantech start up growth and maturation. There is no question that building strong relationships within an AEC firm (or larger technology company) allow for increased awareness of the start up company, and allows for constructive M&A dialog at the appropriate time.
If thinking of being acquired, it's better to develop a strong alliance first