Jim Brisimitzis / July, 2018
How do you get developers’ attention?
Jim Brisimitzis, General Manager of Microsoft for Startups shares his experience working with the developer and startup community. In this video, Jim explains how he defined Microsoft’s position in the cloud market and what they did differently to attract developers.
How do you get developers’ attention?
There’s a lot of demand for developers’ attention today. In the startup world, make no mistake, developers are coming together to build the next thing. Whether it’s the Yo app which is a famous little app that got started here not too long ago, or full-fledged companies like Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter. They’re developing for a purpose. They are trying to create a service, a new product, or a new platform.
When we started our journey about three years ago we were less interested in trying to position developer tools or platforms and more interested in what their journeys were. We tailored everything we did around the startup’s individual journey. Ultimately, what we wanted them to be was an active participant in our ecosystem, not to just run our cloud platforms, but to be of value to our vast partners and customers that Microsoft has reached into.
Frankly, make our products better by providing valuable product insight and feedback that would help our cloud platform and our developer tools and everything else. What we have found is that by focusing on them and not on us, we actually got further along in our journey and got better insights than just trying to peddle. I hate to say peddle, but to push developer tools or platforms. They’re getting a lot of that from a lot of our competitors already, and so we wanted to be different.
Two and a half years ago, credit goes to Trace who is on my team out of New York City. She heads up our East Coast Operations and focuses on New York. She made a bet on a couple of early industries that are actually paid off really well for us. The first that she made a bet on was in genomics. We tailored a specific package and partnered with Microsoft for search. We went after a set of what we consider to be important early stage genomics startups. We were interested in them because we had a set of services that were coming to the Azure platform primarily powered by GPU services. But we also had this amazing research that was coming out from Microsoft for Search that was highly applicable to what the startups were doing in the genomics space. That then led to another deep dive into the financial sector, in the rental services, and now more pointedly she’s been pursuing blockchain as a recent endeavor.
What we have done differently there is that we have decided, hey, there’s an emerging bubble of really cool innovations and we want to be part of that. Let’s go and identify those and jump in. Genomics being one example and blockchain being another. Trace also led quite successfully over the last three years, a retail showcase of our startups. It’s a startup showcase that we host at NRF, the National Retail Federation, every January in New York City.
That’s an example of us bringing a set of curated startups, startups that are solving real problems for customers who are attending these events. What we’ve found is that the matchmaking is near perfect. Most every startup has either got a deal or is in discussions to do business with customers from those engagements.
Something I took my team up to speed on is that we took a very critical view of where Microsoft was. We wanted to be humble about where Microsoft was as an ecosystem player in the startup world. We also wanted to be aware of some of the challenges that we would face. When I look at how we compare to AWS or Google, at a cloud technology platform level you can argue that there are some symmetries across each and every one of them. AWS may have better services, but we will catch up. We may be further ahead of them and they will catch up. The same goes for Google.
What we wanted to do is really to get at where we felt that some of our competitors were doing better and where I think AWS has done a good job is one, they were out in the cloud market first. Because they were out in the cloud market first, they were able to build a community. We didn’t have that, not at the scale that Microsoft needed. So I had to push my team very politely to actually start building a community, so we thought – how do we do that?
We can hang out at the Y-combinator and 500 startups all day long and do office hours and do all that work, but what do we do beyond that? So I said, we’ll take them out for dinner. I am a European, my parents immigrated from Greece to Toronto. I grew up there and a lot of what we did on the weekends was the community. My family or extended family got together. Long story short is that we started something called CTO supper clubs or CEO supper clubs where we would invite a select number of our startups to get together and the brilliance that came from that wasn’t the meal or people coming together it was the fact that startups were collaborating among themselves and helping each other. That’s the best form of help that you could create. That was something at the time that Microsoft was lacking we just didn’t have that vast community that AWS was enjoying.
That’s one thing that we did differently, and we still do those today. We bring a few startups together and there is no agenda and we’ll just meet at a restaurant. We are selective about who we bring in because we want to make sure that everyone is getting something from that dinner. It’s not that we are trying to be exclusive.
We want to make sure that people that are showing up actually can get value from the other people who are showing up as well. It has proved to be a very successful way of building a community for us. Beyond that when startups go off after those dinners they are actually, to our benefits, building communities off on the side helping us in our endeavors. That was one big thing that we did early on and continue to still do in terms of building community. So much of what we try to do is to be orthogonal to what our competitors are trying to do which is to always push cloud, cloud, cloud, and pick their platform. We have never really done that and quite successfully we have done extremely well in exactly not doing that.