‘Accelerating’ Advice from Microsoft’s Dan’l Lewin

Last week I got to speak with Microsoft’s Dan’l Lewin, an Apple alumnus who now leads the software giant’s Emerging Business Team, meaning he’s Microsoft’s chief embassador to VCs and startups — Ballmer’s “Man in the Valley.” (Here he is giving a keynote at GigaOM’s NewTeeVee Live event in November.)
Lewin discussed Microsoft’s biz dev strategy, but emphasized the part that takes root long before Ballmer’s much-hyped M&A machine. These days, he said, Microsoft is very happy to partner with startups that support its platforms (not a new idea) — even when it has no intention of ever buying or rolling-up said startups (a fairly new idea). Sometimes Microsoft will help companies grow and scale to the point at which a peer buys them instead. Microsoft did this with PolyServe, which was bought by Hewlett-Packard, and with MySpace, now part of NewsCorp.
This is the primary function of Microsoft’s Startup Accelerator Program, which Lewin oversees as well. You may be wondering: Even if we accept that Microsoft has shed it’s one-time hostile ways of engaging young companies (Netscape!), how do you go about getting noticed by the biggest software company on earth? Especially in this increasingly noisy startup market?’
Today’s you’re lucky day. Lewin offers some tips on just how to do this…
He began with:

* The first step is ‘study us.’ We’re a big public company and there is lots of information out there, but your first stop should be MicrosoftStartupZone.com Know what areas of interest we have…
* Then look for the parades, if you will. These are the areas where we are launching new things, or growing our underlying platforms. We are technology-driven, and we have great market and channel partnerships. So look at our underlying initiatives, our parades, and examine the extent to which they line-up with your businesses…
* Then send mail. It sounds crazy but I mean it. We’re pretty responsive. I can say with conviction that we return messages and communicate hyper-effectively. We can because we’ve got a pretty big team working on this.

Says Lewin: “Know what we’re pursuing and where we’re trying to shine a bright light on new initiatives, and if your initiatives line-up with these, then we’ll work with you.”

Once you’ve figured out if things “line-up”, Lewin offers these tips on How To Pitch:
The questions to answer for us are:
* Can we be helpful to you?
* If ‘Yes,’ then tell us how?
So be specific. If you need help with a certain channel or area of distribution, include the details.

If we can’t be helpful, we’ll give you the reason why, and the triage is pretty simple:
* Sometimes it’s because we’re doing it (This is your worst-case scenario.)
* Sometimes we just don’t see it yet, but we’ll be paying attention. (In other words, if you’re doing something in the future that does make it line up, things can change. So don’t be afraid to go back to them again.)
* Sometimes we’re just busy. But that doesn’t mean we won’t respond, and that doesn’t mean we don’t have a strong opinion. (So keep trying, in order to find out what Microsoft’s opinion is. This is information you want to have down the road.)