Categories: NewsroomPublished On: August 19th, 2022

Microsoft for Startups gives founders access to a powerful network for advice and coaching

Kim Grant

Derek Anderson, Co-founder & CEO, Startup Grind & Bevy: Tell us about Founders Hub, since you’re its brainchild, about what and where this came from, how it came together, and what problems it solves.

Lahini Arunchalam, Director of Product Management, Microsoft for Startups: When I got to Microsoft, I talked to founders and did customer discovery to better understand the challenges founders faced. We talked to some just starting with an idea, others who had launched a product to market, and others who had exited successful companies — to better understand their experiences and what they went through. And we found three themes consistent across the board, regardless of how different the founders were or where they lived in the world.

The first thing we found was they wanted access to advice, mentorship, and coaching. Everyone needed a really strong network to get to that next milestone of their startup.

The next was being able to launch products with limited resources, but as quickly as possible.

The third was around financing. We want to make sure that these founders can stay afloat for one to two years while they build their teams and products and get to that next milestone.

We thought about a holistic solution to help founders accomplish the key things needed to build successful businesses. We wanted a digital platform so we could reach as many people as possible. And we wanted to make it easy to access the power and resources of Microsoft — not just for cloud credits but for productivity tools. We challenged ourselves to think through how to offer more value.

How do we give founders access to a really powerful network for advice and coaching to get to that next milestone? We’ve built in a mentor network* for you to book time with people in different technology areas or different industries.

And we’re building and iterating on the Founders Hub to continue to meet the needs of our founders.

 


Derek: At the earliest stages of a startup, you’re lost in so many ways. And I’m saying this as somebody who has lived in Silicon Valley for a long time and knows a lot of people here. I can only imagine how it feels to different types of people all across the world. Talk about your ethos around that.

Lahini: Here in Silicon Valley, you can walk into any coffee shop and hear people talking about their startup ideas. You’re probably two degrees of connection away from some VC at Benchmark. But that’s not fair. People shouldn’t have to live here to access great resources. Especially with COVID, people moved away from Silicon Valley, people couldn’t see each other, and yet people began starting companies at crazy rates.

So, we really wanted anybody with an idea to access Microsoft resources to get to that next step.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, or where you live in the world. You should be able to get the same access that people in Silicon Valley have.

 


Derek: It’s so important at the early stages to get the big foundational pieces in place from a tech and tool standpoint. Because once it catches fire and people start using it, you get locked in. And when you hit some level of scale, it’s impossible to make changes. It can cause problems for years and cost tens or hundreds of thousands. What’s been your experience around these early decisions?

Jeff Ma, VP, Microsoft for Startups: You hear stories of early Twitter with the fail whale, a huge meme every time that Twitter went down. That was because it scaled really fast and was built on Ruby. But that’s what should happen; you don’t want to over-architect something, because you’re trying to build things quickly. But it’s a failure in the other direction, meaning that although it could scale infinitely, the business was not going to scale that fast. You make decisions quickly, you’re going to make mistakes, and you have to be okay with that.

 


Derek: What have you seen from more underdeveloped countries or regions in terms of startups applying or participating?

Lahini: We launched in public preview in October 2021 and then with general availability in March 2022. Over the last few months, we’ve gotten about 12,000 startups to start to engage with our products. I think we have representation from almost every country in the world, and 80% of those companies are pre-product, meaning they don’t have their MVP in market yet.

It shows a huge appetite and need to start quickly and not worry about money for cloud credits or productivity software. Just get something to work, see what works, and get to market as quickly as possible. We’ve seen really great early signs of being able to help these entrepreneurs.

 


Derek: Let’s talk about the mentorship program which is really incredible. Some very well-known, very seasoned entrepreneurs are mentoring. This is one of the first things to think about in a startup: How do you find, pick, and get the right mentors to give you the right kind of advice? How do you find somebody who genuinely can help and who you’re not burdening?

Jeff: It’s unfair for me to answer because I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to choose mentors. I was lucky when I moved to Silicon Valley to meet a great investor, Kevin Compton, at Kleiner Perkins during the heyday. That allowed me to build a network of great mentors who are legitimately invested and want to learn from you.

One of the most important parts of being a mentor is the idea of reverse mentorship – that you learn from the people you’re mentoring. The mentorship relationship goes both ways.

We’re so focused on mentorship in Founders Hub because it’s really hard to get into a network if you don’t have one to start with. That’s the biggest thing we’re trying to solve.

Lahini: With mentoring, be direct about what you’re looking for, and be honest with what you’re trying to get out of the mentor relationship. You can meet and greet different mentors to see who’s the right fit, and then build that long-term relationship of trust.

Derek: Early in my startup career I thought I needed to put a mentor label on someone. But you don’t need to have a long, deep relationship with them. Find somebody you’re compatible with who will genuinely help you. If somebody’s busy and you have a hard problem, ask for their advice for five minutes.

Jeff: You took a chance and emailed them. At Microsoft, I’m the executive leader of an Asian ERG group, and I offered to mentor. Only one person followed up; she was awesome. We started spending time together every month on a call, and we’re developing a mentorship relationship. I’m really excited because she’s aggressive with asking questions and coming with a plan.

I’m happy to help; her time is just as important as mine. When she leans in and asks me questions, I learn from those interactions. When she asked about having career conversations with her manager, it made me realize that my managers need to be more approachable about having career conversations with their employees. I’m learning from our conversations, and I’m coaching her to have those conversations with her manager.

 


Derek: Any advice for people trying to get help?

Lahini: Sending a clearly written e-mail or having a specific question is a great launching point to get to the next conversation. Without an agenda or clear initiative, it’s a bit harder. Coming prepared and having a topic of conversation will yield a more fruitful conversation.

Derek: Once you get investors you think it’s going to change, that you’ll get so much help. But these people give you money and want to make sure you’re using it in a good way, but they are not going to join your team.

Jeff:  Respecting their time is a good point. I’m happy to be a startup advisor but it needs to be more formal, not about the equity piece, but that the advisee or mentee needs to drive the relationship. They need to consistently create the interaction and come with a plan to get value out of the advisor, mentor, or coach.

Derek: 100%. Jeff, Lahini, thank you so much for being here.

Listen to the whole fireside chat here.

*Turazo powers the Microsoft for Startups mentoring network. Learn more about accelerating StartUp Ecosystems here.

Book a conversation to learn more about Turazo’s private and branded professional networking platform and how it can help your efforts.