A great example of this is DPD, who are big hitters of the world of deliveries and have just teamed up with corporate innovation partners L Marks to launch DPD Discovery, a new opportunity for startups from across the globe to develop their innovation alongside DPD.
They are particularly keen to engage startups with an innovation that could support and improve DPD’s customer offering and operations including things like tracking, billing, routing and returns, customer management and communications, to big data insights.
We had a chat with Selam Zeru from L Marks about DPD Discovery and more generally about the shifting relationships between corporates and startups, as well as the opportunities which closer collaboration can create.
Hi Selam. What definite and potential benefits can an innovative startup hope to enjoy if they are selected to work alongside DPD?
We want to actually offer startups a revenue making opportunity. DPD is a global operation, they understand real scalability and they’ve pioneered some real innovations. This is a chance for a startup to rely wholly on the quality of their idea: if it’s right, DPD want to be the customer who can help bring it to life. It’s okay if they’re a new team based in London, or an old one on the other side of the world. Product fit is what we’re focussed on.
Can you give us an idea of the reasons why corporates such as DPD are increasingly looking towards startups for innovations?
Corporates like DPD and some of the other formidable companies we work with are interested in startups for a number of reasons. Startups don’t have the massive teams, the endless deliverables and the untouchable structures that a large company tends to have – it can be tricky to constantly accommodate a playground for blue sky thinking in this environment. DPD are an incredibly forward thinking company, and because of that, they know the value of fresh eyes and new perspectives.
Corporates tend to have the reach and budget that startups are struggling for, and startups have the nimbleness and malleability that corporates struggle to maintain: L Marks is all about facilitating a healthy partnership between the two.
What are some of the most important questions that a startup should ask themselves when trying to decide whether DPD Discovery is the right opportunity for them?
They’ll need to ask themselves all the questions startups should ask when presented with an opportunity “Is this something that can work for us?” “Can we do something they haven’t?”, “Do we have something they need - do they know they need it?”. But we believe teams should also ask, “How ambitious are we?” If you’re invited to work with DPD, the job doesn’t end there. DPD deliver over 3 million parcels a day, in over 200 countries – that’s scale that most startups dream of. Getting buy-in from DPD is an exciting step in pushing the vision of your company even further.
One of the major issues that startups face when deciding to work with corporates is matching their own needs with the ‘Ts & Cs’ of larger established companies in relation to things like payment terms / cash flow and so forth. How much do you think certain corporates are willing to adapt to meet the specific needs of startups in these regards?
From what I’ve seen, corporates want to engage with startups, they want to speak the startups’ language. It’s difficult when two organisations function in such different ways. It’s one thing to get a foot in the door, but it’s another entirely to manage a sales or investment process in two different languages – that’s what L Marks specialises in. We get to know the processes of both parties, and champion both their needs.
As its appears the ‘investment bubble’ may be beginning to deflate, with investors becoming ever more particular about which businesses to fund, in what ways do you think that working alongside corporates can offer startups an opportunity to demonstrate strong early-stage traction, and potential for longer-term growth?
We’re all for investment, we’re an investment firm. But our programmes, particularly this one, are focussed on giving startups what we consider two fundamentals for growth: product validation and revenue. Building your product with real problems in mind means you don’t need to second-guess your offer because you’re getting real feedback. Investment is a fantastic way to accelerate what a company can do – but revenue is what scales a business.
Founders might find themselves somewhat apprehensive about pitching their startup to a big brand at an event such as DPD Discovery, so what advice can you give which specifically addresses some of the disparities between these two extremes on the enterprise spectrum?
Firstly, there is no binding commitment to sell here. This is an invitation to a level playing field; a way for us to give talented people a fair opportunity that is near impossible for them to set up by themselves. Should both parties want to move forward, things will progress to contract stage. If DPD are on board, it’s up to the startup to choose if and how they want to proceed.
What key pieces of advice can you give to help maximise the chances that a particular application will be successful at this shortlisting stage?
The application process is quite straightforward, we’re getting pitch decks and some high-level details so we can figure out who to talk to. Investment is never off the table if we see a promising team, but remember this is a sales opportunity. You want to sell to DPD so do your research and think about how to tailor your offer.
Thanks for the chat Selam and best of luck with DPD Discovery.