Bing Fund Momentum… We’re moving fast!

Wow. The response Bing Fund has gotten from entrepreneurs has just been crazy.

Since we kicked off, we’ve heard from more than 700 interesting startups, and we’re busy plowing through the submissions. Yes it’s taking some time, but we know your startup is your baby, and we want to give everyone’s application the consideration it deserves.

So, with that many companies vying for just a few slots … how do you stand out among the crowd? First of all, if we don’t take your startup, we’re not saying you don’t have a great idea, a great product, or a great team. It may simply be a matter of not fitting our criteria. We are updating our website with more details to make it easier to understand what we’re looking for.

When evaluating a submission we ask ourselves a number of questions. Can this company show Bing something new? Something we should really be paying attention to? Is this a great opportunity we can work on together? Most importantly, can we really help? Do we have APIs, data, technology assets, expertise that can help the startup break through to new heights of greatness?

If the answers are no, it’s likely not a good fit.

There are ways you can improve your chances, however, so let me go through them. Some of this is specific to Bing Fund and some is general advice if you are applying for any kind of accelerator or incubator, or if you are pitching investors.

Don’t pitch too early.

Startups with a live, working prototype that we can test out have a better chance. Companies that already have customer momentum (meaning proof that their product and business model has legs) have an even better chance. We want startups that are past the idea stage and have more than a landing page, because we made a conscious choice to focus on helping companies reach the next level, not on getting them started. If you’re at a really early stage, you’re better off going through an accelerator program or working with entrepreneurial communities before you approach us. By the way, we won’t take a meeting just so we can see a demo of your product. Few investors would. If you’re in “stealth mode,” come back later – or better yet, get out of it.

Make sure your value proposition is clear.

Can you describe in one concise sentence (tweet length) what you do and why it’s better? Some startups do a really good job on their websites of explaining this, for example on an “about” page. Others don’t.

Fluffy, high level language will hurt you regardless of the audience. If we can’t clearly see what you’re getting at, our impression will be that you haven’t completely figured it out yet. Are you taking away customer pain, providing a great opportunity, helping them do something they couldn’t do before, or being a lot more entertaining and fun? If not, be honest with yourself. You face an uphill battle.

Speaking of value proposition, we’re seeing a number of startups going into crowded spaces where there are established, existing competitors or a lot of other startups trying to do the same thing. It’s a hard truth that (many) other people may come up with the same idea you have. This area may be your passion, but do your research, understand the odds against you, and be brutally realistic with yourself.

Demonstrate a technical advantage.

There’s a reason patents are valuable. You can’t protect an idea. You can, however, protect an algorithm. IP is attractive to investors, large customers, and corporate suitors…however as a startup you may not be able to afford to be locking down IP, nor should you — but if you execute well your investors may throw more money at you to generate some IP.

Breakthrough ideas that benefit from “the network effect,” like Facebook or Pinterest, are rare. If you tout yourself as the next Pinterest, few will believe you, and they may even label you “deluded.” For one thing, in most cases you gotta be first. And in the incredibly fast-paced realm of entrepreneurship, luck is part of that. It goes without saying that counting on luck is incredibly risky. But say you do get lucky. You’re first, you build a following, you dominate. Without IP, however, you may spend a lot of energy defending your turf.

Have a team.

I’ll be upfront. We won’t take one-person companies. If you’re a developer without a partner doing the business analysis, strategy and evangelism, you’re not ready, and we’re not in a position to help you find co-founders. We’re also not going to take companies that outsource development to a third-party. We’re looking for teams with incredible in-house talent, because talent means everything. In fact, the quality of your talent is more important than your idea. Ideas can be reworked. Talent is inherent. Since we value talent so highly, help us get to know you.

At a minimum, point us to your profile on LinkedIn or similar sites. Even better, send us a video of you talking to the camera telling us about your company. In all honesty, a pitch video with pretty graphics and music that tells your company’s story isn’t necessary. If it demos your product, that’s helpful, but you don’t need to spend a bunch of time and money creating something fancy…this may not apply elsewhere, but it does here, cut the fluff.

Show us you have momentum.

Momentum includes seed or angel funding, large customers or large numbers of customers, and announced partnerships. We want to understand your trajectory so we can give you the right push to propel you out of the stratosphere. Tell us how you plan to increase momentum. If you have no funding, no customers, and no partnerships, then it’s too early to talk to us.

Tell us how we can help you.

What value can Bing Fund provide that you may not be able to get elsewhere? Again, it’s not just about the funding. We turn down some startups because we can’t see how we could help in terms of technology, customer generation, or guidance. Would subsidized access to any of the data on Windows Azure Marketplace help? Connections with our machine learning experts? Think about what we could really do to help you and let us know.

I want to re-emphasize that using the Microsoft stack isn’t an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to your Bing Fund application. Bing is cross-platform, and we’re going to stand by our pledge to be agnostic. If the value you’d provide is a solution or service that would help resell our products, that’s fantastic. Microsoft has partner programs that can help you. Bing Fund is looking for companies that are creating technology or data Bing could use, or need unique technology or data that we can provide, including technology assets that may not be available in a Microsoft product. The real value of working with Bing Fund lies in the opportunity for technology collaboration, not our investment. We, of course, will hook you up with Microsoft Bizspark the minute you join regardless.

We’re excited to have received so many submissions to Bing Fund. Keep ‘em coming. Also, stay tuned to our tweets for news on when the team will be attending events in your area.

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BOOM! Bing Fund bringing on two awesome Startups!

It’s been a wild ride the past few weeks. Our announcement of Bing Fund got a lot of attention in the blogosphere, and since then we’ve been hearing from people all over, both inside and outside of Microsoft, who are really excited about what we’re doing. We’ve also heard from a large number of startups.

Sorting through the list has been pretty tough, because there are so many talented entrepreneurs out there with great ideas. (For those of you who haven’t heard back from us yet, we apologize that it’s taking time but please be patient with us, we have a lot of submissions to go through.) Today I’m stoked to tell everyone about the first two startups we’re enrolling in our program, Buddy and Pinion. They’re an amazing couple of companies that I think can really change the landscape in their respective areas.

I learned about Buddy through a friend who welcomed me to Microsoft when I first joined the company. The idea for Buddy started percolating in the minds of founders Dave McLauchlan and Jeff MacDuff while they were still at Microsoft. As mobile apps really started to take off, they noticed that no one was offering pre-built, pre-scaled web services for developers to reuse. The skillsets for building mobile client apps and building web services are pretty different, they said, so let’s hop in and bridge the gap. So after 11- and 12-year careers at Microsoft, they left to form Buddy.

Buddy provides common services that help developers create great apps, such as friends and group lists, messaging and chat, geo-location services, photo albums, gaming, push notifications and crash reporting. Imagine every developer team having to write all those services themselves from scratch. Hallelujah for Buddy!

I asked Dave and Jeff how they felt about working with Microsoft again. After all, some people leave and don’t look back. Yes there is the emotional component, they said. In many ways Microsoft is still family to them. But the business reasons are compelling too. They both believe in future of Windows Phone and Windows 8 and are prepared to bet on it. Add to that the services they wouldn’t be able to offer without Bing, and working with Microsoft makes a lot of sense for Buddy. It also makes good business sense to be cross platform. In addition to Windows 8 and Windows Phone, they support iOS, Android, SmartTV, Facebook, and HTML5. This is totally cool with us, because what they’re doing is good for the whole ecosystem.

I want to reiterate, Bing Fund isn’t going to force people to use the Microsoft stack. We’re about the innovation, and we’re excited about the innovation Buddy is bringing to the table.

Pinion found me through contacts at Voodoo. I met Karl Flores, David Banham (aka Beardy), and Daniel Ringland when Bing Fund was just greenlit and we were in the middle of building a team. What started out as a casual meeting ended up being something insanely great. As an entrepreneur, I was blown away by their passion and persistence. Three times they have almost gone broke, and three times they have come back. Now their business is starting to take off.

As Karl summarizes it, “Pinion fuels communities that make gaming great.” Gaming communities are labors of love for the people who host their servers. But what if you could be engrossed in your favorite pastime and make some money while doing it? That’s what Pinion helps gaming communities do. Incredible, right?

They place interactive advertising on gaming servers. The ads don’t annoy gamers because they don’t invade the gaming experience, plus the ads are relevant to them. XBOX, Adidas, Domino’s, Budweiser: all tools of the gaming experience.

Pinion is doing some great work with Valve and their Steam platform. I have been a Steam user since, like, forever. I have been playing Counter-Strike and Half-Life since they first came out — so I spent a good amount of time studying how Pinion community servers work. Pinion is actually working on ways to improve the gaming experience, for example by offering up free gaming servers to communities.

I love these kinds of crazy ideas. Pinion’s great ideas could come from the Australian blood, Daniel’s entrepreneurial spirit, or Karl’s six years of experience running an award-winning R&B bar in Sydney. The team is full of colorful characters, and they’re already hanging out with us in the Bingcubator. The Bing Fund team is learning new things about the gaming business, and about the insane stuff that happens to Aussie bartenders. I seriously can’t wait to help the Pinion team achieve their dreams. This company is going places – and Bing Fund is committed to making this thing scream.

We couldn’t be happier with the first two companies we have on board. We’re working hard to find the next one. We’re going through all of our submissions and have identified some great companies in San Francisco and Boulder.

If you think you’ve got something great going on, drop us a line through our website

Welcome Bing Fund!

Which do you think is tougher?

1) Starting off with nothing and ultimately thriving as an entrepreneur
2) Being an entrepreneur thriving in a huge company

I promise you, it’s not number 1. It’s much harder, as an entrepreneur, to thrive in a large organization. For some reason I like to be in uncomfortable situations, and if you feel that same fire, we likely share something that only people like us understand. After spending 18 years as an entrepreneur I figured it was time for a bigger challenge. So we picked up our family and moved to Seattle so I could join Microsoft. Why Microsoft? Why didn’t I just go out and do something on my own again?

The answer is simple: Microsoft is a pioneer, with a living founder and chairman who is now dedicating his life and the bulk of his wealth to make the world a better place. Seriously think about that. His influence and legacy are all over the company starting from the top down. That in itself was more than enough to make us come over, but there were other compelling reasons. Microsoft’s technology has built economies, spawned new businesses, sparked the tech bubble, ignited the second tech bubble, and on and on. I love this company. I feel at home here. Being surrounded by incredibly brilliant people is not only inspiring, it’s addictive.

In January of 2012, that fire inside challenged me to design a role that I’d be uniquely qualified to inhabit, one that would be so exciting it would give me goose bumps. I joined forces with a long time Microsoft veteran who knows the ins and outs of the company, we put together a proposal, and got the approval to go ahead. For the past several months my new team has been heads down designing an innovative, entrepreneur-friendly program called Bing Fund. We will scout early stage startups with talented teams who are working on disruptive online innovations that we feel are compelling and solve big problems.

Raising money is easy—the amount of time and energy we’re going to dedicate to each startup in our program is worth more than any dollar amount we could throw at them, which is why we’re choosing to incubate fewer than a dozen startups at a time. When one graduates we’ll take on another.

So now I’m working as an entrepreneur inside a company that has tremendous resources and impact. We get the best of both worlds. Our program is tapping the creative energy of startups, small and agile risk takers and we’re backing that creative energy with the vast experience Microsoft employees have in design, technology development, and business strategy. Many great things will happen. I think there’s something to be said for how Microsoft has embraced the idea of working closely with startups.

The response from Microsoft employees has also been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. In a lot of ways startups can innovate faster than big companies; they have an objective grip on the future that big companies may struggle to find. …oh and by the way, we are operating like a startup ourselves. We are a small team with a laser focus, and we are here to deliver the best experience to the companies we work with. We fundamentally believe that their success is our success.

We’re in the process of onboarding our first couple of companies into the Bing Fund program. There will be lots to tell, so stay tuned! Some Links: