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.