Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Partnering with Microsoft

June 8th, 2006 · 2 Comments

Don Dodge and Cliff Reeves of the Microsoft Emerging Business Team (EBT) continue to crank out good advice about partnering with Microsoft, especially for ISV startups — but I think it’s time for some of us ISV startup partners to weigh in, too. 

“Partnering with Microsoft” is an easy thing to say, and, superficially, an easy thing to do.  The basic decision process for an entrepreneur should be:  Am I developing at least in part for the Microsoft platform?  If no, go away.  If yes, become a Microsoft Registered Partner.  There’s a mildly maddening Web enrollment process, then you’re done.   Then join Empower; it’s the “starter” program for ISVs, and you can get a little bit of software and some other excellent resources for $375.  If you’re on the Microsoft platform, it’s the best bargain in town. 

Then if you’re serious, if you’re using Microsoft’s development tools, if your main target is Windows, you should become a Certified Partner.  This requires a few more bucks and a bit of work on certifications, plus some additional maddening Microsoft Partner Web Site experiences, but you’ll get through it.  Then you get all kinds of goodies.  Microsoft showers you with software, and newsletters, and meeting notices, and training offers, and so on.  The software alone is worth vastly more than the price of the program.  So sign up.

But do more than sign up.  One of the benefits you gain is access to early releases of upcoming Microsoft products — pay attention to these!  Cliff tells a chilling tale:

Just this week, a VC contacted us to get an opinion on a company (let’s call them X) looking for funding. The company had a great product and had made a big sale at Global 50 company. Unfortunately, some of the features overlapped what we have announced for the next release of Office — Office 2007. Our partners have been getting code drops and detailed product plans on Office 2007 for a year or more, but X hadn’t joined our partner programs and hadn’t realised the overlap.

So sign up — AND pay attention, or you’re quite likely to get hit by a train.  (Seriously — Cliff is right.  Some team, somewhere at Microsoft — right now — is working on something much too close to your idea for your own good.  It is YOUR job to find out who it is, and be nice to them, and study their roadmap.  And duck.  Find a way to add value to what they’re doing, or prepare for trouble.)

But that’s the easy part.  The big decision for a startup ISV is this.  Are you joining the Microsoft partner community to get some free / discounted stuff (and to watch out for the occassional oncoming train), or are you partnering with Microsoft?  If you’re really going to partner with Microsoft, then you have to work like hell to get attention (guess what I’m doing right now?), work like hell to bring value to Microsoft, and work like hell to extract value in return. 

Partnering with Microsoft is like any other business relationship — what you get out of it is proportional to what you put in.  The people at Microsoft are like people everywhere — eager to help those who are engaged, and mostly too busy to bother with those who are not.  When I ask for help from someone at Microsoft, I might get it, and I might not.  But when I take the time to understand who that person is, what he or she can gain from working with us, and how I can help them — we’re off to the races. 

If you want to really engage with Microsoft, and really reap the benefits that they can provide — in terms of access to customers, access to product roadmaps, access to other partners at the right levels, and more — then it’s worth becoming a Gold Certified Partner.  The benefits of being a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner are nominally not all that different from being a Certified Partner — but the signal it sends internally at Microsoft is powerful.  You get preferential treatment, which is better than free software any day.

If you “go for the Gold” AND work like hell, there’s no better partner in the tech world than Microsoft.  While partnering with Microsoft sounds easy, it is actually only easy at a superficial level.  Do the easy stuff, because it’s useful.  But do the hard stuff, and then you’ve really got something.

And lest you think I’m just a pawn of the Microsoft machine, please read the NEXT post, too!




Tags: Partnering with Microsoft · Startup Life

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