The San Francisco Chronicle is not exactly the planet’s leading source of technology news and analysis. So many of you probably haven’t yet seen Deborah Gage’s excellent article today about Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft’s ambassador to Silicon Valley. Dan’l is among our most important contacts (and favorite people) at Microsoft, and despite his high-visibility role, many people (including many entrepreneurs) still don’t understand the value he can bring to a startup.
In a single sentence containing at least three significant understatements, Ms. Gage writes:
Microsoft still gets criticized sometimes for being slow to the Internet or hard to do business with, but Lewin has won praise over the years for his courtesy, efficiency and ability to connect outsiders to the right people inside Microsoft, which is not an easy task.
Whew. Let’s parse that.
“Microsoft still gets criticized sometimes for being . . . hard to do business with . . .” There is no question that doing business with ANY huge company is hard. Building a close relationship with Microsoft (or any tech giant) is not for the faint of heart. Microsoft presents some special challenges that I could go on about at length (oh wait, I’ve done that multiple times…), but let’s just stipulate that some of these criticisms are justified while some are not.
“…but Lewin has won praise over the years for his courtesy, efficiency and ability to connect outsiders to the right people inside Microsoft…” Bingo. Dan’l Lewin has done more to expose the helpful side of Microsoft to startups, entrepreneurs, and VCs than anyone would have thought possible just a few years ago. His Emerging Business Team is the API for startups that want hooks into Microsoft. Digipede has received numerous tangible and intangible benefits from working with the EBT; the group brings the attitude that they can’t wait to help interesting startups, and it’s Dan’l who sets the tone and agenda for that critical group.
“…which is not an easy task.” No kidding. I’m back to my API analogy. If you would rather to try to reverse-engineer the Microsoft org chart from the outside, good luck — but a single call to the EBT can get you to the right person within Microsoft faster than any other method I know.
The Bay Area is teaming with “experts” who would have us believe that Microsoft has become irrelevant. In my experience, entrepreneurs ignore Microsoft at their peril. Far better to understand what they’re doing and why than to pretend they aren’t there. Dan’l and his team are great resources for entrepreneurs who want to understand and work with Microsoft. So — good job, Ms. Gage, for profiling Microsoft’s local champion of innovation. Well worth reading.