Startup Perspective from Industry Veteran, Entrepreneur, and Expert-in-Residence Antonio Baena

Experts in Residence Spotlight
July 31, 2018 By Hai Truong

Antonio Baena has a long and wide breadth of experience in entrepreneurship across several industries, including mobile, cable, media, electric vehicles, financial technology, and IT services — in multiple countries. He has participated in the complete startup life-cycle from several very different angles:

  • As an entrepreneur, he founded, developed and sold several companies.
  • As an investor, he led an international investment fund with a unique approach to identifying business opportunities and launching new companies. This also includes looking for investors and partners (technical, business, distribution) and leading numerous companies’ operations through the ramp-up of production.
  • As a part of a corporation, he has helped companies partner with, acquire and integrate startups to develop new business lines.

In the following segment, Baena shares his expertise through a brief Q&A.

What is your advice to entrepreneurs who want to overcome challenges that arise in the course of building and running an early-stage startup?

There is no secret sauce and every startup is unique. The list of items is long. Some important startup basics include:

  • Start building the team ahead of time, have them on board before you need them. Building a company with the right people takes time and some may not be a good fit, so you will need a replacement if they are not. Identifying resources early: Launching a startup is a lot of work so it’s important to gather the right resources early on in the process.
  • Identify your core activities so you know what your team should cover. Look for partners that can take on the non-essential activities. Ask your advisors to help identify the best partners. Don´t waste time trying to do it all by yourself.
  • Refining your business approach:
    • A sound business strategy is more important than your product. Having the best technology is not enough to succeed as a company. There are many successful startups that didn’t have the best technology compared to their competition.Of these examples, some are among the top companies in their market.
  • Preparing for speed and flexibility: Time to market is critical. You should accelerate your decision-making process. At the same time, it’s difficult to always make good decisions when moving quickly, so prepare to pivot and adapt. It’s important to challenge your current strategy and review opportunities to improve. If you find a better market — go for it. Your team should have the skills to help the company change direction immediately.

What are common traits between the successful partnerships you have helped foster between industry and startups?

Every partner in a startup/corporation partnership has a different definition of success because they usually have different goals. What rings true is each partner achieves their respective goal through collaborative effort.

A common challenge is that while large companies’ goals are pretty consistent over time, startups’ goals usually vary.

If I had to identify one common trait, it would be the relationship and expectations should respect the nature of each party, because they’re quite different. Each company should run independently, as they are accustomed, with well-defined interactions.

The large company should not apply the same procedures, controls, guarantees, and risk mitigation to a startup as they would to their own organization. Similarly, the startup should not request the same kinds of changes, speed of decision making, flexibility, and adaptable prioritization of the large company they are working with.

Since you have two vastly different approaches and constraints, it can be complicated to reconcile, but it is possible.

Based on your expertise, what is an emerging trend among large companies and their engagement with startups?

They have learned that internal innovation has a very limited impact. However, companies should promote and facilitate internal innovation, not only as a source of innovation, but also as cultural support for adopting external innovation.

Now they look for external innovation too. They have turned the entire world into their innovation lab. Companies are learning how to stay informed, how to get access, how to partner, how to acquire, and how to integrate innovation, wherever it’s happening.

The result is today’s companies participate more actively in the startup ecosystem along with the traditional players. There are many more opportunities available for startups to succeed at every stage.

I think partnerships between startups and large companies are good for the futures of professionally well-managed startups with a game-changing idea that want to have a big impact.