When You’re Effed at the Post Office

By Carsten Boers

You’re in a long line at the post office. Only one counter is open and an old lady and the post office worker are in a conversation that might well take the rest of the day. Are you staying quietly in the line or are you walking to the front to shake things up? FCUK, it’s hella uncomfortable either way.

If you’re a hard tech startup seeking to do business with a large corporate, it’s just like that. If you are going through the standard process for a material transfer, a proof of concept study, an assessment, or pitching and negotiating a joint development or commercial agreement - one thing is clear: If you stay in line, i.e. if you go through the standard process, you are gonna be bankrupt long before it’s your turn. You have to shake it up. 

If you’re a first time entrepreneur, especially if you have just come out of academia - an environment with lots of good rules and rails - it can feel comforting to hear a big corporate spell out their process to you. “We’re excited about you and have approval to take you through our xyz process”. “Great”, you might say, “Approved!!! That’s a great sign.” Just to really screw with you, the corporation might well have named their process “accelerated”, maybe they even give you a small budget. 

The first critical thing is to recognize that in going through the standard process, you will die. What is an accelerated process for the large corporation is a lifetime for your startup.

Now how to overcome this? As the entrepreneur, you have two options:

  1. You find it in yourself to shake it up
  2. You hire someone who does it for you

Shaking it up is not for the faint of heart. “Sir, I need you to get back in line!” I can hear the post office worker yelling, a tone that connotes that they might call the police on the matter any time. Now I really am in trouble - go back into line for the rest of the day to then receive the world’s angriest customer service? 

In your engagement with the big corporate, chances are that you’re speaking to a group of people that can stop your progression, but can’t do more for you than give you a “pass”. And after that pass, you need another, and another. Cutting the line means you’re going above them to the people who have final say - you’re taking a shortcut where everyone is insisting that there is none. It’s a high risk approach with many chances of failing. But you guessed it, you don’t have any other choice and failing quickly beats failing slowly. 

I personally overcome the angst of these types of situations with the conviction that I am doing something important. If I believe that my tech needs to be adopted, well, that’s more important than adherence to the standard process or social code. With my first startup, I once took my dad along into a sales meeting. We had all the decision makers in the room. They listened attentively and heaped praise on my presentation and proposal. “We don’t have any more budget this year, but we gotta look at this for next year!” they pronounced. “Success,” I thought to myself and started packing up my things. My dad had other ideas. With me standing there and putting my papers into my bag, my dad stayed seated and then he said these words: “I don’t accept that!” There was a long and stunned silence and then, to use the only description that does the moment justice, he tore them a new one. For several minutes he leaned into them on their cowardness, their role as leaders and the function of budgets. We had a purchase order from them two weeks later and did fantastic work together.

Now that’s a blackbelt move for a particular situation - I don’t recommend it as a general practice. There’s no general script for how to jump the line. You gotta believe that your tech is a worthy mission and then go convince everyone else that it is too. 

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