The desperate search for a match. Corporate Venturing is done with dating – or is it?

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Corporate Venturing is done with dating – or is it?

Hi, my name is Corporate Venturing, but you can also call me CV. Some people say I’m one of the most popular bachelors around the block but somehow I haven’t found my perfect match yet.

It seems that everyone in the innovation scene has an opinion about me or even a hidden agenda. Admittedly, based on my overall appearance I would say that I have some very promising attributes: I’m somehow talented, don’t look too bad and I’m interested in many different industry segments. Since all my friends urged me to give dating a try, too, I signed up for “binder”, a platform to support people with dating and finding the right partner.

Opening binder is basically like entering a discount store. You have the feeling that theoretically everything is possible, that you can have everything. You cherish the silent hope of finding the hidden gem in top quality at an unbeatable price, with only the slight hint of the premonition what ballast your date may bring along and the quiet fear that it might not be a match for life after all.

In my foray into the world of dating, I experienced these three dating types I would like to share with you. Oh, and before you keep on reading let me tell you one more thing – I’m still single!

The Corporate Date

My first match on binder was with a Corporate. A match made in heaven – so I thought initially. Everything seemed perfect. Its photos were impressive. It amazed me with its profound knowledge and its remarkable assets. And above all else, Corporate really seemed settled in life.

After we wrote for a pretty long time about the details of our upcoming date (it was really into planning the whole thing through) we met in a fancy restaurant. The whole situation was a bit strange from the beginning. Despite its impressive knowledge it somehow wanted to talk mainly about itself and showed only little interest in my opinions. Quite disappointing, as I would have enjoyed a lively discussion. Ordering the food was also more like going through a checklist about potential allergies. Where does the food exactly come from? What is the insurance policy of the restaurant? Nevertheless I tried to engage with an open mind and continued listening. After the starter I noticed that it was looking around all the time, so I asked if something was wrong. Corporate told me that it is important that people see us together since this could be good for its press coverage. Ouch!

During the main course I suddenly realized that it actually was not me, who was desperately looking for a relationship – it was the Corporate! What made this even worse was the fact that the Corporate was not sincerely interested in me, but more in impressing the press, its friends and family (it called them shareholders).

And there were even more red flags: When I came to talk about the promising assets I saw in its profile, the Corporate reacted very reserved. Tight-lipped it informed me that it would only share them or reveal more about them if I promised to stay forever. I was taken aback. Seriously – after the first date? Come on! After dessert I slipped the hint that it can be beneficial for a relationship if you share your experiences with one another, even if you don’t want to give away the “special spice”. Big mistake! From then on the date really went down the drain. The Corporate lectured me that it always had relationships in a certain manner, in “the way it has always been done”. Its killer argument? Customers always loved it. Clearly the Corporate had major issues with trying new ways.

We said goodbye after dessert. Even though I was fascinated by its in-depth knowledge, I was really shocked about the way it looked at relationships. Its main appeal was not the outcome at all but the thrill of being in the dating game.

The Consulting Date

Even though my first binder date didn’t go as I had hoped, I didn’t want to give up just yet. Luckily, my next match looked really promising. Judging by the first impression, Consulting seemed to be a really warm and caring being. After our match Consulting regularly called me, talking about our “synergies” and that I was the one it had been waiting for. Consulting sounded a bit too overoptimistic for my liking, but frankly I also enjoyed the attention. We met in a restaurant, too. Soon I realized that Consulting was someone you feel comfortable around. However, somehow the restaurant seemed to be aware of our dating situation. When I entered the room my favourite song started to play and without even ordering I received my favourite drink. A sweet gesture? Sure, but also a little creepy. The conversation was nice and charming, though. Consulting gushed about my strengths the whole time and complimented me on my attractiveness. At some point, Consulting even said that we have to be brave, that it’s necessary to take risks for a relationship. I liked its view on things and also the pictures it painted. It seemed that Consulting was really sharing my perspective on options and on how to jump into an adventure. It was a fun date and we laughed a lot. I felt that I had some attraction for this setup.

Dinner with Consulting went by really fast. I then took the chance to ask about its plans for the upcoming days. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that. All at once, Consulting started to show me its true colors. To my astonishment, it handed me an advertisement for a 5 star resort in the Maldives. If we wanted to be together and make the best out of this partnership, I should book this holiday trip for the two of us – now. Reluctantly, I said that I liked the idea in general. But shouldn’t we maybe go on at least another date before we spend two weeks at the end of the world together? And did I understand it correctly that I was supposed to pay for the whole trip alone?!

This was the turning point. From here, our date became a disaster. In a bitchy tone, Consulting complained that I would not show enough effort for our relationship. Paying should not be a great deal for me, if I really believed in the two of us. Before I was even able to answer, another “option” passed by our table. Without hesitating, Consulting jumped up and followed it. So I suddenly found myself alone at our table – ditched and left with our restaurant bill.

The Investor Date

After these two, let’s say special experiences, I was almost done with dating. However, as “all good things come in threes”, I gave binder one last chance. A glass of wine and a few swipes later I had another match: Investor. Investor presented himself as a well-traveled globetrotter. It seemed to have been all over the world and had a lot of exciting stories to tell.

Our first conversation was really cultivated. I was fascinated about all the information it had about everything. When I suggested a restaurant for our date, Investor had another proposal: Since its schedule was quite packed, we should rather meet for a walking coffee. I didn’t worry too much about it. Actually, I liked keeping some distance for a change. Investor said it always needs to be moving and emphasized how it’s not good to miss out on opportunities.

In contrast to my previous dates I took the lead this time and started talking about my hobbies. I mentioned that I have good ideas and that I want to build something successful with my knowledge. Investor wanted to know what prevents me from being successful. Truthfully, I replied that people don’t see my talents. I explained that I want to build opportunities out of excess to certain assets I have within my family but that I am struggling to find the right sponsor. While talking, I realized that the attention span of Investor began to fade away. I spoke about the ressources I have and how I can outperform the market building on these but that I’m missing out on the skill set of building on these assets yet. I asked Investor if it could help me with its financial resources to build on my assets within a relationship. The reply was short: “What is in it for me?”. I appreciated the direct question, because I think that a relationship should be balanced in give and take. Knowing that Investor normally operates in a very risky setup, I explained that my assets would minimize its risk of losing money and that due to my family we would have exit channels as soon as we have certain proof. In my eyes, I was a highly eligible candidate for Investor. That’s why his next words came unexpected. Investor said: “Look, CV, you seem genuinely nice, but I prefer options with bigger potential on the win side.” I stammered that we could be a nice couple combining our visions, but Investor would not be swayed – it had made up his mind already. It made it clear that I’m neither willing enough to be flexible nor fast enough to travel with it and that my family would never let me go anyway.

So compared to the date with the Corporate I found myself in a position where I had ingratiated myself. To be rejected so bluntly was all the more painful. Not exactly an ego booster. Especially as I saw a lot of potential for a successful partnership. Frustrated, I made my way back home.

Was my excursion into the dating world worth it?

As mentioned at the beginning, I’m still single. Even though I didn’t find my perfect match (yet), it was a really fun experience. Each of my three very different dates helped me to figure out what I’m really looking for in a relationship. Additionally, the fact that I had plenty of matches on binder confirms the potential people see in me which makes me happy. However, I also learnt that I need to be outspoken about what I really want – and what not. Otherwise my full potential is stifled.

My perfect match would be a hybrid of my three dates. The Corporate was exciting because of all the assets it had. But the fear of losing control and missing clear milestones would have taken my breath. Nevertheless, this base of assets is important for me to be happy in a relationship in the long run.

The Consultant was caring and had the right attitude about potentials, but when it came to “risk taking”, it was completely off. I would definitely ask from a partner to also share risks with me within a relationship.

The investor was the perfect candidate for my evolution into something bigger with global impact, but unfortunately my potential wasn’t recognized. I need a partner who realizes that my asset base is reducing risk and thereby is justifying the “lower but safer returns”.

Transferring this to the real world and leaving the story of CV

I chose to use this analogy to highlight why corporate venturing is not taking off yet, despite being a current topic in the media. Every CDO, CIO, CXO and consultant emphasizes the urgency for corporates to be innovative and brave, but I miss the risk sharing in the whole setup as well as the necessity for strong KPI and outcome tracking from all players involved. Maybe the incentive structures in place are hindering the performance perspective so far.

When we build external startups from scratch, there are pretty strong performance monitorings in place. Why are we missing this in corporate venturing? Why is it more about PR stunts and simply doing “something” instead of doing something great? Important to mention that performance monitoring has nothing to do with excessive control mechanisms.

I would love to see that corporates are more willing to share assets with external partners to build on them together. I want operational builders to share risks and let themselves be measured on performance. Otherwise, it is just like giving away discounts on consulting projects. The situation at the
moment feels a bit like trying to charge your mobile directly at a nuclear plant.

Changes I would like to see and which are already in the making

Corporates need to give access to their assets for motivated and skilled operational teams. Their attitude of always wanting to own everything has to stop. It is crucial that you also use assets for cases which may not be the direct game changer for the core business. So, if you are on the corporate side: Please stop overthinking potential and risk. Start measuring success on the right scales (financial vs. strategic) and avoid the mistake of evaluating a new/young business based on the metrics you know from your existing products/businesses.

Consultants need to commit themselves to specific goals. Their financial and economic benefit should rather be based on their performance and not on granting pseudo discounts. As a consultant, you are not a good building partner if your real or only intention is to optimize in the short run. Rest assured that if you are doing an excellent job, there will be financial gain for every party involved.

Investors need to see the attractiveness of corporate venturing setups. Instead of simply betting on external success stories, they should be willing to look into performance oriented business cases which build on corporate assets and thereby have higher chances for success. Reducing the risk of failure from 1 out of 12 to 1 out of 6 would be considerably more attractive and way more efficient. Especially for conservative investors like family offices or short term incentivised investors like private equity companies.

I’m optimistic about the upcoming changes and believe in globally successful ventures based on corporate assets. Happy dating everyone :)


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