This editorial article is a part of Big Tech + You Month 2023 in Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.
But these and other similarly large and influential tech companies — as well as major players in other industries that hire enough tech workers to have the kind of outsized impact that Big Tech tentpoles have on markets across the country — do leave their impact on the region’s startups, from offering direct competition to providing key services to even enabling a potential workforce for startups.
To better understand this effect, Technical.ly recently gathered a group of Baltimore founders whose companies made the 2023 RealLIST Startups last month. With our February editorial calendar theme of Big Tech + You in mind, we discussed the relationship between local startups and Big Tech. While other companies not in the Big Five also fall under the Big Tech umbrella and some of Baltimore’s founders have better connections than others, a big chunk of the discussion grew from a pair of key questions:
Do any of you have any relationships with Big Tech companies? How do you typically interact with them?
Here are just some of the highlights from their comments, which the breadth of possible impacts these companies can have on startups in regional tech hubs like Baltimore:
The first person to take on these questions was Dexter Carr Jr., founder of Game4Good (formerly G-Haven eSports), who said that his closest relationship with a Big Tech company is with Microsoft.
“When it comes to big companies like Microsoft, they have the capability of doing what you’re doing as a startup,” he said. “At Game4Good, we’ve had to find a way to navigate quickly where even if a Big Tech company thinks it’s a good idea, that we find a middle ground in adding value to what they’re doing in a way that they want to work with us as a startup — and not just take what we’re doing or want to buy us.”
“I think there’s always that fear, especially when the Big Tech company does something similar to you.”Dexter Carr Jr. Game4Good
Carr noted that Game4Good’s own platform, which uses application programming interfaces (APIs) that integrate Microsoft functions while providing the company valuable user data, essentially creates a “deterrence” from an acquisition like the one Microsoft’s pursuing with Activision.
“Gamers come on a platform connected to their gaming accounts and we use APIs to track when they play — stats like the times they play the games, the games they play and the system they play them on,” Carr said. “If Microsoft were to acquire us and use the technology itself, they couldn’t do it because we provide them information for their competitors, since the data we collect isn’t just for Xbox — it’s also a PlayStation, PC gaming, and Nintendo mobile. We can give them data information on their competitors without their competitors being able to ask them to cease and desist. That’s our value add.”
Founder Rebecca Rosenberg of ReBokeh, an assistive technology by way of an iOS-only app that helps those with moderate vision impairment experience the world easier, added perspective of how Big Tech’s reach leaves openings for companies like hers to serve other users they might not forget.
“Something that I think is particularly insightful, that our CTO once said, was: Apple is massive, and as a result of being massive, they are forced to design for everybody,” she said. “But what is beautiful and important about what we’re doing at ReBokeh is that we can design for one very specific group.”
“As a smaller company, we can say, No, we’re not going to include X feature, because it’s important that we design very specifically for a specific market, and big companies, they just can’t do that.” Rebecca Rosenberg ReBokeh
A ‘double-sided’ relationship
While many founders approached our question from the lens of providing a product, Blvck Door cofounder Iman Carr joined the call with her business partner Shakeel Alexander to raise points about organizations like theirs that lend services.
“Oftentimes, a lot of Big Tech companies and their market are who we want to target,” said Carr, whose company’s platforms aims to link more creative professionals of color with employers seeking them out. “They have internal recruitment strategies, so when they had these huge layoffs, we saw it as double-sided for us. They let go of various types of people — not only designers, but also a lot of their HR and recruitment folks. It was a good opportunity for us to kind of fill in this void by offering some more contracts and more specialized recruitment. The layoffs in Big Tech helped us to reevaluate the value of what we provide.”
Dapt cofounder and Baltimore-area tech veteran Jim Keeney, who said that he connected with Big Tech through a past consulting role, cited his payroll integration startup’s relationships with such business software giants as Intuit and ADP as mutually beneficial — and protective.
“Dept is in a race to get to a certain size,” Keeney said. “So when I’m at that size, and people begin to notice Dept, it’ll have that relationship and the brand that differentiates enough from Big Tech companies and big companies in tech like Intuit. At that point, sure, they could buy Dept, but it’ll be at full market value. Admittedly, our first contact with Big Tech was initially one person who turned out to be an uber connector. Since meeting that person, our connections expanded well beyond that.”
Another participant founder — Kindle Samuel of impathi, a company that aims to simplify coordination of hospice and end-of-life care for all involved parties — boasted an earlier career as an employee for tech giant Cisco. That experience reminded her of one core belief: that, ultimately, even the biggest companies consist of regular people, which makes relationship-building as crucial as it would be with smaller ones.
“I’m often reminded and always tell people, these big companies are made of individual people.”Kindle Samuel impathi
“When I was on the other side in Big Tech, it was not uncommon to have people ask me questions or want to connect with someone else,” she said. “So I would say connecting, networking, and being curious are integral to building relationships with individuals in Big Tech. For instance, I love collaboration in the Big Tech space, so one of my most important advisors is an employee at Salesforce. She works in the AI space and I’m always able to bounce questions off her and she’s always willing to make connections to individuals or teams of individuals, whether internal or external.”
These founders shared such insights in a wide-ranging conversation that also included founders from such RealLIST Startups honorees and honorable mentions as WeSolar, Fem Equity, Upfront Capital, Meridian Health, SharpRank and Drūl.
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