Meet Microsoft for Startups Newest Leader: Annie Parker

Recently, we had an opportunity to sit down with the new Global Head of Microsoft for Startups, Annie Parker, to hear her insights into the current state of global startups, the challenges these companies face, and the ways in which Microsoft can engage with them.

She describes her career as a series of extraordinary coincidences and serendipity, recounting how 20 years ago, as she started her career just out of university, she couldn’t have even imagined her current role, which didn’t even exist then. Parker, who spent the first half of her professional life in management consulting and commercial marketing teams, recounted the moment she began her transition to the startup ecosystem.

“When it comes to my career, I’m at my best when I’m all in, fully emotionally committed to making it work and making it brilliant. The other part of that, is that I really love solving problems, and I love solving problems by helping people. I found myself at a point in my career where I was no longer feeling fulfilled, and actually felt like I hated turning up for work. The problem was, I had literally no idea what else I wanted to do next. While I was trying to figure that out, I filled that time by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with a small group of family and friends. All the months of preparation and the climb itself provided me with a lot of the emotional fulfilment I was craving. So, when I finally got to the top and saw the last couple of hundred meters unfolding in front of me, I realized that this journey was about to end, and sat down and started to cry. I felt empty, and sad that I had nothing to really go back home for. It was that moment that I realized I was incredibly unhappy and I never wanted to feel that way in my career ever again.”

Woman on top of mountain

Parker on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Shortly after that, when a colleague offered her the opportunity to help setup a new accelerator program, she jumped at the chance. Parker quickly rose to the role of European Head of Operations for Wayra, a startup accelerator program initiated by Telefonica, where she was able to help founders “solve really interesting problems.” Following that, she co-founded muru-D, an accelerator program run by Telstra before joining Microsoft.

Parker laid out her perspective on Microsoft’s unique role in supporting and in turn learning from startups.

What do you think sets Microsoft apart from other players looking to engage with startups?

“I have always believed that Microsoft is an incredible company, with great capacity to make big changes and one that has a lot to offer founders. However, there is one idea that made me excited to take on this challenge - the idea that while there are lots and lots of accelerators and other programs out there to help startups get funding, Microsoft is specifically suited to help startups get ready for customers.

“My passion for any company, is to help the founders attract enough customers to fund their own growth, enabling founders to control their own destiny and decision making.”

What challenges are startups facing right now that Microsoft can help with?

“Startups have long faced the problem of doing something completely new, or completely disrupting an existing market. Obviously, there is no playbook for doing that, no simple solutions. However, I believe Microsoft can help in two key ways.

“The first way we can help is on the technical side, obviously, and we have extraordinary engineers all over the world who are leaders in the field. When you are trying to solve a problem, you want to work with smart people and subject matter experts. We have that, and we have them in pretty much every country in the world. There aren’t many companies that can say that.

“The second way we can help is within Microsoft ScaleUp and the startup team more broadly. Our team is made up of extraordinarily experienced people who have lived in the startup world, such as Chad Fowler (former CTO of Wunderlist all round developer rock star). The reason we are all here is to help and pay our knowledge forward.

“You take that foundation of really smart, incredible engineers and technologists, and draw on the entrepreneurial experience of our team, and thread in the access to customers through Microsoft’s partner network, it’s clear that this mix can be massively impactful for any startup we work with. It’s exciting because it’s a win, win, win scenario – startups grow, our partners do well, customers get access to innovative products, and Microsoft gains from these relationships as well.”

What can Microsoft learn from its engagement with startups?

“Working with startups helps us challenge our way of thinking. Software has been eating the world for some time, and it continues to do so. Ten or 15 years ago, enterprises would never have entertained the thought of buying a product from a small company they’d never heard of, in a country they’d never been to, from people they’ve never met. But they do now, and they do it with relative ease. That smaller company is able to do it well, because software is so easy to support and grow and deliver. It means the rules of the game have completely changed.

“If we aren’t adopting ways of working that are more nimble, more agile, more partner driven and collaborative, we will have missed a massive opportunity for growth. It’s imperative to Microsoft, at a cultural level, to think differently, do business differently, and look towards the future in which collaboration and partnerships are how we are going to work. The more we get used to that now, the better placed we will be for the future.”