Don Dodge spoke first, and gave a short history of his career; he’d been through a number of ‘name’ startups, including Altavista, where they invented multimedia search (searching images, video, etc), Napster, and Groove. He is now in the Emerging Business division at Microsoft, and has two roles. First, he communicates with VCs and lets them know where Microsoft is investing, and, more importantly, not investing. This lets the VCs make wiser choices about their portfolios. Second, he assists startups in dealing with Microsoft, including introductions to technical, marketing and sales resources, depending on where the startup is in the business cycle. He only deals with companies that are $10-15M in revenue, after that they get passed along to account managers. Don also mentioned the Empower program, which lets startups get boatloads of Microsoft software for $375 (Joel has talked about this program too). On a final note, Don mentioned that Microsoft had acquired 35 companies in the last 24 months, and that they preferred to acquire companies in the $30-50M revenue range, doing interesting innovative things.
I thought it was very interesting that Microsoft now makes it clear to VCs where it plans to invest–that helps to lessen the fear that a startup is merely doing market research for Microsoft. Robert Reich, the guy from Me.dium that helps run the Meetup, put in a plug for Microsoft and said that they had been a pleasure to work with.