By Alpa Agarwal

Microsoft Sharepoint 2010 SocialFest, an event lead by the Emerging Business Team of Microsoft in Silicon Valley, will feature seven startups who are building social-oriented applications on Microsoft Sharepoint 2010.

Leverage Software, a white-label social networking platform used by enterprises of all sizes, helps people connect with others within or outside their organizations. What Leverage is attempting to do better than anyone else is help people find the “right” people to connect with -- what Joe Kleinschmidt, Leverage Software's CTO, calls “people-centricity.”

For example, if you are a technology firm and are working on a new feature to allow your customers to customize your product, the platform will help you “leverage” the institutional knowledge that exists in your large, geographically-dispersed organization on the subject of product customization. Could you connect with and leverage the expertise of a sociologist in your R&D center in India? Or, could you connect with and leverage the research conducted by a colleague in China? For most organizations it is a challenge to keep employees in one location, one department or one subsidiary aware of the expertise that resides elsewhere. To help solve this problem in a "people-centric" way, Leverage offers features not commonly found in similar applications such as their Interactive People Map and Geo-Social Networking -- which provides ways for people to visually "see" their company's social networks.

Joe and his fellow co-founder got the idea for Leverage Software while in their previous jobs. Joe had found it challenging to recruit developers and was looking for a solution where he could easily leverage his network of contacts for referrals. His partner was looking for ways to easily leverage his network of contacts for sales leads. This was 2003, when social networking was still nascent.

Joe jumped off the precipice, leaving his full-time position to write code, later hiring contractors to help him. It was not easy. The co-founders leveraged their network of contacts to find early adopters within organizations to iteratively and jointly provide feedback as they built their application, and eventually the company raised a round of funding. Today companies such as Microsoft, The Home Depot, Hilton Hotels, Stanford University, St. Jude Medical, Ingram Micro, and McKesson are among 15 of the Fortune 100 companies paying Leverage to help make it easier for their employees to identify the “right” people to collaborate with. Last year the company was named a "visionary" in Gartner's Magic Quadrant on social software.

Joe shared a few tips for for others looking to get their startups off the ground. First and foremost, always focus on your customers' needs above everything else -- rather than chasing what you think might be the "hot idea" that will interest VC's. Second, especially in an area as tighly-knit as Silicon Valley, it's important to remember that it's the relationships you'll build with everyone you encounter -- whether they be customers, employees, contractors, or potential investors -- those can really help you in the long run. And finally, whether you're trying to sell your product to a potential customer or a concept to a potential investor, it's frequently best to simply focus on the fact that you're here to help them solve a problem -- rather than trying to "pitch" them on something that they may or may not want. In other words, just like when you hire an employee you're looking for a "good fit" between them and your company, so too should you treat potential investors and customers in a similar way. If there's a "good fit" between what they're looking for and your own vision, you're both more likely to succeed.

Access MicrosoftStartupZone.com for how Microsoft supports entrepreneurs with software, support and visibility and to get more information about Microsoft Sharepoint SocialFest and Microsoft Bizspark.