Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Microsoft for Startups GM Jeff Ma brings entrepreneurial spirit to function at tech big

Jeff Ma dining with his son in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Ma)

In 20 years as an entrepreneur and founder, Jeff Ma learned a thing or two about startups. Now he’s learning about how Microsoft can help them.

Ma is the new general manager for Microsoft for Startups, where he helps ensure that companies gain access to the the tech giant’s resources. The tech vet is our latest Geek of the Week.

Ma previously launched four successful companies including CircleLending (sold to Virgin), Citizen Sports (sold to Yahoo), and tenXer (sold to Twitter). He spent 3 1/2 years at Twitter eventually leading all data science and analytics.

His new role has shed some light on how Microsoft for Startups could have benefited him as a founder.

“My last company, tenXer, was in the analytics/developer productivity space and as we evolved we realized that our value prop resonated most with enterprise customers. We had no idea how to sell to or how to go to market with enterprise,” Ma said. “The opportunities and ‘know how’ that Microsoft for Startups would have given us would have been a game changer. I realize now that they could have connected us with a ton of potential customers through their co-sell and marketplace programs.”

Reconnecting with old friends in the startup world has been invigorating and a “ton of fun” for Ma.

“The most intriguing part is how many people are interested in working on this team,” he said. “I’m definitely excited about recruiting some new types of talent onto the team.”

Beyond his work as a founder, Ma is also a best-selling author and speaker who has applied his deep understanding of analytics to help professional sports teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Portland Trail Blazers and media companies such as  ESPN and Major League Baseball Advanced Media make better decisions using data.

Ma was the inspiration for the main character in the hit movie “21,” based on the book “Bringing Down the House,” about how he some of his friends from MIT used math and data to win at casinos in Las Vegas.

“During COVID, I’ve taken up online poker with my buddies and when I go to Vegas I usually just play craps because no casinos will let me play blackjack,” Ma said. “Occasionally, some random celebrity friend will want me to play blackjack with them so I’ll try to find some casino that will let me play … but most won’t.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Jeff Ma:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I lead the Microsoft for Startups program, supporting startups in more than 140 companies around the world. I also work closely across the Microsoft ecosystem to ensure that startups have pathways to learn about and leverage the best the company has to offer, including our vast sales apparatus.

As a four-time founder myself, I understand and have deep empathy for the startup journey and what founders need to build a successful business. The opportunity to work with startups to help them grow, with the backdrop of Microsoft, is extremely exciting.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Technology, with the right cultural mindset, can help anyone innovate and develop unique solutions to help change the world. Microsoft’s mission statement is to empower anyone to do more with technology to harness the power of tech. Microsoft has gone through a fundamental cultural shift under Satya [Nadella]. Before I was even approached about the position, I was speaking with a friend about Microsoft’s resurgence in the past few years. We discussed how under Satya’s leadership the company’s culture has evolved in a meaningful way. By culture, I mean the cumulative effect of what people within the company do and more importantly how they do it.

When I began to meet with people within the company, I was struck by their commitment to diversity and inclusion. The level of investment in supporting traditionally underrepresented communities was something that really resonated with me on a personal level.

Where do you find your inspiration? My father. His personal journey and sacrifice to come to the United States with basically nothing is the classic immigrant American dream story. But as a relatively new father I see things through a different lens. The opportunity he has afforded me and my family with his sacrifices is truly pressure to continue to achieve more in his honor.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Sadly, it is my phone. Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with my phone and while I do think the obsession has its downsides being constantly connected at such a level is something that I’m not sure I could live without. I enjoy the quick dopamine hits that checking Twitter or Instagram, or email gives me and the amount of content I can consume via my phone is simply amazing. I think the efficiency today’s phones give us gives us time back to do more fun things in the real world.

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Ma)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Ha ha … I don’t think I’ve mastered WFH yet as I thoroughly enjoy working in environments that have some background level of activity, like coffee shops and open areas of offices. Since I’m on calls all the time now I just need a place that has some level of privacy.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Carve time out during the workday to work out or do something fun. I have started to do some of my less engaging calls walking around the hills of my neighborhood, getting fresh air and exercise in the process. But even more important is grabbing small chunks of time to get a quick run, swim, or workout in. Since COVID, I’ve leveraged WFH to steal moments to see my kids during the day.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Been a Mac guy for a while but being at Microsoft I can honestly say it has been fun to switch to Windows!

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? I’m much more of a “Game of Thrones” fan … I’m a Jon Snow guy. Honor over everything and no ego — well not totally me but you get the picture!

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? These days transporter seems the most relevant as you could travel with little risk of COVID while in flight.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Find a young entrepreneur who is having trouble getting funded for whatever reason and give it to them. My days of starting companies are over.

Your role models: Kevin Compton, OG valley VC, now a partner at Radar Partners. Amazing investor but better human being. He always knows what I should do 6-12 months before I realize it.

Greatest game in history: “Catan Universe” because it solves social interaction during the COVID era.

Best gadget ever: My new Roccbox pizza oven. Portable, gas fired, and gets to 900 degrees in like 20 minutes.

First computer: Commodore Vic 20.

Current phone: iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Favorite app: Twitter.

Favorite cause: Right now it’s supporting the economy, specifically small businesses in any way I can. I try to order from restaurants and donate to GoFundMe’s whenever I can. Check out to learn about one of the most brilliant support ideas of the COVID era.

Most important technology of 2020: Video calling.

Most important technology of 2022: 5G.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: This is our time!

Website: Microsoft for Startups

Twitter: @jeffma

LinkedIn: Jeffrey Ma

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