When I spend time talking with startups about this I usually start with a parable because it’s less heavy than political theory. I often tell the story about the scorpion and the frog. People act how they do because they can – it’s who they are. And the sooner you begin to think about that in your interactions in business (and life) the easier decisions become.
So my simple recommendation for everybody who is new to business and working in a startup (or frankly anybody in business trying to understand people and organizations around you) is to think about the scorpion in each of us.
Why does this person or company exist? What are her motivations? Put yourself in her shoes – what is she trying to achieve at her company? What is the company trying to achieve? How powerful or vulnerable is that company and why do they want to work with me? How will they act if I become extremely successful? How will they act if the market tanks? How will she act when my competitor comes along and offers the same product at 50% cheaper to steal marketshare from me?
We live in a Hobbesian world. Knowing your place in it is a great start. And it will make you a significantly better negotiator and operator.