Strategic partnerships are an important way for startups to gain competitive advantage, and they’re especially prevalent within the tight-knit hyperlocal community. A valuable component in many market development strategies, partnerships with larger companies, industry veterans, and even local businesses willing to serve as beta testers can add credibility to a fledgling company and make it easier to gain traction with investors.
We asked a few industry veterans to tell us everything they know about forming successful partnerships — from locating and reaching out to potential partners, to evaluating the benefits and ensuring that partnerships align for everyone involved. Here’s what they said.
1. Rely on marketing activities to generate interest. “We had a prioritized list of companies with whom we wanted to partner, and we had a healthy amount of incoming interest from companies driven by our marketing activities, such as PR, SEO, and some paid acquisition campaigns. We made an effort to go beyond business people and talk to the product managers and engineers who would be working with our data. The technical teams understood the difficulties in updating this type of data and saw the value in having us help them manage data. Conversations about data sharing were much easier with PMs/engineers than with business development.” (Vikas Gupta, Factual)
2. Build supplier channel relationships with brands. “Since 121Giving is a marketplace designed to bring brands, charities and consumers together in a philanthropic exchange, the decision was centered on first building the supplier channel relationships with brands. The second was forging partnerships with larger charities, our end customer. Many of our relationships were built directly — reaching out to brands and educating them on the value and direction of where 121Giving is moving. We then pursued those relationships and worked further up within their organizations to educate on the value of the platform.” (Mark Courtney, 121Giving)
3. Look for people who ‘get’ your product. “There is a key focus now on evaluating the relationships we enter into. We focus more on who really connects with the value of the platform and is willing to make commitments on their side of the relationship. Essentially, focusing on true and actionable advocates—or, those who ‘get’ the innovation and want to really be a part of it. It’s easy to get frustrated and distracted trying to convince those who don’t ‘get it.’ The world is a big place and organizations have many different people. If someone isn’t getting what you’re doing and helping you champion it internally, move on to a different person or a different partner.” (Mark Courtney, 121Giving)
4. Approach potential partners with win/win solutions. “Take the time to understand [the potential partner’s] business objectives and goals and how your proposal can assist them. This allows you to approach them with a win/win solution. Be prepared to explain your business model and objectives, as it is often assumed that each party already knows more than they do about the other party.” (Doron Cohen, Powerlinx)
5. Have a framework for evaluating partnerships. “I think it’s less about the type of company and more about the nature of the partnership. Startups should have a framework for evaluating partnerships, and the partnerships that show the most value within that framework are the ones that are the most important. That framework may evolve over time as the business evolves, but the more consistency there is the easier it is to focus the organization on driving partnerships that make the most sense. For us, partners that can contribute data is a vital part of our framework, and category is less important.” (Vikas Gupta, Factual)
6. Expect to have several conversations. “Resilience is essential. While you may have been considering and pursuing a partnership model for some time, this may be the first time your potential partner has considered one; therefore you will need to take the time to have several conversations and outline the benefits.” (Doron Cohen, Powerlinx)
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.