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JUN 15, 2022 - 44 MIN

Test, Learn, and Scale with Minimum Viable Partnerships


In this Speaker Series presentation, LaunchDarkly's Head of Ecosystem Partnerships, Doug Gould, discusses expectation setting, timing, and resourcing partnerships for startups to build the right partnerships at the right time.

  • Introduction
  • Test, Learn and Scale with Minimum Viable Partnerships
    • To Biz Dev or Not to Biz Dev
    • Startup BD 101: What is Business Development?
    • Startup BD 101: Early-Stage Partnership Types
    • Startup BD 101: First Step - Goal Setting
    • Partnership Evaluation Framework: Opportunity
    • Partnership Evaluation Framework: Lift
    • Partnership Evaluation Framework: Paul Graham's Distraction
    • Things To Do Today
    • Minimum Viable Partnerships
    • Summary and Final Thoughts
  • Q&A
    • Ways to Experiment with Smaller Lifts before Investing in Larger Lifts
    • Do You Build Co-Marketing into Partnership Contracts?
    • Breadth vs Depth: Partner Portfolios and Best Practices for Self-Service Models
    • Lightweight Ways for Small/Early-Stage Actors to Build Relationships with Potential Partners
    • Do you Treat and Manage Partnerships in CRMs like Sales Deals?
    • When to Bring Someone on Full-Time and What Partnership Roles Look Like
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Test, Learn and Scale with Minimum Viable Partnerships

Today we're going to talk about early stage business development. My name is Doug Gould. Ted gave me a really great intro there, but I'm really excited to engage with you all. This is an area within startups that is really close to my heart and something I'm really passionate about, specifically around making sure that people understand what they're getting into and are able to navigate some of the challenges, but ultimately the big opportunity around partnerships and business development.

To Biz Dev or Not to Biz Dev

So with that, I always love to start with, "To biz dev or not to biz dev?" And in this slide I really like to highlight this quote from the Paul Graham, around startup partnerships and business development. When you read this quote, a couple of things that really stick out to me, just to set the context here today, is really important. So when you look at this, he mentions, "For startups the default answer to biz dev deals should be 'no,' they almost never turn out to be worth the distraction."

There's a couple of key operating phrases in here, so I think one is, "the default answer should be 'no.'" I think that really aligns to how important it is to have prioritization and goals and framework in place in order to make sure that you're doing these partnerships correctly and making sure that you understand if the answer should be yes.

The second one is they almost never turn out to be worth the distraction, and I think what we'll unpack a lot today is what exactly does the distraction mean? And when might it be worth the distraction? So both those sentences really build into this idea around understanding opportunity and doing prioritization.

When I first came into working in BD at a startup, these were things that were super new to me and it was really easy for me to get pulled in a lot of different directions. But my goal today is to make sure that you understand how to really unpack this sentence and see when there's a really big opportunity.

When you look at what Forrester's has published here, it really flies in the face of what Paul Graham was referring to. So a lot of organizations, a lot of companies out there agree that partnerships are important to driving revenue goals. They're also incredibly important to driving things like product stickiness, brand awareness, all sorts of metrics across product, marketing, sales, even corporate development we'll touch on here in a second.

But I think that when you look at what Paul Graham was really referring to, it's about what that means for the early stage company. So today where I'm coming from is having been in BD roles at a lot of early stage companies in the past, I was at a startup called Cloudability, also spent time at Xamarin as Ted mentioned, which was acquired by Microsoft.

And now today being on the team at LaunchDarkly. I've seen the different stages that business development can have an effect on, and it's important to really be able in the earliest possible stages to understand how do you start to really effectively prioritize and resource partnerships, and get yourself going in the appropriate way and also be able to understand the timing when it makes sense to really go deep?

Startup BD 101: What is Business Development?

So our agenda today, we'll go over at a high level what business development is, and it's important to understand some key phrases and terms because I think that really sets a really strong context. We'll go into a little bit of partnership types and categories, we'll touch on goal setting and then spend a good amount of time today on what partnership evaluation should really look like.

How do you prioritize and understand which partners are the most valuable and important for you to be working with? Then I'll finish off with a couple of things that you can do, either as a solo founder, as a small founding team, as a business lead today.

So it's a couple of low-touch items that you can just start to pull your head around, start to think about and consider what is the effect that partnerships could really have on your business? It's not go out and hire a ton of people, but it's very tactical things that you can start to think about and do in the earlier stages of your business so that you can understand, getting back to Paul Graham's quote here, "When the default answers might be a little bit than no."

And then of course as Ted mentioned, we'll have a little bit of Q&A at the end.

So to get started, Business Development 101 - An Introduction to Early Stage Biz Dev, jumping into some of these definition bits. What is business development? I really like this definition, it's about a function to give and get value from a broader ecosystem of companies that share a common goal. The reason I really like to set the stage, set the context is, making sure that people understand business development and how it can either impact or relate to other functions specifically sales.

So business development, there's a lot of roles and titles out there that might be business development. A lot of them are more around sales development, and that's really about going out and doing direct business. A lot of other people think of business development maybe in that corporate strategy, M&A space, and that's where you're thinking about either potential acquisition or a merger with other organizations.

Business development is really this two-way street between your company and another company, and it's about the effect that it can have in driving more adoption, more awareness, more sales through customers or users on both sides of the aisle.

So I think it's really important to make sure that, visually, people understand business development and how it is separate from other organizations and other functions. It can definitely support places like sales, places like corporate development, but it's not entirely sales in and of itself, and it's really again this give and get value, and really about understanding how can you align and prioritize along with another organization, versus just pushing things out and making sure that things come back. It's a give and get, and I'll reiterate that as an important thing to consider.

Startup BD 101: Early-Stage Partnership Types

When you look at the type of partnerships, one thing that I really focus on in partnership categorization, partnership types, is that there's a lot of programmatic efforts out there in the startup ecosystem. So large organizations have very specific partner programs, and a lot of them align to the type of partnerships that they're looking to drive within those programs.

So in general, you'll see things like channel partnerships, you'll see technology partnerships and then you'll see strategic partnerships. Below here I've broken out a couple of these different subtypes and how they align. But I think it's really important to emphasize on these definitions that this is accepted, common nomenclature around partnerships.

One thing that I've worked on with a lot of founders is founders will have an idea that they want to propose a partnership to a large organization, and they might be thinking of doing something very complex, very custom, very bespoke.

What I really encourage startups to think about is different partnership types that can help you understand and align to the right people at another organization because they might have programmatic efforts in order for you to engage.

So I think it's important to get comfortable with these definitions, these categories and these phrases because it will help people on the other side be able to understand and distill what it is that you're trying to achieve. So it might not necessarily seem like it's the most important, but I always think about the receiver, if you're ever thinking of doing a partnership, needs to be able to understand and categorize the type of partnership that you're looking to do.

And I really encourage founders to think about this, understand and align to specific categories of partnership so that you're able to actually get the right people on the phone or on an email thread to start moving things forward. So really basic definitions here, but things that are important to understand.

Then you can also see that there is incentive structures that are built into this. For example, marketplace partnerships. Those are very much about listings and being able to drive transactions. So if you're trying to do a partnership, you're looking at building something into a marketplace, understand that the people that you might be talking to are most likely going to be incentivized to work with you based off of some of those.

It falls down the line where you've got alliances that might be sales, integration, it might be a number of integrations, and then strategic which are generally not something that early stage startups enter into with a lot of big companies, but something to be aware of.

I always think of things like channel, technology partnerships, really being able to build into something much more strategic for an earlier stage company. When you look at the examples I have, those are generally pretty big companies that are entering into these type of strategic partnerships. But those are the partnership types.

Startup BD 101: First Step - Goal Setting

When you understand the partnership types, I think it's important as a next step to go deeper into what is the goal that we would actually have as a startup, around business development? I think goal setting is incredibly important in order to make sure that you understand how do you resource and time these things so that they're supportive of a lot of the other things that you're doing as an organization? So I really set the context that a business development goal should really focus on revenue, users, or access to new technology. So you can think of again different workstreams across revenue mapping to sales, users maybe a mixture of sales or growth or marketing, and then new technology which is really about a product decision.

So starting with that and then looking at four main components of creating a business development goal. One is that you've got a time horizon, and for an early stage company that's resource-strapped, I think it's really important to consider and understand the amount of time it'll take in order for you to do something meaningful and effective. T

he second one is a business goal that you're able to drive, so if you're an early stage company, you probably have stated some goals that you're trying to achieve. Maybe they're around sales, they're around growth, some of these new areas that I was talking about are here at the bottom of the screen. So I think it's important to understand that as an input to a business development goal, and not living separately.

The third piece is what we just covered off of, which is the partnership type. So is there a category of partnership that you'd be able to talk into a combine with a business development goal? Then the last one which is really important, is the measurement. How is it that you're going to be able to understand with this potential partnership strategy, or your partnership approach, how success is going to be measured?

I have a couple of examples here where you can distill it down into land new customers, in this example, through a new partnership and then the amount of time that you're going to give it, three months, and then what you'll do to measure that, which is the total number of leads.

Just a good example, I actually at the end of this presentation will have some resources where people can, back of the napkin, be able to draw some of these goals and start to really consider what it is you're looking to achieve by doing partnerships and business development?

I think that really sets the stage for some of these other pieces around prioritization, but it's an incredibly important thing to have a North Star, even if you're very early, very nascent in your partnership efforts just to understand and consider what you would be trying to get out of it.

So I'll walk through another example here. You can see some of these things I worked with. This is a startup that was in the B2B2C space, and we looked at some of the overall company initiatives, some of the things that they needed to achieve, and that was reporting out to their board as well as some of the tactics that they're looking at.

We worked together to be able to build out and create what that business development strategy looks like. Here at the bottom you can see that it really focuses on a couple of things that are really key to the company, things that they were reporting out to the board already, and partnerships as being a force multiplier to some of those efforts already. A really good way to start to think about building that business development goal.

Partnership Evaluation Framework: Opportunity

So once you've got your goal, it's important to then start to fill out and understand who is actually relevant from a partner perspective, and that's where we get into this partnership evaluation framework. What I look at is the opportunity, and then you look at the lift, which I have my little forklift here, in terms of what it takes to really get that partnership off the ground. I'll go deeply here into both sides of this.

On the opportunity there's a couple of key components here that you can score a specific partner against. So this is assuming again you've got your business development goal, you understand the type of partnership that you're going into. Now you want to start to fill out a list to say, "Okay, who are the specific organizations that we really need to approach and start to consider?" And these are the four main ideas that I've had around what that category looks like, how do you define the opportunities?

So first you look at the size. Any information you can get around what the partner's coverage of the total addressable market is, and determining whether that's high, are they a market leader, they have a large base. Or is it low? Is it that they're maybe an up and comer, but they don't have a huge amount of the market share today.

Then the next piece is on market opportunity, so this is really taking that opportunity size but attaching a growth metric to it. So understanding, is this particular prospective partner's market share growing faster, at pace with, or slower, than the total addressable market might be growing at? I like to balance these because I think, and since this is where I've been in a BD position--

Just because another organization has a really large customer base does not necessarily mean that they're going to continue to be a market leader in the three, five, ten year time horizon that you're really starting to really layer on and build yourself out as a company.

So this really takes into account where companies might be growing at an exponential rate, and contrasting that with an organization that might already be with a really large customer installed based, but maybe not growing very fast or losing customers because what they're delivering to market isn't what people are really looking for.

The third piece here is on stakeholder alignment and this is where you understand as a team or as a founder, how easy is it for me to get access to people at this particular partner? So large organizations, for example AWS, can be fairly complex.

It might be difficult for you to be able to align the right people to get support, to get access to new resources or programs, being able to understand what to do to be successful in that partnership, and I think that's an important criteria in order to evaluate the opportunities.

So if stakeholder alignment is very high, it's easy for you to get access to people who control various programs or initiatives, then I think that's really adding to the opportunity. If the stakeholder alignment is really low, if you have maybe a support email for a particular partner is the only thing that you've found, I think that that really shows that the opportunity might not be as big in order to make a large impact with that partner.

Then the last one, which I think is the most important, is customer alignment. Understanding as you have a persona built out, who it is that you're looking to get as a user or a customer, making sure that that aligns with who the partner is also looking at engaging with, or understanding where within a certain product usage pattern they might be working with somebody that you're working with.

So I've had an organization look to build partnerships where there might be account level alignment, so two organizations are talking to the same company. But in terms of the persona or the buyer, they're talking to completely different people. So I think that's really important to understand because, again, when your trying to attach yourself to another organization's programs and initiatives, you want to make sure that it's really complementary to what it is that they're already doing.

If there's a really big gap between who it is that you're trying to talk to and who the partner is trying to talk to, that might really make the opportunity much less exciting than what it might seem like on the surface.

So I think it's important to take these four criteria, batch them all together and think about the scoring so that you can really get into a sense of how exciting is this particular partner? Then you can look at, of course, a full category and be able to score multiple potential partners within that category to understand how big of an opportunity there is across all the partners. Then, within that, who is more exciting than others?

Partnership Evaluation Framework: Lift

Now, another piece which I really emphasize again to early stage companies is the lift. These are some things both obvious and not obvious that are really important for startup founders to take a look at and figure out how much is it going to really take from a resource and time perspective in order to get a partnership off the ground.

So first is cash, and I really highlight this because I've heard of startup partnerships taking an investment from a couple thousand dollars, I think AWS has a program fee of around $2,500, all the way up to $100,000+ in order to be engaged, and everything in between.

So I think it's really important as an early stage company to think about, "Is it really worth us spending this actual money on?" If you're at the seed or pre-seed stage, these are the type of things that are really important for you because there is a massive trade off to what you could be doing with the dollars.

So I think cash is really important to consider as you're looking at entering some of these.

Then there's the other things that are not necessarily hard costs. You've got marketing, for example. A lot of successful partnerships take a really heavy lift on the marketing side, and if you're a small team and you might have a part time marketing person or a full time marketing person who's supporting the entire organization, understand how much it will take for them to create a lot of marketing assets to support a partnership.

Know that if they're not able to dedicate that time and resource, it means that they're going to not be successful in being able to support the partnership. So marketing is something that's incredibly important and a lot of partnership programs require a lot of heavy lift in terms of marketing and it's important to really understand, what are the assets, the collateral, the resources? What's the story from a marketing perspective we need, in order to prop this partnership up? Can we actually maintain what the request is?

The next piece is on sales, go-to-market, so I think it's important to understand what does it take in terms of getting alignment with a partner, is there a revenue share component? Is there actual time that you're going to need to spend deeply embedding yourself with a partner's sales organization in order to get new users or new customers.

As an early stage company, all the time that you spend with a partner is time that you are actually distracted from spending with prospects or customers of your own, and so if it's going to take a lot of time in order to make that successful, really important that as a team you really consider that.

Whereas some organizations might be a little bit more programmatic, and little bit less engaged one-to-one, maybe those are worth doing with a low lift initially in order to layer on and understand what the resources will be going forward as your team continues to grow and you have more resources that you can throw at partnerships.

The last piece is on integration and so this is an actual technology lift. In a lot of instances when you're looking at evaluating, building a particular integration there might be public APIs that are very straightforward with good documentation.

There might be a lot of really quick and easy ways for you to plug into another technology, and that contrasts with organizations that require signing a large agreement, doing a lot of work around being able to do discovery on what an integration might look like, and then starting to think about and consider putting that out to customers. So I think it's really important.

There are some companies that have really great APIs that make it very easy to partner, and there's a lot of companies that put a lot of gates in between you and being able to get access to the technology, and weighing that, how much time and effort is it going to take for you, your engineering team or your product team, in order to get something built out and shipped? So the integration piece is really important, especially when you're looking at technology partnerships.

I'd also say there's an element of this that can be considered even as you're looking at alliances, it's how much work is it going to take for us to build a really strong technology story with another company? And if it's going to take a lot of work and it's going to be very speculative in terms of what the value is, it might be really hard for you to be able to justify building that partnership.

Partnership Evaluation Framework: Paul Graham's Distraction

So when you take the opportunity and the lift, and then I also encourage people to consider this Paul Graham's Distraction, you realize that there's a lot of other things when you're spending your time looking at and chasing opportunities for partners, a lot of things that you might not necessarily be doing at the same time. So you've got discovery calls, roadmap development, pivoting. I think of this as the glacier, right?

So you've got the lift here that I just walked through, but you also have all the opportunity costs of all the other things that you could be doing as a company. I think this gets back to Paul Graham's comment about how, "The default answer is no," and I think that's because there's so many other things that you as a small team need to spend your time on and focus on, that it's important to really name them and understand what they are.

So that, if there is a partnership opportunity that does come up where the opportunity is really large, you can understand where that stands in relative to some of these other below the surface things that are going to end up taking your time and attention. So really important to think about these opportunity costs, especially if you're an early stage founder. I put this partnership evaluation up. We actually have this as a worksheet for people to be able to go through.

I've mentioned I'm happy to over this with people, once they take it down from the presentation. Feel free to drop me a note, I'll have my email here in the slides. But happy to walk through some of my experiences, especially if you're looking at partnering with organizations that I have experience partnering with. So we'll leave this as a worksheet that you all can get access to and start to fill out for yourselves just to make sure that you're prioritizing and evaluating partners in a consistent way.

Things To Do Today

So getting into some of the things to really focus on and do today, as I mentioned there's the goal. So what can you really achieve through business development, that you cannot achieve through your team today? And there's a couple of things here that you really want to look at and consider as you're starting to develop your goal. I encourage even founding teams, if you have an offsite coming up or a board meeting coming up, this might be a really great thing to have as a discussion point just to start to socialize what your ideas are and consider as a team what your potential options might be.

The second piece is doing some research. This is where you can speak to customers, you can get a sense of what are they using in addition to using your tool? Is there a stack of different services that's fairly consistent, that means that there's opportunities for other partnerships based off of what these customers are using? Look at your pipeline, understand if there's specific deals that might be blocked because you don't have a relationship with this specific company.

Then the last one, which I really like and I actually took from a co-founder that I used to work with, was, "The competitor of my competitor is my friend. The enemy of my enemy is my friend." It's people who might be competing against large organizations that are the same that you're competing against.

Are there any areas where your products can be really complementary to one another? I think that, in addition to the customers and the pipeline, is a really great way to start building out that initial list of really good prospective partners, and just having conversations and talking to a lot of folks in the space to pull out a really strong list of prospects for partnerships.

Once you've got that list, taking a look at the evaluation. So going through that prioritization exercise, one thing that I mentioned earlier too is that if you're looking at different categories of partnership, I think it's really a good exercise to bucket all of the different partners, scoring all of the partners, summing that and then looking at that, relative to other categories.

So for example, if you have different categories of integrations or partnerships you're looking at, whether there's application performance monitoring or cloud partners, et cetera, looking at that opportunity, looking at that lift in the aggregate and then weighing that against different areas to give you a sense of which direction you should go. But you can also do that if you've got a category in mind.

You can use the evaluation to stack ranks the various partners within that particular category. So I think it's really important, and then one thing that I also mention too from an evaluation and research perspective, is get a sense of what it's like to partner with some of these organizations so you can take a look. For example, if there's a listing of all these different partners, reach out to people on LinkedIn, you'll find that people are generally pretty open to sharing their experiences around what it's like to partner with organizations.

I, myself, have given a lot of advice to people around partnering with companies like AWS and Microsoft. So as you're doing your research, understand that people are generally pretty eager to chat about this stuff and share their experiences, both good or bad.

The last piece is doing outreach, so a couple of tips and tricks that I really like here. One, get involved in the ecosystem. So as I mentioned, talking to organizations that partner with similar organizations that you do, starting to be a little bit more of an active voice in the space.

The second one is I like to leverage tools like LinkedIn, of course. There's also job listings, so as you're looking at trying to figure out who at a partner might be the best person for you to reach out to, looking and going through their jobs page is a really good way to understand what's the job descriptions, where are people incentivized, and what are the things that they're specifically focused on doing, you'll also get a sense of the different partnership categories and partnership types that an organization might have.

Then the last one that I like, as a trick to figure out who to start reaching out to, is looking at press releases. So if there's an organization that you're looking at partnering with, coming through Google, the partner name and partnership and looking through the News results to understand have there been any press releases about partnerships in that same type? Have they done anything with people in our space before?

Then you also can see there's usually quotes attributed to specific people, and that gives you a really good starting point to say, "Great, I saw that this person is a Director of Product at this company that we want to partner with. They had a quote in an article about the type of partnership they did with another organization that's somewhat similar." That gives me a really good starting point in terms of reaching out and seeing if we might be able to get a conversation going.

Then the last thing I'll say is I think cold emails in the partnership world are really valuable. It's maybe a little bit different than, for example, fundraising where you need to have a lot of trust, there needs to be a lot of signal in order to get VCs really excited.

A lot of times partners, again, they might have their own goals and initiatives, and they don't have all the resources to be able to talk to eight million different companies.

I think cold emails, as long as they're well-worded, well-crafted and they're very specific, can go a really long way when it comes to building partnerships. I've seen a lot of founders spin wheels around getting warm introductions to different companies, whereas I think a very targeted, well-worded email can actually go much further when you're looking at building a partnership.

Then of course warm introductions, especially if you have an opportunity to connect with companies that are in a portfolio that you're in, organizations that have taken on funding from other investors. I think that is a really good starting point. So all four of these things I think are really important things that you can start doing today, but it really starts with the goal.

Start to set the goal, have the discussion with either your co founders, investors, as a team and just get that conversation and dialog going. It doesn't need to be a whole lot of work, but it's a really good place for you to at least get pen to paper.

Minimum Viable Partnerships

So once you've done that, again I think it's important to consider, as I talk about this idea of minimum viable partnership, so you do your outreach, you start to build this list. Assume that you'll get a fairly low hit rate, but again if you do some of these things, Mina just drop the email template into the chat, you have a well worded email that might increase your likelihood of people reaching out to you and getting connected.

Qualifying, disqualifying, understand when it's opportunity to move forward with a partner and when you might need to go back to the drawing board or go with the next partner on your list.

Then the last thing is a concept that I took from my time at Amazon, which is around this idea of a two-way door. So something is just as easy to go into as it is to come out of, and I think as you consider to invest in partnerships, know that the further that you go down the path with a specific partner, the investment continues to build over time.

So always think about what is the minimum amount that we need in order to de-risk or understand how much we can learn from this particular partnership, and do that over time so that you're fully resourcing into partnerships that are the ones that have the biggest impact, and you're avoiding going further or deeper into ones that might not have the impact or help you get closer to the goals that you set initially.

So the concept of the minimum viable partnerships is going in with that prioritization, the framework, having your goal, but then also being able to be very nimble as you start to go and reach out to some of these organizations.

Partnerships that require a huge amount of investment upfront are generally being miscommunicated, you might be working with people who aren't really the most open minded around partnership or organizations that might not be super partner friendly. I think it's important to really understand, as you're going into that room, if that's the right partner that you should be working with when you're an early stage company.

Summary and Final Thoughts

We've got a cold outreach guide, I always try to make my emails super succinct and short when I'm reaching out cold to somebody. That's something that I still do today in my role here at LaunchDarkly. I did it at Microsoft and Amazon, as well as at a startup, Cloudability, that I worked at.

I'm a big believer in the cold email, so that you just are really well structured when you're doing it, so I encourage people to take advantage of that. I put a list of some really good startup BD resources, articles that I've really enjoyed reading, and help me rethink the way that I look at partnerships.

Then I've got a worksheet which walks through setting the goal, as well as doing that partner prioritization. Not things that will take you hours by any stretch, but I think it's really important for founders just to have very simple resources so that you can put some ideas together, maybe sit on it for a little while.

But then if you're bringing on somebody who might be able to focus on this type of thing, give them these resources as a starting point so that they can understand where you're coming from and have a little bit of an idea of the direction that you would like it to go. So that's it from the formal presentation. I would love to open this up to any questions that people might have.


Ways to Experiment with Smaller Lifts before Investing in Larger Lifts

Yeah. I think that is a really great question and it's important to consider the resources that are available to you, not behind any gate or partner agreements or anything like that. So I think it will be a little bit self-selecting, there's a certain type of partner that might make it easier for you to be able to do that, partners that have more available APIs, maybe an open source framework. That way you'll be able to do a little bit more testing on that.

I also like to use some basic co-marketing and this is where you might want to pick a handful of those where you can work on getting the lift to be a little bit low, so instead of building out a full-fledged marketing campaign or approach, maybe you pull together a little bit of light co-marketing or marketing where the partner might not even be involved. You can use that to try and get on their radar.

I think that helps you understand a little bit more about the what and the why behind a partnership, just because you need to build that story in order to pull that marketing story together. So I think that, again, it'll be a little bit self-selecting in the sense that some partners-- I have some large organizations I'm trying to partner with that require a ton of upfront commitment and a cumbersome agreement.

I think that you'll find that those partners you can't really hack anything quickly with, but there might be a case of building a little bit of content together, getting some customer names who might be requesting that type of partnership, and then publishing something on a blog or making something available from a marketing perspective and then just seeing what the response is. Sometimes I've had partners who will reach out based off of that, or I use that as part of my cold outreach to get people interested.

Do You Build Co-Marketing into Partnership Contracts?

Yeah, a great question. Because again, some of these partnered contracts that you go into, it'll say that you can't use their logo or whatever. I've found that the light co-marketing piece is one that generally flies under the radar a little bit, and you can be a little bit more scrappy about.

I don't think you're going to get a cease-and-desist from a huge software company because you posted something about them on your blog, and what you posted about them is actually using their product in a way that might be something they're encouraging their users to do. So I think it's a great question.

In my career I've definitely been in instances where we've been out of, "Compliance," using a logo or talking about another company's product. But I think it's where you can eat a little bit of the startup humble pie and realize that you're probably not making as much noise about that type of stuff as you think are, and it does give you a little bit more credibility.

You'll find also that the partnership people that you might be trying to work with generally are not going to care as much about the marketing, PR, compliance piece. They'll just be interested in what the story is. And again, that might be self-selecting in companies that are a little bit more open and eager to partner, but a really good question.

Breadth vs Depth: Partner Portfolios and Best Practices for Self-Service Models

Yeah, it's a great question, Erin. I think the way that we've tried to solve for that is through having open source APIs that give people a place whereby they can just very quickly and easily get started building a partnership with us that's a technology partnership.

But I think that is a really great way where you can make that accessible to people, make it so that the barrier to that is fairly low, and then you can start to see what's going on in the market and how do people experiment around that. I was just talking with a group of other startup folks, and one thing I really encouraged was that you do need to lead the market a little bit.

You need to tell people, for example, some use cases for your API in that instance when you're talking about breadth, because it's not going to be obvious to everybody what they can really do with your product. But if you start to put out some ideas then you can have this be something that technical people might spend some time doing a hackathon around to come up with interesting potential integrations.

You can push that out on a blog, you can do a little bit of some posting on Twitter around that just to get the market to start to imagine things. You can share that and then you just see what comes back.

So I think that in generally it's about making some of this technology available, giving people the ability to access your technology and play around with it. Then also being a little bit more vocal around it through marketing or evangelism just to see what that breadth and that long tail looks like. But yeah, really great question, Erin, and I think it's something that's important to balance. Everybody wants to build big partnerships with all of the big companies, but there's a lot of opportunity in that long tail that can end up making a big impact.

Lightweight Ways for Small/Early-Stage Actors to Build Relationships with Potential Partners

Yeah. I've done a partner newsletter before. When I was at Cloudability we actually pulled it together. Maybe calling it a newsletter is generous. It was an email just giving people an update, very similar to how a founder would do an investor email. So you've got maybe a few categories that you want to keep people up-to-date on and you might do that on a quarterly basis or even just infrequently.

But I think the way to really look at it is you've got to understand that if you're not top-of-mind, you're most likely out-of-mind. And when you're not paying attention to a certain partnership, that partnership is not going to organically grow. I've found in a lot of roles I've had to come in and a basic win is just by getting a meeting cadence going and having a shared agenda, which I really encourage people to have.

But if there isn't an immediate opportunity, again, you can control that agenda through what you're reporting out to the broader market, and that can be just as simple as an email that goes out to a handful of folks that you're interested in having a conversation with. I think a partner "CRM" just keeping a list of relevant companies you've talked to and who your points of contact are is a good practice to do early for startups.

I've come into organizations where it's living in 17 peoples' email inboxes and nobody knows who talked to so and so at the other company. So if you're a really early company, I would encourage you to start to build a little bit more rigor around that because it will help you further down the line when some of these opportunities do start to mature and different opportunities start become a little bit more obvious about what you can do.

Do you Treat and Manage Partnerships in CRMs like Sales Deals?

There's a lot of new tools out there, there's partner pages, there's a handful of other ones. I would say back of the napkin-type stuff I'm always a fan of in the early days. That could be a Google Sheet with a couple of tabs of different partner categories, because again I do point to Paul Graham's guidance here which is the default answer for early stage teams, again this is pre-Series A, should be no to a lot of this partnership stuff.

It should be really more about keeping people engaged and having conversations. I think a lot of those platforms are built around co-selling, going to market, and those are things that might be step two, step three for early stage companies as they start to build out what their BD strategy is.

When to Bring Someone on Full-Time and What Partnership Roles Look Like

Great question. I think again a lot of people when they look at partnerships, especially I have seen this generalization, but for technical teams they've thought about just offloading a handful of disparate partner conversations to somebody who's a full time hire. So I think that the timing is really important to consider, in most cases being reactive around hiring people to your partnership team is the best approach.

I think proactive is, you're building a company that ingests data from 30 different providers, that's just what your product is, and that's the value that you have, is you're an aggregation tool, for example. You might want to be thinking about bringing somebody on to manage those integrations and manage those partnerships, earlier than, for example, a company that the partnership opportunity or product integration opportunity might be a little bit lower in the early days.

So I think that's a really valuable way to think about it, is it something that you need to be proactive because of the nature of your business model? Or a little bit more reactive? What's going to be the total volume that you're expecting here?

The next piece speaking to some of your questions around responsibilities, qualities, I think that you can look at developing the pipeline, keeping people engaged. So going back to the question around making sure that people understand what you're up to, how do you keep people warm, if that's becoming more than a 10% or 15% of a founder's job, then I think it's important to start to think about offloading some of that.

But again, you can automate a lot of that stuff pretty easily. Management of existing partnerships, management of stakeholders, all of that stuff is something that's really good to have a single-threaded owner on.

The last piece of your question, getting to, what's the type of profile that somebody could have in order to be a successful partnership person, I go back to a couple of these bullet points. But primarily being relationship-driven, I think this is something that people have really emphasized, is that it's somebody who is able to work with other people, who's comfortable being able to speak publicly, who's able to really understand the relationship management component because that is something that is really, I think, the alpha in having a good BD team.

I've worked with some organizations where the people that are in partnership roles are not really people that you want to pass the eight hours in an airport test with. You wonder like, "Is that because they don't really want to partner with people? Is it because of the way they've structured their organization?" I think just having people that can be really graceful to work with and really relationship-driven is important.

Then the second piece is people who are cross-functional and just have a capacity to handle a lot of different things going on across the company at once, because a lot of partnerships are going to take product, sales and marketing. So you want somebody who can not only manage those external relationships, but manage the internal ones as well. I think those are the really important pieces of being able to find somebody.

I have found that those can come from sales, they can come from engineering. I'm bringing somebody onto my team from our engineering organization here at LaunchDarkly. Really just the traits here are the important pieces, but they don't necessarily need to come from any specific part of an organization. There are some things that definitely do help though.

Excellent. This is a great slide and this is included in the deck when we put this up on the library. All right, folks. I think that that's all the questions from the audience. Doug, if you want to offer your contact information, how can folks get in touch with you if they have additional questions?

Yeah. There you go. You can find me, there's my Gmail, DougWGould@Gmail.com. Then my Twitter, you can tweet at me or just send me a DM, either way I'm happy to field any questions. I did mention if people want to go through some of those exercises, founders want to do some of those workshops or worksheets, I'm happy to provide feedback async over email and just give people some experience. Especially if you're looking at partnering with AWS, Microsoft, some of these organizations that I've gotten a lot of time with, I'm happy to share some of my notes on.