Why Early-Stage Companies Should Foster Partnerships to Encourage Growth

This is a guest post from Brian Deck, CEO and co-founder of RFI alumni company Smooth Commerce.

The importance of leveraging partnerships to build competitive advantage is now understood by both early-stage and large companies.

Over my career, I’ve placed great focus on growing various types of partnerships, be it strategic technology integrations, marketing and sales channel partnerships, and even innovation partnerships. Solutions I’ve developed have helped my Fortune 500 customers with billions of dollars in sales.

Recently, as the co-founder and CEO of Smooth Commerce, I addressed a full house at the FinTech Toronto event on the topic of partnerships. At the outset of my talk, I mentioned how amazing Toronto is for having a vibrant and diverse fintech community that seems to be focusing a great deal on collaboration in the space. My focus was on the ability for strategic partnerships to take a startup from zero to hero, or at least boost the company’s credibility. While on stage, I told stories of how partnerships with Moneris, Paypal, Visa, and Telus all contributed to Smooth Commerce’s growth.

What does a partnership entail?

Partnerships should not only matter to established companies, but startups also need to look towards partnerships to grow. At Smooth Commerce, our idea of a partnership is a relationship that goes beyond a technology integration. A true partnership offers something truly meaningful to your business. Not all partnerships are intended to achieve the same end goals; for example, there are sales channel partnerships, marketing relationships, collaborations on innovations in technology and regulations, and many others.

I see four main reasons to pursue business partnerships:

  1. Increase sales
  2. Provide credibility
  3. Extend your product offering
  4. Develop new and innovative solutions

For example, a mutually beneficial partnership worth mentioning is our collaboration with Visa. Last year, our teams worked together to bring to market a new innovation which we called “Register with Visa Checkout”. This development served both companies’ strategic interests: Visa Checkout is now positioned front and center for mobile, and we enjoyed the distinction associated with being the first Canadian integration in the Visa Developer program.

Another important partnership for our business is our relationship with Telus, who act as our sales agents across Canada through their Internet of Things Marketplace.

How do I partner with a large company?

As an early-stage company looking to partner with larger, more established “giants”, there will be many challenges, and you’ll for answers to a lot of questions:

  • How do you find synergy with a powerful company with all their size and money?
  • Why would they need us?
  • How will we fit into their strategy?
  • How do we ensure we don’t get lost in the mix or, worse, taken advantage of?

The truth: there is no silver bullet and there are no guarantees.

As with anything in life, you have to take calculated risks. If after all that hustle, you manage to close just one partnership that becomes productive, you’re still ahead.

There are things you can do now to give you the best chance of success in your partnerships venture. These strategies have come to be very effective in getting large company attention for Smooth Commerce.

Large companies have strained resources, are on the go, and can be concerned about being associated with early-stage companies, due to their failure rate. When providing guidance to early-stage companies in how to establish successful partnerships, there are five critical areas of focus:

When you’re out there trying to get the attention of C-level folks, make sure the first thing you do is establish credibility. As a pre-revenue or similar startup, you’ll need to leverage your CEO’s previous experience and the experience and prominence of your board of directors, advisors, and even investors. Bring this ammunition to the table.

Make sure you spend sufficient energy researching the company you are pursuing, because you will need to align strategies. Do everything in your power to ask relevant questions, learn key strategies of that organization, and make sure your offering ties in with theirs.

No one owes you anything, so it can be an uphill battle getting them to support a partnership until you convince them why they should. You must sell the benefit. Don’t assume that the organization you’re pursuing will clearly see the pros of partnering from the get-go.

Throughout, your startup has to stay consistent in delivering on promised milestones. Big companies will be looking for your strategy, your approach, and your overall philosophy. Demonstrating that you deliver on what you say you will is critical to earning respect.

Lastly, you will need to commit and invest. Commit to growing the relationship for the benefit of both parties and invest the time and energy into getting the outcomes you both want.

By employing these strategies, with great perseverance and a dash of patience, you’ll be in the best position to strike effective partnerships that will help take your startup to the next level.

Smooth Commerce is a fully integrated technology platform designed to deepen the connection between retail merchants and their customers.