If it’s going to survive, a startup needs to grow.
In my experience, strategic partnerships are the best shortcut to the kind of explosive growth a new business needs, to get going. Case in point: When our startup, CrayPay, aligned with key influencers in vertical markets, we gained 15,000 new users for our app in only four days.
Of course it’s important never to chase a strategic partnership if the end goal is only about money. That kind of thinking gives one partner an upper hand that can limit mutual opportunity in the long run.
Partnership wins and warnings
Establishing a productive partnership that takes on some of the workload can give startups much-needed flexibility to explore additional growth without the opportunity costs that come with being a smaller operation. Below are the lessons I learned about how to make a strategic partnership work before, during and after its initiation:
1. Imagine the past obvious
To succeed, a partnership must be grounded in strategy and enlivened with imagination. In other words, don’t limit the scope to obvious partners. Some of the most successful partnerships start outside the box.
2. Get beyond ”CEO to CEO”
It’s never a good idea to announce a partnership negotiated between leaders and expect the two teams to seamlessly integrate to execute the vision. Strategic partnerships may begin and end with each company’s senior leaders, but engaging the entire team is vital for success.
3. Stay true to the product and team
Never chase a strategic partnership if its value is only about money. That gives one partner an upper hand that can limit mutual opportunity in the long run. Instead, focus on maintaining authenticity and finding the right fit. If a partner asks for terms that don’t align with the company’s values, brand or products, walk away.
4. Scout ahead for weaknesses
The rapid growth that came from my company’s early partnerships was a real-time stress test of both technology and product. In our case, the growth exposed a few holes.
5. Avoid the blame game
As they say, success has many partners, but failure is an orphan. If a strategic partnership doesn’t go as planned, it’s usually not the end of the world. Resist the urge to respond emotionally. Avoid finger-pointing or creating false narratives to save face. Instead, focus on the bigger picture by remembering that every relationship builds on another. The lessons from an undesirable outcome pave the way for better and stronger strategic partnerships down the road.