One of the most difficult aspects of doing partnerships or business development regardless of industry or sector is clearly understanding why two parties should get “married.” In my experience building numerous JV’s/partnerships, one theme continues to resonate, and that is how do you construct a winning partnership where each side feels as if they have gotten equitable value. Oftentimes, initial discussions tend to be more tactical or acutely focused on a very specific asset that one side seeks access to, when the focus should be framing the outcome from inception. This entails being able to articulate clearly the ‘gives’ and ‘gets’ of a deal and not jumping right into the weeds. Jeff Bezos has said, at Amazon, before any work is done on a new partnership, the press release is written. This accomplishes a couple key things.
I’ve written before about the appeal of partnerships and Peloton’s recent deal with United Healthcare (UHC) is another example of why this can be extremely powerful. Beginning in September, UHC customers on employer sponsored plans will get complimentary access to Peloton’s digital subscription for one year. Afterwards, customers can continue and pay Peloton directly or simply let the subscription lapse. We’ve seen trial deals on entertainment subscription products now for a few years (think Netflix and TMobile, Verizon and Disney+, Hulu & Spotify, etc), with more likely in the pipeline. All of these services struggle with high customer acquisition costs and partnerships are an extremely effective way to grow.
A VC once told me that 50% of some of their portfolio companies’ growth is coming through partnerships. I wasn’t surprised, but I found this quite interesting, because successful structure and execution seems to be the achilles heel of many organizations.
Through the marketing lens, there’s no shortage of content and advice on how to grow your startup. The thing is, most startups look at marketing as a cost center (which it usually is) but there is white space here that is more efficient than marketing and that is through partnerships. Now, I know “partnerships” is a broad term, but let’s try and narrow it down by focusing purely on revenue generating initiatives. In my previous roles roles at Casper and Newell Brands, I oversaw numerous innovative partnerships and here are some lessons I learned as well as some thoughts on why this space continues to be undervalued.