Deep Dive

How to build powerful partnerships

From ReSkript
December 17, 2022

Bio

Sven Radavics is the founder and CEO of intribe, a SaaS that helps companies reduce their Customer Acquisition Costs and expand their reach.

Sven joined his first startup in 1998 and has been involved with startups ever since. Sven has held a range of roles including global sales and marketing leadership and advisory board positions. He has led global sales teams into the INC 500 twice, the second time at No.7

Sven is passionate about helping SMEs and Startups take on large corporates through partnerships and collaborations.

When not building intribe, Sven is an avid rock climber and squash player.

Intribe is known for being a partnership marketing platform. Could you please, briefly describe what it is about?

The easiest way to think about Intribe is as a Tinder, but for brand partnerships and collaborations. It's actually more like LinkedIn, but without all the spam and purely dedicated to brand partnerships and connections between brands. Intribe contains a whole range of specialized tools and ways to search for brands, so you can search for potential partners by the categories they belong to.

Let's say you're a marketing Saas company. You can search for other marketing SaaS companies, or you can search for them by their target audience. For example, let's say you're a women's surf company and want to enter the market in California or the US. You may say, show me all the brands in California that target professional women aged 25 to 45 that like water sports.  And you can also just search simply by all the brands in a location that are looking for specific types of partnerships: let's say, link exchange, a content partnership, an event partnership, or a webinar. So, in summary, with Intribe you can easily find brands actively looking for the same sorts of things your brand wants to do. 

Intribe’s tool to search for organizations

What motivated you to build it?

The reason why I decided to build Intribe is one of the most traditional reasons why startups are built: solving my own problem.  

I was running global sales for an audio Startup. The company had built the 1st Bluetooth speaker on the market for people that cared about sound quality. The original Bluetooth speakers were all about portability; they were inexpensive and didn't have particularly good sound.  Ours, on the other hand, was the first to prioritize professional audio. The retail buyers were excited by it because we could demonstrate how good the product was. So it was effortless to get the product onto the shelves, but it was pretty challenging to get the product moving off the shelves because people still needed to hear about it. However, the Startup founder didn't like marketing. He'd had many bad experiences with agencies and different marketing consultants, costing him a lot of money and delivering nothing. So I, as a salesperson, had all this success, but once you filled the shelves and the warehouses, if the product's not moving through, it becomes harder and harder to sell more. And so the founder and I argued a lot to the point when he turned around and said: “Well, what's the best marketing you've ever seen? You know, what's got the highest Roi?”

So I thought about it, and I thought about my earlier experiences at another Startup where we had partnered with Red Bull, Burton, and all these amazing brands that we worked with that really lifted our brand. And I suggested that, as an audio company, we could do partnership marketing, because we could partner with all sorts of things. So, for example, we could partner with car shows because our audience was middle-aged men with a disposable income who cared about their music. So we could partner with car shows, but we could also partner with yoga studios and events, farmers markets, and all sorts of other lifestyle brands. And the founder got it. And then he turned to me and said: “Off you go. Go find some partners”. And I quickly realized that I'd inherited a second full-time sales job. You know, it was very similar. I had to build a list of potential partners, sort them, filter them, ensure we were not competitors, find their target audience, and how we could work together. And that I needed to do outreach. And since this was only a few years ago, I went, well, there must be a platform for this. And so, I looked for a platform and couldn't find any. 

And so I decided to build it myself. Not immediately, though. I sat on the idea for a while, thought about it, and searched on and off until I decided to build it as a side hustle. Then, at the end of last year, I decided to go all in. The timing seemed right: Paid advertising is getting very expensive, many founders are looking for help to lower their customer acquisition costs and to find alternative go-to-market strategies.

Why is it important to partner? 

So there are several critical reasons. And depending on the business, my answers could be quite different. However, a key reason is shared among businesses, which is lowering acquisition costs.

The most important reason to partner, particularly right now as the world is facing economic headwinds, is to lower acquisition costs. Paid ads have gotten very expensive, and the returns are much lower. Roi from digital ads like Google Ads or Facebook Ads are not as good as they used to be. 

Partnership marketing is a multiplier to just about every other marketing activity you have. For example, let’s say you're one brand and organize a webinar. You either have one email list, one set of social channels, and y one story to tell, or you can pull together four other brands. And now there are five of you doing a webinar, and you've got five email lists to invite people from, and your brand is getting cross-promoted to another four email lists.

As part of advertising the webinar, you get to pitch to a much bigger audience. So you get more turning up, not just because you've got five times the email list but also because it's a more extensive webinar with more stories and more information. So it draws a lot more people. That's where I say partnerships are multipliers. 

Also, partnerships often bring in additional resources, particularly for smaller companies, such as startups and small to medium businesses. So one startup I worked at, one of the quality assurance guys was making a consumer electronics device. This QA guy was a wedding photographer on the weekends, not just a photographer, but also a videographer. He was creating these fantastic videos as a passion. So, of course, as a Startup with limited resources, he would make videos of our products and do other things beyond his QA job. And when we partnered with other companies, we would have this video resource, which was very interesting to potential partners. So by combining our resources to do some sort of campaign, we each brought these different skill sets that we didn't need to hire just for the marketing campaign. So we could create a video and cool graphic arts and T-shirts and things like that because the partners also brought in their own resources.

Also, as a solo founder, I live in my headspace an awful lot. And it gets very frustrating. I have arguments with myself just about every day of the week. And when I partner with other brands to do things, it's an opportunity for me to get out of my own headspace and bounce ideas, stimulate my creative juices, clarify an idea or get feedback.

An example of an active campaign looking for partners

Does intribe have any active partnerships?

We have many partnerships ourselves. The Intribe launch campaign kicked off in early November and is just one of them. The campaign is a six-week competition targeted at Nomad entrepreneurs. And so, the Nomad entrepreneurs need to submit a video as to why they should win. And they then need to drive up votes and traffic to get more upvotes for their video. And then the person that receives the most upvotes wins. We partnered by pulling together a prize pool from many brands. This will include six months of free accommodation provided by Draper Startup house, six months of travel and health insurance provided by Insured Nomads, a one-year membership to access growth advisors by Growth mentor, and many other great prizes by fantastic brands.  Everybody's contributing. And then, when Intribe launches, they'll all be promoting the launch campaign. So you've got, again, that multiplier effect.

So by doing a launch campaign, that is a partnership campaign. I'm hoping to demonstrate what a tiny little Startup like Intribe can deliver by partnering with a whole bunch of brands.

What are some successful partnerships that amazed you the most? 

Paperform’s email marketing E-book

One of the partnerships I like to talk about the most is a campaign from a company called Paperform.  When people talk about partnerships and cobranded partnerships, they often think of things like KFC and crocs, which are pretty crazy partnerships. And I like to talk about those too, but they're usually big brands with big budgets and big creative departments. But the power of partnerships is there for just about any size brand, as Paperform shows. 

Paperform is a great bootstrap startup built by a husband and wife team. They're like Typeform, but better. What they did was pull together an ebook campaign with many brands, bringing in all these brands that were experts in a different section of what makes up email marketing. And then, by combining that,  they could write a very high-quality ebook about email marketing. Which also got cross-promoted by all of the participating brands. It was a very successful campaign, and they ran it for quite a long time. 

KFC and Crocs 

KFC and Crocs made a very out-of-the-box partnership, and I love the video.  

You first get the artistic depiction of the KFC kitchen and something being fried. And eventually, they pull it out, and it's a pair of crocs with little chicken nuggets inside. The fun part is that they actually released these crocs with chicken nuggets on them, and people bought them. 

Shake shack & Allbirds

I particularly like partnerships that don't make a lot of sense. Those you wouldn't imagine. Most of the time, like-minded brands with similar audiences are the best type of partnership and certainly the safest. But sometimes, it's good to do something that interrupts people's thinking and doesn't make sense. 

Allbirds is maybe the world's big, 1st environmentally friendly shoe brand. And Shake Shack, an upmarket burger chain, is the perfect example of American consumerism. 

Their partnership was quite simple. Allbirds created 50 pairs of sneakers with a little shake shack logo, and people could go to one Allbirds location to get both the sneakers and a Shake Shack meal. The multiple city blocks around this location had people queuing up, and you had news helicopters looking down on it. Everybody was talking about it.  So two big brands, using only one store and creating only 50 giveaways, got this oversized word-of-mouth experience because it was so unusual. And that's one of my favorite partnership examples, just because it's different. 

You just mentioned successful and very effective partnerships. And indeed, success doesn’t depend on how similar the parties are. So what makes a partnership truly effective?

Start small

Before getting married, you will often experiment with a range of partners. Date a little bit 1st. You know, not every partnership is going to be a long-term commitment. Well, it’s the same with partnerships.  So, particularly if you're new to partnerships, start small, and see how it goes with the new brand. You could simply do a shout-out on each other's social media. You could organize a joint competition on social media or email each other's email list. This way, you have an opportunity to observe how the partner behaves. If you start small, the risk is not very high, and it will help you develop systems over time.

Be clear about what each partner wants to get from the partnership.

You don't need to write for many of these collaborations, you don't need lengthy contracts, and you don't need to involve lawyers. But be clear in an email or a document. What is the desired outcome? Who owns what? Who is responsible for just like any project in a business, you know, who owns the deliverables? What are the expectations? What are the dates? When do we need things by? Etc. So clear communication, and clear goals, will get you an effective partnership. 

Be friendly, engaged, and listen to your partners.

This also sets the scene for a good partnership. Just like with anything in life and business, if somebody comes in who is challenging to work with, that won’t work well for developing a partnership over time.

Learn from your past experiences.

At the end of the partnership activity, whether that's just a straightforward campaign or something a bit bigger, it's always good to come back and review what worked, what didn't, and what can be improved the next time. And then, take that on board. You'll be better off when you do it the next time, maybe with the same or a different partner, because you're continuously improving that process. 

What main aspects must a company consider to ensure another company will be a match?

So a lot of it comes with selecting your partners, right? Even before starting a partnership, you must ensure that you have similar target audiences. There should be a good target audience overlap. You also need to make sure that the partner can deliver. 

Using my launch campaign, the Intribe launch campaign, we were excited about bringing on a huge Startup brand with a lot to offer. But after a couple of weeks, they pulled out. And I was very thankful they could admit they would not be able to deliver in this partnership campaign. And so, I thought that was great. So being aligned by target audience and capability are two essential items to bear in mind. 

On the other hand, companies should also have a similar size. Small companies often have hopes of partnering with these big corporations. But It's much easier when two similar size organizations are working together. And particularly if you're starting, that is what I'd recommend. I would try to find a bigger partner but not too big, because the expectations can crush a smaller brand.  

And as a final point: always be clear about outcomes and expectations. 

Let’s say we have a startup that wants to partner but doesn’t know where to start. How can the company understand what kind of partnerships their business needs? What are the main steps when concluding any partnership?

The 1st step, like in many things in marketing and business, is understanding the problem you're trying to solve. 

For instance, if your problem is that you’ve got a blog with 30 posts on there but have zero domain authority, what do you need? You need backlinks, which can tell the Google algorithm there's something worth seeing on your site. So you now have the problem you need to solve. And you need to go and find some brands with a website with some traffic already and find a way to reach out to them. This step often includes cold emailing or networking events. But unfortunately, smaller brands and startups usually don't have those networks. And this is the reason Intribe exists. Cold outreach, cold email, and cold calling are challenging and time-consuming. And, usually, when you're building a business, you've got so many other problems to deal with.

And on top of that, cold outreach can be a bridge too far for some people. And so that's why you can hop on Intribe and search specifically for partners that will solve your problem. And then, once you've found a partner through cold outreach, your networking, or Intribe, you just need to come to that agreement. If they're going to link to you, what's in it for them? Because obviously, the best partnerships are some form of win-win where everybody gets something out of it. You could make a guest post or even something unrelated to the backlink. So although there needs to be something in it for everyone, it doesn't necessarily need to be the same. It can be an asynchronous value circle where everybody is getting a lift in their business, but you're solving a different problem for each other.

So, in summary:  find the problem, Identify it, find a potential solution, and find the partner. Then, be clear about the steps, who gets what, and who does what, and then conclude and review at the end.

A company profile on Intribe

What would be your advice for startups who want to start building their partnership systems? 

Don’t be scared & get started. 

So the very 1st thing is; don't be scared about it. Having a partner strategy is very good in your pitch deck as part of your Go-to-market. Start small, as it helps you to get started more quickly, and you learn something from every partnership campaign you're doing. So if you don't think you know much about partnerships, do a small one and learn, and you'll get that feedback. 

Let people know that you are open and interested in partnerships. 

I would make partnerships core to your go-to market and make that clear on your website. You should have a partner page, and it doesn't need to be a fancy partner page, but stipulate what type of partnerships you're looking for. And have a point of contact.  

Publicize the partnerships that you've done

By doing partnerships and letting people know about them, you'll often get more partnership inquiries because people will see your campaigns out in the wild. So be responsive to them and engage.

Be creative

As I said, start simple and small, but don't get locked into certain beliefs about partnerships. When you have good partners, particularly if you've developed them over time, start throwing out some crazy ideas and and experimenting with things that may not seem logical, because often you can create something that has a much bigger impact.

About ReSkript:

ReSkript is an innovative platform that has developed a socially enhanced collaborative system building a seamless experience across joint professional online cooperative work on various documents. Its proprietary platform offers a range of collaboration

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