Challenges in making partnerships work
There are definite distinctions in the way large corporations and start-ups operate; leading to a mismatch in expectations on the two sides as both partners work out the practicalities of a partnership.
The first challenge that start-ups generally encounter in a partnership is the size and scale of a partner organization. Navigating the organizational structure, identifying the right stakeholders that would take the product to market and determining relevant use cases require patience and persistence. It is all the more true that the first success in this type of partnership would typically take a long time and contrasts with the fast-paced environment start-ups are usually used to. For example, while dealing with large accounts, we have observed cases in which their interest levels dip over time due to other priorities, leading to poor traction and lost momentum.
Secondly, start-ups expect more face time with customers than channel partners are sometimes able to offer, as it is often the quickest and most impactful way to demonstrate their value. No one else can articulate a start-up's value proposition better than a founder. Indeed, approaching this process in a sequential manner in which the service provider first sources requirements from its customers and subsequently involves start-ups if they can help address these requirements, exposes the service provider to information loss and misunderstandings and slows down the entire process. The limited exposure creates ambiguity on the start-up side as they are not able to understand the real needs or intent of the customer with respect to the bigger picture.
Lastly, another challenge, which is also fairly typical in large organizations, is the time it takes to go through the internal processes and necessary approvals for administrative, procurement and legal formalities, including partnership agreements, purchase orders, contracts, incentive structure etc.
How we work towards solving them?
In our experience, having a dedicated innovation team that can navigate the organizational structure and build a breadth of connections with business units and delivery teams is crucial to the success of the relationship between service providers and start-ups. The ability of this team to influence multiple internal stakeholders that can then evangelize start-ups' solutions on their own is very important to drive a given partnership forward and eventually achieve scale. In order to do so, we have structured our team with Alliance Managers that can anchor relationships with specific start-up partners, incubate the partnerships and guide them along the entire journey as they are able to understand both the start-ups' perspectives and corporate needs. Setting up regular touchpoints with all the relevant stakeholders has also proven to be particularly helpful for maintaining partnership momentum. Last, but not the least, we measure ourselves on outcomes for start-ups and not solely on internal successes.
In addition, one of our key partnership drivers is the Start-up Exchange program (StartEx). The idea is to put start-ups directly in front of our customers and altogether look for opportunities to co-innovate. We strongly believe that this is a critical step in establishing successful partnerships between us, our customers and the start-ups. Therefore, we have been proactively looking for opportunities to work in a tight-knit circle involving all parties simultaneously. Having a start-up founder pitch his/her solution to senior leaders of Fortune 1000 companies with our support in the room creates an impact and is the best way to demonstrate commitment and mutual trust. It is also a fantastic opportunity to understand our customers’ problems from the discussions that follow. In some cases, it has taken only about four to six weeks from the initial StartEx to a paid Proof of Concept (PoC) run within the customer’s IT environment, drastically accelerating a process that can sometimes drag on for months. We even recently completed a paid PoC with a start-up partner for a prospective customer, a clothing retailer, off the back of a StartEx curated for this client’s visit few weeks prior.