Aspiring entrepreneurs who came to the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW) Tuesday panel on connecting with potential business partners had the opportunity to hear from the heads of three well-known local companies. These companies have expanded well beyond this city, beyond this state, in some cases even beyond this country, due in part to the smart business relationships that were developed at different stages of enterprise growth.
365 Connect, the oldest company in the room, was represented by founder and CEO Kerry W. Kirby. Established in 2003, under Kirby’s leadership the company has become the leading Software as a Service (SaaS) company servicing businesses involved in all different aspects of the multifamily housing industry. He referred to his company as an “ecosystem platform”, meaning that it was designed with the goal of meeting the needs of all parties transacting business in this market.
The company, which Kirby joked was doing technology before it was cool, is currently in the process of expanding into international markets. How was his company able to grow and thrive, and eventually evolve to where it’s at today? Kirby emphasized the importance of knowing what your company’s core competencies are, and looking for partners to fill in the gaps. In the case of 365 Connect, this sometimes involved identifying “orphan companies” and “adopting” them. In other words, Kirby looked for companies with one amazing skill or product, but lacking the resources to successfully launch a business on their own. When he found one that was able to fill any of the existing or anticipated future gaps in 365 Connect’s platform, Kirby would bring them on.
Brent McCrossen, co-founder and CEO of music licensing platform Audiosocket similarly emphasized the importance of knowing your product. Without a comprehensive and deep understanding of the product—in its present form, as well as the improvements and additions currently in the production stage— it will be hard for the business development person or team to know where to reach out, and how to pitch a partnership that is mutually beneficial.
Dinner Lab, founded just 3 years ago, boasts an impressive list of corporate partners: MasterCard, SNL, Pandora, and a range of food and beverage companies have all been collaborators in some form. Another one is Google. Zach Kupperman, a co-founder and Chief Business Officer, explained that both luck and strategy had a role in creating the Google/Dinner Lab partnership. Looking to expand into corporate membership, Dinner Lab was reaching out to its enthusiastic members and inquiring if their employers might be interested in joining them at the table. As it happened the Google Employee Perk team—that’s correct, apparently Google has an entire team devoted to finding new treats and services for its employees—was actively looking to expand its “experience” offerings. Dinner Lab, which hosts pop-up dinner parties in interesting locations that are catered by chefs with a range of specializations and expertise, fit the bill perfectly. Kupperman’s team reached out to some satisfied diners encouraging them to reach out to the Employee Perk team, sharing their enthusiasm and recommending they give it a try. The timing won’t always work out so perfectly, but as Kupperman pointed out, positive emails from people already within an organization are always good for helping to establish credibility.
Despite the differences between the three speakers and the different stages of their respective endeavors, there were many points that all of them agreed on. The importance of networking was one such point. They stressed the importance of knowing your market, which is not something that can be done by exclusively sitting at a desk all day: strengthening your own industry knowledge is part of networking too, and it can help you shape your long-term growth plans. Targeting organizations or people that may be able to propel you forward is essential, as is actively searching for ways your existing network can help you reach them.
Panel attendees also heard all three entrepreneurs affirm the importance of a short and sweet pitch. But, they also cautioned, be practiced and comfortable going into more detail so you’re ready whenever the opportunity presents itself. Cultivate existing relationships and look for ways to make your collaborators’ lives easier they all agreed. Remember who is on the other side of the negotiation, and highlight the ways you can help them meet their goals, or even make their individual jobs easier. Ask for feedback, and take advantage of every opportunity to get their buy-in.
On a related note, the panelists all agreed that the best partnerships are ones where all the stakeholder goals are in alignment. But they cautioned against losing sight of your company’s identity in an effort to conform to the expectations of outsiders. In other words, as McCrossen summed up, it’s in your best interest to be flexible with your business partners, but to never lose sight of, or abandon, your own core values.