The Universal Truths of Building New Partnerships & Ventures – with Andrew Harrington
For businesses to scale, they must not only have a vision but also craft the right partnerships. This is where business development comes in. In this #ThoughtImports, we sit down with founder, business development leader, and creative director Andrew Harrington to break down the fundamentals of building strategic partnerships and creative ventures.
Coming from a background in building partnerships at American Express in New York and HotelTonight in San Francisco, Andrew shares insights into establishing strong partnerships, the universal truths of building new ideas and relationships, and translating this into life and ventures.
The Role of Business Development
While business development takes on various forms depending on the industry, company or team, I’ve found there to be two primary paths: sales or partnerships.
The sales route is more transactional where much of the work is front-loaded and ends or gradually declines once the sale closes and the new customer is onboarded. All business development involves some form of selling — but this form of new business places sales at its core and often employs compensation structures accordingly.
Business development professionals who focus on partnerships often lead cross-functional teams with members from creative, legal, product development, marketing and PR to build ongoing partnerships with other companies in efforts to expand their product or service to a broader customer base.
The Fundamentals & Value-Add of Strong Partnerships
At the core of all strong partnerships is the relationship built between two companies. It boils down to an individual leading the charge from each side to build alignment and effectively represent their companies in a fruitful deal. And with all good relationships, they take time to develop. It is critical to establish transparency and trust at the outset where both sides feel comfortable placing their proverbial cards on the table outlining deal terms necessary to yield a successful partnership.
Great partnerships enable both companies to expand their product or service into a domain outside of their core business and/or provide new distribution channels to reach a wider customer base. The objective is acceleration and growth. Placing a bet that the speed and size of value generated from the partnership will outpace the current growth channels. (Shopify’s Brandon Chu has a great Medium post that further outlines what makes a good partnership.)
It is critical to establish transparency and trust at the outset where both sides feel comfortable placing their proverbial cards on the table outlining deal terms necessary to yield a successful partnership.
When & How to Invest in Business Development Initiatives
Strategic partnerships require a lot of time and effort from several departments of a business for an opportunity to succeed. It’s advisable to only explore partnerships when there is a high confidence level they can be well-executed and produce great value to your business.
Like any strategic decision, when considering a partnership opportunity you must begin with the problem. For example, let’s assume customer acquisition is slowing and a new customer segment appears difficult to penetrate. You could explore a partnership opportunity with a company whose brand or product has access to your desired set of new customers.
In addition to defining your problem and a potential method to solve it — it’s also important to look inward and identify what value you can provide to partners. Is it your customers, brand, data, or distribution? A two-sided value exchange must occur in any successful partnership.
Like any strategic decision, when considering a partnership opportunity you must begin with the problem.
Translating These Practices to Build a New Creative Venture
Several months ago, I embarked on a new creative journey when I set out traveling for five months throughout Asia to meet creatives and share their stories through a documentary film. The creatives I interacted with ranged from a digital media entrepreneur in Ho Chi Minh City to a gallery curator in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to an executive chef in one of Mumbai’s coolest restaurants. Currently in post-production, this film aims to inspire audiences to embrace creativity in their lives by weaving narratives from 20 creatives who are designing modern India.
The idea of making a documentary film may seem like an unlikely diversion if one considered my previous experience. But even though I allowed my curiosity to lead me away from my comfort zone, I reduced the daunting nature of the project by approaching it as if it were a new startup venture or partnership. I established a production studio with a brand and mission that allowed me to communicate the product (film) to a group of talented and time-constrained creators in a compelling manner that secured their participation. The production of the shoot employed project management and self-taught technical skills to capture the audio and visual interactions with the artists, designers, and entrepreneurs. Once post-production is complete, the film will enter the release phase which will look similar to a product launch. Applying my previous experiences to help decode the unfamiliar elements of this project proved necessary to navigate uncharted territory.
… even though I allowed my curiosity to lead me away from my comfort zone, I reduced the daunting nature of the project by approaching it as if it were a new startup venture or partnership.
The Universal Truths of Building New Partnerships & Ventures
This filmmaking experience has affirmed my love of creating things with people that inspire me and exploring all of my creative interests even if they fall outside my domain. My favorite builders purposely expose themselves to multiple disciplines and seek new influences for inspiration.
And no matter the location or creation, I realized there are some universal truths to building something new.
Collaborate. While making this film, I interacted with some of the most talented people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. They all attributed their success to others which served as a reminder that nothing truly great can be accomplished alone. The focus on collaboration was even more pervasive within these creative communities due to the importance they placed on cultivating influences which positively impact their output.
Start small. The notion of minimum viable products, hacks and fake-it-till-you-make-its were prevalent from every creator’s story I heard and coincidentally mirrored my own no-budget filmmaking journey. Everyone I interviewed began by setting an audacious goal and took small steps that continually built into what their portfolio or enterprise is today. Jugaad was a term I learned in India which represented this practice of resourcefulness necessary to begin any new venture. As simple as it sounds, the only way to accomplish something is to start — whether drafting an email to a potential business partner or grabbing your camera and boarding the plane.
Embrace the discomfort. Put yourself out there and embrace the uncertainty. Exposure to different people and environments strengthens empathy and expands your capacity. I realized that being creative is simply the ability to connect the dots from your experiences (lived or learned) in a unique formation — so the more dots or perspectives you have to choose from the better.
More Resources & Best Practices to Build & Scale Your Venture
Building something new of your own, or looking to scale your current venture? Whether you are putting together your first pitch deck, or trying to lay the foundation for strategic partnerships The Port is here for you. To learn how The Port can support your fundraising, marketing, and scaling needs, get in touch with our team.
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