Q&A with Sönke Bullerdiek, VP of Strategic Partnerships and Corporate Development at EyeEm
#Topic: How To Build Strategic Platform Partnerships with Tech Giants (Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook)
EyeEm is a photo marketplace that connects Brands and Creatives
What Skills Do You Need?
- Technical and Product Background helps a lot to maximise touch points and network
- Be a strong networker but focus on the right connections)
- Be yourself (and no bullshitter)
- Be honest about your products and strategy
Firstly, never confuse business development and sales. It’s about long term development and strategic partnerships. Businesses mistakenly hire people with an MBA and a strong business background, but hiring from a technical background who understand the day to day work involved, is better. This is because these people can touch base better when networking with Apple or Google.
You need to be an outgoing person that can connect with people, but also learn to say no. A strong networker is able to rebuff an offer politely if he feels it isn’t the right fit for your trajectory.
Be yourself, because partnerships often last 10 years and you can make them your friends without being yourself. People appreciate honesty. With major partners, these people will never judge your product because of bad luck and something isn’t working. They will definitely judge you if, your didn’t tell them, and they helped you for the wrong purpose and found out about it later. Even if your CEO tells you not to, if it compromises the relationship, then do it, because they remember the honesty and reward that when times get tough.
How to Find the Right Contacts?
- Be at the right industry conferences (US and your local country)
- Board instructions
- Developer Evangelists or Developer relations help a lot (more than business sometimes)
Developer Relations/ Evangelists are the best to make connections with because you need someone at the headquarters. So you need to attend conferences in the US and at the headquarters.
Meet Often? How Often?
- Not too often!
- Too many emails do not help
- Yearly kick off plus quarterly updates
- Meeting if you are there anyway or have updates, otherwise calls and email updates.
You need to have a plan for updating them. What I tend to do is have a quarterly update for the major tech giants like Google at their regional offices. But if you have a special release then its best to inform them 6 weeks prior to the scheduled release dates. Less is more. Don’t shoot them with emails and crazy presentations.
- Be on time: 15 minutes early (as you need time to dial in or get the badges)
- Be structured: Share and agenda beforehand (and end the meeting if it is a little earlier)
- Stay focused: Short and crisp meetings, not a huge ppt deck
- Be visual: Show prototypes and make sketches
Meeting them for a coffee and not talking about business is way more valuable than a structured one hour meeting. You get more insights. But you need technical ability to create visuals because your team may give you a rough prototype, but it’s up to you to fill in the blanks and create a picture worth pitching.
Your technical ability allows you to fix problems with the prototype on the go, because your team is not with you when you travel. I learned computer science to understand why something works and why it doesn’t.
Also always have a the latest features in your prototype to keep you relevant. It helps a lot when your support and embrace new platforms. And with these strategic partnerships and organic growth, we have garnered 20 million users without a single dollar spent in marketing.
Key Question 1
Strategic partnerships make a large part of your growth strategy. How do you not spend money on marketing?
We have a B2B and B2C arm, and we don’t spend money on either. If you would like to do the same, its best to approach Google and Amazon to do collaborative features on your web app. For a web app, its imperative to have the right SEO. Try running some of your tools on Amazon cloud service and do a case study to share your findings online. It’s definitely harder for a web app than it is for a mobile app, but always attend the top 4 events in your industry plus local events and you’re bound to have people discuss your product and feature it.
We wanted to partner with applicant ranking systems that would rather use us than their user databases. But we’re struggling to figure out what are capabilities are in fulfilling their needs.
We had application that had an AI compile a visual identity for branding. Our partners were doubtful of its efficacy, but jumped on board eventually. My advice is to find a big tech company in your region, commit to and build a feature around their niche as a case study, even if there is no compensation. You will open yourself up to more partnerships in the future.
Key Question 2
We are a service provider. What strategic partnerships could we orchestrate?
Consider product integration partnerships with the powerhouse companies because when it comes to paying for adspaces with them, they would most likely give you better tech support and ad placement, and even get an Key Account Executive which is rare..
Key Question 3
Who are are the strategic partners we should approach and who should we stay away from?
Try local and regional partners first then work your way up. Strategic to me means, a partnership where I receive something on a product level, like an API or an additional revenue stream. When it comes to product integration, always opt to do AB Testing to prove the value of this collaboration.
Key Question 4
How closely do you work with the product team?
Well I usually act as gatekeeper for anyone approaching us with a partnership proposal, and I can float ideas in fairly easily. That being said, we have a value matrix that we follow, where strategies are ranked. However, since I liaise with all the major tech giants, I need to give direction to the tech team directly. I also connect engineers in both ends of the partnership. But your should always have a heavy influence in the road map of the product.
Key Question 5
Did you ever have partnership ideas that we rebuffed by the product team?
I did when I worked at the gaming company. I asked to place and advertising mediation layer in the game and business was for it but product was adamant we would compromise the user experience. They installed it after I had left. You need to ensure you create product cycles that work and can do this with diverse product teams.
Key Question 6
How do you brainstorm ideas for strategic partnerships? Solo or with a team?
I started alone, but we had a weekly standup and demos that we showed to the whole company. I draw from internal knowledge base and I also brainstorm with trustworthy partners.
Key Question 7
Once you’ve decided on getting a partner, how do you approach them and get them on board? Is a demo necessary?
I prepare an online demo and a mock on my own. A mock or dummy demo is more effective than any demonstration that simply crunches numbers. Also, be open to giving them you Google API to integrate. That opens a lot of doors.