Class 13, Week 7 – Partners


Partners is the first box on the left side of the business model canvas that we consider and is starting to get a little removed from sales and marketing. I view the right side of the business model canvas as the “business” side – meaning how you’ll test demand for a potential product and then deliver that product to your customers. The left hand side of the BMC is more about product development, or the technical side of the business. I view that split as quite natural and is why many startups have both a business and product co-founder.

Partners can be hard to define, especially for startups, because it feels like the customer development process is one long slog through building partners. But even though you will be working with customers to develop your product, they are not your partner. A true partner would identify you as a partner too!

There are a variety of categories that Steve Blank identifies that a partnership can fall into:

  • Strategic alliance
  • Competition
  • Joint venture
  • Buyers
  • Suppliers
  • Licensees

I consider most of these types of partnerships product-development tools. I approach partnerships, with my marketing mind, from a customer development perspective. In marketing, a partnership can form between two companies that have a similar demographic (customer) but different products. For example, Nike sponsoring a marathon. Or a hipster coffee shop hosting a bike repair night.

In developing this kind of partner, a startup needs three skills. The first is identifying a partner who has an overlapping demographic but a different product. This is why it is so critical to have a good sense of who your actual customers are. The second is being able to figure out what need you solve for the partner. And the third is to pitch them!

In order to pitch a potential partner, you need to be able to explain what is in it for them to work with you. The teams all did a practice quick pitch and the number one improvement was to put first what is in it for the partner. The first sentence needs to be “I’m want to help you do ____”.

One of  my favorite Steve Blank terms is Earlyvangelists. That’s because early stage startups are in a fight against time to make someone care about what their doing. Partnerships aren’t that important for earlyvangelists, at least until they start getting some traction. Big companies will often need partners because it is impossible to be good at doing everything yourself.


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