Wharton: Why Partners Matter for Startups

This post originally appeared in Wharton Magazine.

VerbalizeIt announced a partnership with American Airlines this month, which comes on the heels of other partnerships with Rosetta Stone, Inspirato (an American Express affiliate) and Skype (a Microsoft company). Considering that a year ago, we were a four-person company with 50 Spanish translators focused on keeping the lights on, we’ve come a long way. The natural question is how did we do it?

Truthfully, there is no magic bullet. But if you incorporate the themes below, you’ll have a much better chance of finding your startup brand alongside the brands you want.

Don’t Ignore the Little Guys

We were fortunate to go through Wharton and TechStars, both of which gave us a huge advantage out of the gate. We were able to work side by side with other startups and learn about their pain points firsthand. One example that stands out is Ubooly, the stuffed-animal company that is powered by iPhones and interacts with kids. Initially, Ubooly didn’t have translation needs. But as it grew from a locally recognized toy to a national and internationally known brand, the company encountered language barriers. VerbalizeIt proved to be a natural fit, and today our partnership has helped Ubooly reach children all over the world.

Provide Value at Every Turn

Launching partnerships with bigger companies takes time and resources. Most notably, it takes critical collaborative thinking. We never view one cobranded campaign or initiative as the totality of the partnership. We view partnerships as opportunities to repeatedly reach customers with multiple messages.

When we launched our partnership with Rosetta Stone, we simultaneously launched our #FoundinTranslation campaign. This allowed us to create awareness of the partnership and familiarize both our audience with Rosetta Stone’s language services and their audience with our crowdsourced translation platform.

Always Be Connecting “ABC”

Like us, all of our partners have clients and partners of their own. It’s been hugely valuable for us, not only to make good on all our partnerships by delivering value, but also in connecting with our partners’ partners. Think of this as the six degree of Kevin Bacon parlor game, or more formally the six degrees of separation model.

LinkedIn has been instrumental in building our partnerships and allowing us to expand our networks in a targeted fashion. Most importantly, because crowdsourcing language translation is new and talking to a live interpreter isn’t something people are accustomed to, having partners that understand our business and help us connect to new potential partners is critical.

Ryan Frankel

CEO and co-founder of VerbalizeIt

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