25 May

7 Survival Rules for Startups – Brands Partnerships and Collaborations

Startups – Brands Partnerships and Collaborations = real opportunities for both

startups brands partnerships by Gabriel DOMBRI

Creating partnerships and collaborations between startups and brands or corporates seems to be a growing trend lately. Though these types of relationships are bit more complicated than the usual investments, the fact that they have entered the mainstream it’s a good thing for both sides. Many startups can have strong benefits in engaging with an established brand in many phases of their development, while many brands can use these opportunities to create strategic advantages for themselves. But all in all, the success of these partnerships and collaborations is as complicated as the success of any other significant relationship. A good preparation before entering such relationships is critical on both sides and a precise clarification on the whys and whats for each side is also highly important.

From my experience of  being very close to this area for the last year, while developing Startcelerate (where we connect high-growth startups with corporates to create innovation together), there are a few important ‘rules’ that a startup needs to consider for having better chances of creating a successful partnership with a brand. Some of them are must-haves and others are just nice-haves, but somehow important.


rule #1. Don’t get a partner you are going to hate

Rushing up to get a partner, because you believe you need one fast can be very dangerous. If you don’t really pay much attention to applying the right suitability criteria, cut corners with getting the right knowledge about your partner’s motivation and interests can result in very bad things for the partnership itself and eventually for your startup. Think of this whole partnership thing like a relationship where you have to spend a lot of time together and do stuff whose success will be highly dependent on you both having a good communication and a similar understanding of the things you build together.

To do a good preparation means at least to clarify and apply your suitability criteria for the type of partner you’re after and they understand the your possible partner’s raison d’être for entering such a partnership. For this last point, you’d need to know:

  • your partner’s motivation (is it strategic or rather purely financial?)
  • your partner’s expectations for the partnership
  • your partner’s added-value capabilities


rule #2 Agree what happens if things don’t go as planned (as they rarely do)

We all know it: things won’t go as planned. In a startup, this is so much the underlying reality that whatever we plan and agree on has to account for it. But the startup founders often bend the reality (by strongly believing in a different outcome) and project a surer future than it can actually exist. This optimism can end up in a contract and from there some stuff can be utterly screwed down the line, especially when dealing with an established brand, for which a plan means something else than for a startup.

One way to deal with this as a startup founder would be just to be dead honest and tell your partner that most likely the objectives you set up and agreed upon will not be hit. And that you both need to understand what will happen at that moment. In many situations, this plan B can actually help you overcome many difficulties in the development and management of the partnership and get you a more committed partner.

rule #3 Over-communicate with your partner

Once a startup got a partnership with a brand, in many instances the founders believe that the job is done and they just need to get back to their day to day stuff and forget about it. But unfortunately, closing a partnership or  a collaboration is just the beginning of a process of working together and keeping a constant flow of communication.

As a startup founder, you need to make sure that you get that communication with your new partner as a new process in your company and a new habit for you. Doing that will not only help you both but will also create the essential background for getting a successful partnership out of that relationship.

rule #4 Create a common timeline for deliveries

This is important especially for partnerships involving investments in services or development of products together. As timing is almost always essential for startups, an explicit agreement beforehand on the timeline for whatever you need to deliver to and receive from your corporate partner can save you from nasty headaches later.  The usual thing that happens if you don’t do it is that your partner’s delivery dates are a bit delayed from what you planned and the dependencies created between you two will create further delays and eventually some fuck-ups in shipping your stuff into the market.

rule #5 Make sure to have a direct contact and advocate at your partner’s

A partnership means a set up where two teams work together towards a common goal. Now, as a startup founder, once you got that going with a brand, it’s critical that you have a team you can work (& communicate) with on your partner’s side. Such team can be in fact one single person, as long as they are your supporter in the company and it’s their job to work at the success of the relationship. Because otherwise that partnership will give you much more than frustrations: delays, stuff blocked along the way, pressure and lots of stress.

rule #6 Plan for more time needed for decisions at your partner side (at least 30% more)

If you are a startup founder who hasn’t worked in a corporation, you may not know this: the time to take a decision in the majority of these companies is kind of slow and the process of taking a decision usually involves many meetings and too many people (all of these compared with what you’d expect). I know it’s difficult to understand it, but you just need to accept it. And work around it properly, by just putting in provisions of time in your own planning. This way, you’ll better chances of working in alignment with your corporate partner and (maybe) be both happy.

rule #7 Deliver. Deliver

What else is to be added here? – Ah, maybe one thing: if you committed to it, deliver it and everybody will be happy. Even yourself.

Which of these rule is the most important?

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Need a corporate partner? Learn how to pitch one

So, this is kind of it. But these rules don’t work without a context and the context is the process of finding, selecting, convincing and getting a corporate partner for your startup. The presentation below, delivered as a workshop at PODIM conference this year, will guide you through all that, from some strategic outlines till the survival rules for a startup – brand partnership. Take a look and I’d love you hear you thoughts on this.


Startup Pitching Workshop at Your Event
Do you organise a startup event where you have startups pitching to corporates or investors?

Get a workshop on pitching and getting corporate partners in your event. I do speaking engagements, workshops, trainings and mentorship sessions for startups and tech companies collaborating with startups anywhere in Europe.


Gabriel Dombri
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Gabriel Dombri

Entrepreneur and Digital Business Strategist with a marketing background. Currently CEO @Tapptitude, a Full-Stack Mobile Development Studio, and Founder @GROWTH MARKETING Academy, a private school of performance marketing. I am highly passionate about innovation and focused on helping smart entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

Digital Marketing Consultant with companies in the UK, US, Italy and Romania. 8+ years of hands-on experience in Digital Strategy and Online Performance Optimisation.
Gabriel Dombri
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