Guy Kawasaki Is Wrong, Partnerships Are The Shit!

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Guy Kawasaki has nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers, several best-selling books, and is regularly looked upon as one of the brightest minds in the business world. He’s also straight up wrong. Maybe even short-sighted. See what he told a group of startup peeps in a 2013 talk at UC Berkeley (skip to 15:23 and watch for about 60 seconds).

You can see my comment as the first one under this video on YouTube:

As much as I enjoy Guy’s expertise and his overall approach, I have to aggressively argue the “partnership = bullshit” point. He uses “sales is the only thing that matters” as fuel for his anti-partnership rant, but any good partnership is built on the very foundation of increasing sales/acquisition. Perhaps he meant “partnerships that aren’t measured by impact on sales are a waste of time”?


Another commenter agreed, noting that Guy’s “point should be to redefine ‘partnerships’ as ‘distribution deals’, not to tell entrepreneurs to avoid partnering with established players in the market.

C’mon, Guy! Blanket statements – like “partnering is bullshit” – don’t offer valuable insight for the startup community, certainly not in this context. He doesn’t even bother to connect the dots and provide valid reasoning for why he is so staunchly anti-partnerships. As someone who spent ten years in the corporate partnership game and is now using that experience to help startups get their biz dev game going strong, my panties are clearly in a bunch over this. I recently put together 11 real-life examples of pretty cool partnerships involving big and small brands and, of course, startups. Here’s the deck, which you can download for free on Slideshare:

11 Killer Strategic Partnership Examples from Disruptive Dave

Now, here’s my biggest beef with Guy’s rant: He doesn’t even care to define what the goals of a partnership could/should be (outside of “to compensate for their weaknesses“). What he does do – several times, mind you – is call out the need for a focus on sales for startups, and seemingly does this to argue against partnerships (again, no dots are connected so I’m making educated assumptions here). WTF? It seems to me that he is using the worst partnership cases as reasoning for his hating. “Two organizations try to compensate for their weaknesses by partnering with another. 2 + 2 will equal 3 in this case. Partnerships mean nothing.” Well of course any partnership that is forged out of pure desperation on both sides will fail to be successful. Guess what? A poorly planned and maintained AdWords campaign will not yield good results either. So, is paid online marketing bullshit as well?

Let’s unpack the 11 partnership examples I referenced above a little bit. (Note: I chose these cases before I decided to address Guy’s message, so they weren’t hand picked for this post.) From where I stand, there are four broad functional areas in which these examples achieve success: PR (getting both media and consumer attention through a short-term “wow” or “cool” factor), Trial (intended to spark immediate and one-time usage / download), Acquisition (a more ongoing system of gaining new customers over time), and Brand (significant benefit in associating with a strong company/reputation). 1 Here’s how those functions look in a different breakdown: 2 And here’s what we can deduce from all these pretty little numbers: 3

So what does any of this have to do with my rebuttal to Guy? Well, according to him, all of these examples suck; none of them have value. But I’m gonna go ahead and make the assumption that the teams behind these brands had goals and KPIs in mind that guided the design of these partnerships. That’s value, folks. But what about that whole “sales is all that matters” angle? I happen to agree with Guy that fundamentally your early-stage startup should be hyper focused on sales, and that mindset should inform any partnership plans. That’s why two specific deals here really stand out to me: 4 Using the Google/Uber and WeChat/Didi Dache examples as a guide, along with my personal experiences in the field, I’ve called out three key elements of a successful sales-focused partnership. Partnership

  • Shared Audience: Seems like a no-brainer, but choosing the right partner is really the first significant move you’ll make in this process. Finding a place where your customers already hang out is wildly important. The more “natural” the involvement feels to the customer, the less behavior changes they’ll need to make to participate. Ignoring the fact that Google is an investor in Uber, I’d venture to say that Google Maps users exhibit similar traits and demographics to Uber customers.
  • Win-Win-Win: This is the antithesis of Guy’s view that partnerships are all about covering weaknesses. The ideal partnership plays to each party’s strength and adds value to the end user’s life in a quickly understandable way. WeChat and Didi Dache are both big brands that the local market is accustomed to using/seeing on a daily basis, and with this partnership, each party is deriving value without giving up much intrusion.
  • Seamless Integration: This one’s more about execution than the others. The Google Maps/Uber example is one of the best I’ve seen in a while in terms of not interrupting the existing user experience. The Uber option is displayed with the exact same design treatment as the others. And in most cases, Uber will stand out as the quickest travel choice (though it doesn’t account for time spent waiting for your vehicle to arrive).

UPDATE: Here’s a good little piece from Semil Shah on Google Maps/Uber, including a note about a perceived downside of the integration.

Now, Guy, I get that not all partnerships work like this. And yes, shit’s pretty easy when you’re Google or Uber. Partnerships can be hard – negotiations, differing points of view, what they say vs. what they mean, maintenance, unexpected behavior, etc. But that’s no reason to blanket-statement write them off with a 60-second diatribe.

What say you? Guy, you out there?!

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