ILLUSTRATIONS BY ESTHER AARTS
Entrepreneurship can feel like a lonely journey, but it’s safe to say no one gets where they want by going it alone. Whether you’re charting unexplored territory, mapping your own path, or following your internal compass, it helps to have a trusted partner (or several) riding by your side.
Relationships with suppliers, manufacturers, logistics services providers, and other third-party partners can have an outsize impact on the trajectory of your business. And there’s much to consider: Can your technology partner boost your efficiency enough to merit its cost? Can your 3PL keep your supply chain moving, even through unforeseen challenges? Can your vendor give you the best deal on raw materials, in exchange for your insights into customer behavior? Can your manufacturer handle your order capacity as your business booms?
Simply put, you want partners that will go the extra mile for you–like Inc.’s Power Partner Award honorees. Our inaugural 2022 list of 252 B2B companies featured standouts such as Pod People, a creative studio that counts Netflix and HBO among its clients, and MarketSmiths, a copywriting agency trusted by LinkedIn, Pfizer, and MetLife. It’s partners like these–quoted in the pages that follow–that can help lighten your load and get you to where you want to go, faster. They might even point you toward a few unexpected shortcuts. Just take it from the following entrepreneurs, who have forged top-quality partnerships themselves.
FORGING NEW PARTNERSHIPS
When you’re searching for a partner, not just any firm will do. Here are some steps for finding the right one–and starting off on the right foot.
Angela Benton Founder
“There is power in sharing success. If somebody else has one piece of your business kind of figured out, maybe there’s a way for you to collaborate that’s noncompetitive.”
Benton, who founded her Miami-based data company, Streamlytics, in 2018, landed on Inc.’s Female Founders list in 2020.
Bill Austin President and CEO
BILL AUSTIN & ASSOCIATES
“I like to have all of the goals and expectations of the relationship put into writing up front so everything is clear. Verbal communication can often be disputed or misconstrued later on.”
Columbus, Indiana-based information engineering firm Bill Austin & Associates is a four-time Inc. 5000 honoree.
Rachael King Founder and CEO
“Establish the preferred communication channels, the main point of contact for both sides, and, most important, the agreed-upon goals, scope of work, and expectations for the impact of a project.”
New York City-based content and marketing studio Pod People is a 2022 Inc. Power Partner.
Heidi Zak Co-founder and CEO
“As you consider potential partnerships, ask: Are we committed to solving the same problems? Do our brand identities fit?”
San Francisco-based intimates brand ThirdLove has secured over $68 million in funding.
Katharine Lau Co-founder and CEO
“Spend time building your relationship with a potential partner and vetting the person on the other side. Treat it like dating–you don’t get married after a first date. Spend time getting to know each other and understanding each other’s values.”
Lau, who founded her New York City-based storage company in 2020, made Inc.’s Female Founders list in 2022.
Kristi Piehl Founder and CEO
“Stay abreast of what’s happening in your industry so you can quickly identify new partnership opportunities. As soon as you get an idea, follow that gut instinct and reach out. I’ve been doing this for years and it has yielded some of the best partnerships we have.”
Minnetonka, Minnesota- based PR firm Media Minefield has landed on the Inc. 5000 list three times.
Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO
“The relationship has to work, and there has to be trust at all levels. My advice is to build it first through networking, and then find some common values and passion, before assuming that money and experience will solve all potential partner differences.”
Prescott, Arizona-based Zwilling has more than 30 years of management experience and has authored three books on entrepreneurship.
MAKING THEM WORK
In life, love, and business, all relationships take effort. These are the keys for maintaining healthy partnerships.
Barbara Corcoran Founder
THE CORCORAN GROUP
“In most cases, the partnership involves two completely separate personalities, to go along with the opposite abilities. You would think something like that would be a recipe for disaster, but it’s quite the opposite.”
Corcoran led her New York City-based real estate company for 28 years before selling it for $66 million in 2001.
Donie Yamamoto Founder
VITAL PET LIFE
“I view external partners as an extension of my own business. Our whys must align and lead to mutual satisfaction. This means truly understanding each other’s motivations to create an environment in which we both have a clear understanding of the potential value we can gain from the partnership. An imbalanced partnership is a ticking time bomb.”
Los Angeles-based pet wellness brand Vital Pet Life has landed on the Inc. 5000 in 2021 and 2022.
Nathan Kondamuri Co-founder and co-CEO
“When you’re open, transparent, respectful, and forthcoming with vendors, you can build good relationships. We go a step further by helping our vendors make their own processes more efficient. That allows them to reduce their costs, which ultimately reduces our costs.”
Thanks to strategic partnerships, New York City-based Pair Eyewear has kept the price of its glasses stable since its 2017 launch.
Jose Herrera Co-founder and CEO
“We have dedicated Slack channels for all our clients. That’s how we can provide constant feedback to them, and how they can tell us what’s going on on their side.”
New York City-based customer service outsourcing company Horatio is a 2022 Inc. Power Partner.
Chip Massey Co-founder
“Connecting emotion to a situation is a shortcut to establishing a rapport and a bond. If I can understand you, and empathize with you without judgment, then I am much better at being able to relate to and help you.”
New York City-based Massey is a former FBI negotiator turned communications training professional.
Pinky Cole Founder
“The people I do business with have to have the same ethos and the same ideals. They don’t have to be vegan, but they do need to believe in the mission.”
Atlanta-based vegan chef and restaurateur Cole was a 2022 Inc. Female Founder.
Maria Haggerty Founder
“The foundation for all successful exchanges is good communication. Make sure your vendors understand your situation and how you are trying to address it. Throughout your exchanges, you may not have the answer to a question at your fingertips, but being attentive and responsive in the meantime can greatly strengthen your rapport and nurture your working relationships as you work toward closing those loops.”
Fulfillment and logistics services provider Dotcom Distribution operates a 400,000-square-foot fulfillment facility in Edison, New Jersey.
When your paths diverge, knowing how to find the middle ground with partners is essential.
Stacey Abrams Founder
INSOMNIA CONSULTING, NOURISH, NOW
“When you work closely with others–when your livelihood depends on someone else–there is going to be tension. There is going to be worry. But what there can’t be is doubt about integrity. You get beyond that by setting it down on paper.”
Georgia-based entrepreneur and voting-rights activist Abrams recently joined the nonprofit Rewiring America as senior counsel.
Telsha Anderson Owner and buyer
“Be transparent about what you can and cannot do. I wish I had known to do that when I was first starting out; I agreed to everything. But now I focus on what works for me.”
New York City-based fashion boutique T.A. carries inventory from more than 50 independent designers.
Frank Yu Founder and CEO
“Being able to say no sometimes is crucial to having a successful partnership.”
New York City-based diaper brand Coterie is a 2022 Inc. Best in Business honoree.
Jean Tang Founder and chief growth officer
“When negotiating, listen intuitively–both for what’s said and what’s not said.”
New York City-based copywriting firm MarketSmiths is a 2022 Inc. Power Partner.
Mallu Huralikoppi Founder and CEO
“The purpose of giving negative feedback is not to inform someone they are doing an unsatisfactory job, but to devise a plan to help them achieve their goals. You are their friend, not their foe. You want them to succeed, not fail.”
Atlanta-based manufacturing firm PrintForm has made the Inc. 5000 in 2021 and 2022.
Stephanie Summerson Hall Founder and CEO
ESTELLE COLORED GLASS
“Part of the chess game is stating what is ideal for you, but knowing that you’ll meet somewhere in the middle, as you’ll likely get a counteroffer.”
Holly Hill, South Carolina-based glassware brand Estelle Colored Glass has retail partnerships with West Elm, Saks Fifth Avenue, and others.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford Co-founder and CEO
“When you’re just starting to work with a vendor or supplier, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room to negotiate. But after your first few orders, you can push for more. That’s when you can say, ‘I’m buying a few hundred- thousand dollars’ worth of this material from you each year. We want a better deal on the price per pound.’ ”
New York City-based wellness brand Golde recently started a retail partnership with beauty retailer Ulta.
POWER IN PARTNERS: BY THE NUMBERS
94% of tech executives see innovation partnerships as a necessary strategy for growth. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
38% of managers say a lack of communication and trust is the biggest reason for a partnership to fail. (Source: McKinsey)
49% of organizations attribute more than a quarter of their revenue to partners. (Source: HubSpot)
Wait! Don’t forget to ask the customer
So what are you doing to get a grasp of the customers experience? I’m not talking about the customers who already love you, I’m talking about Mr. and Mrs. Regular Customer. Want to know what they’re thinking or how their experience was? We have 2.2 million mystery shoppers in our database that can give you actionable feedback. Give us a call, we’re here to help.
BY INC STAFF AND CARL PHILLIPS