Three Reasons Everything Goes Better with Partners
Successful entrepreneurs and innovators might be strong-willed individuals with unique dreams, but they aren't do-it-yourselfers.
HBR Online July 5, 2011
Leaders might be singled out for their accomplishments, but the best of them walk hand in hand with strong partners. Even "solopreneurs," a new term for people who work alone, need a support system.
The teammates by your side are certainly important. They're part of the family. But even more important are the partners or allies not directly involved in your project or venture who help you extend your reach and get what you need to succeed — key suppliers, distributors, co-developers, independent designers, endorsers, and beyond. They are the extended family.
Reason #1: Landing the best partners first provides huge advantages. Leading players not only have good technology or capabilities; they think about allies and alliances from the beginning. Companies that have emerged as dominant in new technology industries — Apple in smartphones, Facebook in social media, eBay in online auctions, Amazon in e-commerce — acquired more and better partners earlier than the fading competition, according to preliminary findings from research I have underway with Robert Wheeler. For one thing, they saw themselves as platforms on which others could build businesses. Apple sought a big telecom partner for its smartphone and was open for business with application developers, giving Apple a head start with thousands of entrepreneurs and small businesses that made the iPhone the preferred medium for large company apps also.
Reason #2: Allies equal access. They provide credibility. They speak for you in places you can't go — maybe you're not invited, and they are. They fight for you in meetings you can't attend, accounting for why people with sponsors are more likely to succeed in large organizations. Partners and allies provide windows on new ideas and introductions to new territories, whether to customers, suppliers, or opinion leaders. Small and mid-sized enterprises that supply big companies can use those relationships to get access to distant growth markets. Sometimes the introduction is ultimately worth more than the original contract, but it couldn't have been done without the partner. For some startup companies, the right relationships are more valuable than money; while they need the money, they need the access and reach even more.
Reason #3: You can't confront evil alone. Okay, evil is a strong word, but in the case of corruption or injustice, it fits. The same principles holds for more benign barriers, such as recalcitrant establishments, stubborn bosses, or reluctant associates. There truly is strength in numbers. Lining up others who feel the same way about a barrier or an obstacle makes change more likely. Coalitions lend credibility. They provide cover for controversial decisions, so that you're not a target for retaliation, or at least not alone — a principle used in the air cover around Libya. In Nigeria recently I was asked what small and mid-sized businesses can do to behave responsibly in the face of government corruption. The answer: Companies should get together and meet with officials as a group. A multinational has decided to take the lead.
The lesson is clear for everyone, whether you're an entrepreneur, activist, or a manager in a giant company: Having the best partners is not a result of success; it is vital to success.
Think about potential partners even while the vision is taking form. Audaciously knock on doors, and act big even when small. Find initial backers and supporters who will open doors to others. But always follow the first rule of coalition building: Partners and allies must be valued, honored, appreciated, applauded, and above all, they must get something in return that enriches them, too.
Read the full article here