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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 3, Episode 1

Launching a Partner Program in EMEA when your Company is HQ’d in the United States

Show Synopsis

We’re back! Happy 2023, and welcome to season 3 of the Partner Channel Podcast! We’re starting the new season off welcoming guest Ken Wanless, Senior Director of EMEA Alliances and Ecosystem at Starburst. He and host Tori Barlow talk all things expansion in EMEA, specifically for organizations with their HQ in the United States. Sit in and listen to the experience Starburst had when expanding to new markets and learn how you can launch your own expansion successfully.


  • What may be some unforeseen challenges when expanding to a new market
  • What things you absolutely need when building a program outside of your HQ
  • What three things Stardust would do differently 

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The Script

Introduction: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the podcast for partnerships. In our episodes, we discuss ways to power your programs and gain actionable insights for all company sizes and partner types. We sit down with industry thought leaders to get the best tips and tricks for you, the listeners, to achieve your channel goals.

Tori Barlow: Welcome back to a brand new season of the Partner Channel podcast. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Ken Wanless, senior director and MIA Alliances and Ecosystem at Starburst. Welcome, Ken. Pumped to have you today.

Ken Wanless: Absolutely, Tori. Happy to be here and thank you very much for the recent award.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, you guys won the Allbound International Channel of the Year award. So that is you can pretty much just quit, I guess, now since you’ve won that right. If only it’s also been a really busy week for you guys. We’re recording this in the first week of December. But for servers specifically, Justin Borgman Starburst, co-founder and CEO, recently received the 2022 Entrepreneur Award as part of the Business Intelligence Group’s big award for business. Wow. He also accepted the big Data Wire Reader’s Choice award for the top three data and AI startups and best data and AI product or technology data Fabric data mesh at a US. So you guys have been up to a lot. Congratulations.

Ken Wanless: Thank you. It’s it’s definitely incredible to be part of this journey and it’s just exciting to kind of get that industry recognition and yeah, super proud to be part of the journey.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. It’s also just with our topic today and coming off of the Allbound Award of the International Channel of the year, where is where are you located and where is Starburst headquartered?

Ken Wanless: Yeah, absolutely. So typically I reside wherever my head goes to sleep, but I am based in the UK. Starburst was US HQ and then kind of expanding from there.

Tori Barlow: Okay, this flows really nicely into what I want to chat with you about today, which is I think, becoming more pronounced in the industry and that’s how do you launch a partner program successfully in EMEA or really wherever else your company is headquartered when it’s in America. So in other words, if you’re headquartered in America, how do you really start a partner program outside of the headquartered region? And that’s hard. Like you’ve experienced this, you’ve been with Starburst for over a year now, I believe, and you’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. So I guess to kick it off with let’s start a bit around Starburst Partner program and what was even the catalyst to build a partner program in India?

Ken Wanless: Definitely more ups and downs, but I think the key to success with kind of any partner program is, you know, the founders and leadership team kind of been mindful when building the company that partner is in in the DNA. I think, you know, from a European standpoint, it’s such a huge region. You know, we aren’t the United States of Europe. There’s so many different countries, languages, cultural differences, economic situations and kind of that’d be really hard to service if you’re just based in the US without kind of the local knowledge and expertise of partners.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. So if I guess if I were to think about building a partner program in different regions, is it fair to assume like you can’t treat every country the same, like you really need to get down and dirty to understand like market research, market sentiment? How do you go about that?

Ken Wanless: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, there is some different considerations to kind of think through, you know, language being the first one. Some countries do predominantly use English as the first language, but, you know, being mindful and respectful, there are some countries that where English isn’t the first language. So that’s kind of the first one. And then I think, you know, as you look at things like the economic situations, you know, some countries are suffering inflation more than others. When we first landed a few customers in Turkey with a key partner there, you know, inflation is a real challenge for them. And we kind of had to really be mindful and flexible to to work with them to be successful.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. And I guess, like if you were to look back when you first started doing this at Starburst, what were some challenges you face that you maybe didn’t think about or foresee?

Ken Wanless: Yeah, I think the biggest challenge and it’s kind of probably the best challenge that any team could have in this function was really the demand. You know, Starburst is such an innovative and non-confrontational technology. It was the first time I’ve ever kind of been part of a situation where the demand, both from the different types of partners, grew so quickly, from global systems integrators to regional partners to the HYPERSCALERS to some of our key tech vendors. Yeah, we definitely had to put the hours in the early days and continue to do so to make sure that we’re we’re supporting the partners in the right way.

Tori Barlow: Obviously that’s the dream and I would say that’s like a very nice challenge to have. And for listeners who are thinking the same thing, like what was the what were the steps in place to see that demand really shoot up and rise? Like, was there a lot of research? Partner, ICP profiling. How did you get to that large demand?

Ken Wanless: Yeah, I think sometimes sort of understanding some of those things is like building the airplane while flying, right? You’ve got to figure out and adjust accordingly. I think from a Starburst standpoint, you know, companies that are based in the US, you know, have global presence. And when they adopted Starburst, you know, you kind of go global without realizing it. And, and ultimately our customers are our partners as well. So making sure that we were kind of targeting and working with the right partners in the right regions to service our customers to ensure they were getting the right experience was kind of key. And I think, you know, having the again, partnering in the DNA, you know, triangulation is key as well. Organizations like Global Systems integrators and SES, you know, they work with other technologies and they work with Hyperscalers. And you know, Starburst doesn’t solve everything. It’s not a silver bullet. And you know, we have that strong ecosystem to ultimately drive maximum value for our customers. And it is it can be, you know, us plus a hyperscale plus another technology company that ultimately delivers that outcome. So that was kind of key to success there.

Tori Barlow: And what do you absolutely need when building a partner program outside of your HQ? Or maybe a better way to phrase that is like, what have you learned that you should like never do when taking this on either way?

Ken Wanless: Yeah, there’s a couple of different ways to answer that. I think the key of kind of why we’ve been so successful is the considerations kind of came from experience. The organization has some incredible talent and the leadership team have kind of, you know, we’ve all learned from from different areas of experience and other software companies. You know, first off, from a programmatic standpoint, I think it’s developing a program that offers mutual value to partners. I think, you know, from personal experience, I’ve seen all too often that, you know, programs are very one sided. You know, they’re very, you know, low margins or MDF where, you know, MDF is great. But, you know, some partners prefer kind of the cash referral. So I think ensuring that a partner program is created with mutual value and rewards in mind, but also flexibility and optionality, you know, there’s different routes to market and customers want to buy in different ways. So, you know, having a managed service provider program, a traditional resale program, having an OEM program, you know, really having those things to be able to have our partner service, our customers in the right way was was definitely key.

Tori Barlow: It’s interesting that you say about the customizing program based on the partner, especially when you’re getting started. I think that rings true with any partner type because if you’re asked to go build a partner program can and you bring in all these partners and then you throw a contract at every single one of them, that’s the same contract. I have a feeling that’s not going to go over well. So it sounds like, especially in the beginning phases, like really making an effort to make those partners feel heard and understood goes a long way.

Ken Wanless: Yeah, I think one of the one of the most successful times for me was that the leadership team really wanted to hear from the partners early. You know, we hosted our first partner advisory council not too long ago and all of the executive team wanted to participate. And it was great for them to kind of hear from some key partners across those different types, you know, what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve. And the leadership really kind of takes that on board. So, yeah, I mean, you’ve got to have buy in from the leadership team in the business for for these things to work in the partnering world.

Tori Barlow: That’s really interesting. I’ve heard of cabs or customer advisory boards. I haven’t heard of a PAC or a partner advisory board, I guess, or maybe a PAB, but.

Ken Wanless: We called it a PAC Partner Advisory Council. I mean, I’m not going to lie. It’s a pretty heart wrenching time when you invest money in time to to create an event. All the all the leadership team are going to be present. And sort of the countdown to that day is quite daunting when you kind of have nightmares around your executive team or sitting there and no partner show up. But thankfully they did. And it was a very successful event and outcomes for sure.

Tori Barlow: That’s great. And then, you know, I guess to tie it all up, if you had to do a handful of things, let’s call it three things differently, starting over, what would those three things be?

Ken Wanless: I think really the key thing is kind of around transparency on content and enablement. I think having more content in an easier way to consume and scale for partners is definitely key. You know, we do have a partner portal now with a lot of consumable content and education and kind of reward and certification program associated. I definitely think that’s something that kind of would have helped us accelerate even quicker on our journey for partners.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. You guys use Allbound, so that’s super helpful. I think it goes a long way, especially with the scalability aspect of it. But like going back to your point around making sure partners feel heard and understood, like I think there’s ways you can scale and do like mass content, like you’re saying, but there is still that human element of making sure that if there needs to be custom content or like top tier partners, like you still have the capability to do that as well.

Ken Wanless: Yeah, absolutely. And fortunately we’ve got great teams that are happy to lean in and sort of create that, whether it’s bespoke content or, you know, figure out flexible ways. I think most organizations, you know, when they first start out, they run, you know, they’ll run a boot camp, which can be a challenge because, you know, you’re trying to take paid resources out of partners for a period of time. And sometimes these, you know, it can be days or perhaps a week to really help them master master a technology. So having that content that’s easy to consume for the beginning to kind of accelerate their enablement. And then also having kind of that human option available is just, you know, a foundation for success.

Tori Barlow: Mass content consumption, understanding the markets that you’re looking to partner with, and then being experts in all types of partner types when you launch this. This is how Starburst has become so successful with international channel programs. Thank you to our guests. Ken, senior Director, Media alliances and Ecosystem at Starburst. And thanks to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast.

Outro: That’s all for this episode. We’d like to thank you for taking the time to listen in. If you like what you heard, we’d love the chance to take the talk to LinkedIn and continue the conversation. If you want to stay up to date with all of our new episodes, subscribe to our series wherever you like to listen to podcasts.