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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 3, Episode 3

3 Things to do When Building a Partner Program at a Startup

Show Synopsis

For this episode, host Tori Barlow is joined by Dylan ‘Dyls’ Fernandez, Partnerships Coordinator at Findr. The two are tackling building a partner program at a startup; where to begin and how to set yourself up for success. Tune in to hear their takeaways and to-do’s!


  • How and why Findr was founded
  • What three things you should think about when building a program at a startup
  • What the process of deciding what industries to target looks like 

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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 to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Dylan. Or is your LinkedIn, says Dills Fernandez. Partnerships Coordinator and Founder. Welcome. I was going to call you Dills from now on. Welcome.

Dylan Fernandez: I like it. Thanks for having me, Tory. Yeah, no, please do. Many people just prefer to say dills. It stuck for me for a while. But yes, I’m glad to be here on podcast with you.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, we’re pumped. And you’ve been up to a lot. You started the partnership career at an e-commerce agency back two years ago, partnered with SAS companies like BigCommerce and Cloud, Molly and Georgia’s Sales Fire and agencies like E One. You work with Multi Industries to help motivate and educate why Partnerships are a key staple to our modern day work. Working through Finder and the first Smart Business Partnership marketplace. And you’re so active on LinkedIn if you haven’t followed Dylan, please do because you always say very thoughtful things.

Dylan Fernandez: Thank you. Yeah, it’s. You know, we were I’ve just come off the first Friday, meet up with Partner Hacker, and we were talking about the personal branding and the kind of world of LinkedIn. Right. And I’m a I’m a big believer of offline, but I’m a big believer of online. And, you know, I welcome anyone to come and connect and, you know, slide into my DMS as they say. I’m always willing to help talk. And, you know, right. The great thing about it is that we have that opportunity through online to learn as well, which obviously we have offline. But yeah, so my, my career started an e-commerce agency doing partnerships, started off with BigCommerce and kind of grew the partnership into other SAS businesses that we were needing to bring on very much customer led partnership. I now work with Finder where the first Smart Matching business Partnership marketplace. So in a nutshell, right, the the coined term is Tinder slash Bumble for business partnerships, and I hope that kind of explains it all to you really. But yeah, really trying to be a voice in the industry to help grow partnerships for businesses from startup all the way to IPOs and PLCs, and really being able to advise and suggest on how to how to work in the world of partnerships if they’re new or looking at maybe more of the PLCs and IPOs at businesses going well, there are smaller businesses out there that would be great to partner with and could fit market gaps for you and actually really be able to be a great potential of understanding your customers more.

Tori Barlow: The Tinder and bumble of partnerships. I’m just imagining like a partner manager on a Saturday swiping right kind of partner match.

Dylan Fernandez: Yeah. With a glass of wine. Yeah. And essentially right we the whole concept of Finder is to be just like that, right? Have that ability to just take 5 minutes to go through the platform and say, oh who’s out there and who’s open for having a conversation? You know, we’re not here to be a platform that will take hours out of your day. It’s the whole concept of being time efficient and being able to essentially pop on on a Saturday night. Right? Not that I would advise anyone that worked one day, the Friday job anyway, and it’s quite tedious as it is, but essentially to be able to just quickly pop up and go, oh, okay, right. Who else is open for having a conversation? Let’s see what fruitful partnerships can arise from.

Tori Barlow: This is so crucial with how the industry is going right now to and we’re actually today talking about what do you do when you’re asked to build a partner program at a startup? I think right now not only is the industry changing tremendously, but there’s so many different market conditions going on right now that every single organization that I know of is being tasked with building a partner program. Some you have the resources to build with headcount, whatever it is, some you don’t, and that’s primarily a startup. So let’s take it back a bit for what you’ve done at Finder and just how and why was Finder founded?

Dylan Fernandez: So Finder was founded by Greg Watts, who was VP back at some great companies and partnerships, back with Visa and any other many other companies. And essentially he wanted to build Finder to make it easier, right for the start ups if we’re going down this category. Right, to be able to find those this business partners and be able to recruit partnerships from I suppose I don’t know what I’m doing level right where everyone can be on the same same level field And actually that’s where it’s great because that’s where trust is built when you’re both singing from the same hymn sheet and everyone can naturally come together and actually have a bit of a bit of a laugh and go, I don’t know what I’m doing. We don’t know what we’re doing. Essentially, let’s work together and let’s make this work. I think with small with small businesses, right, they are genuinely with headcount are using BDB professionals to look after their partnerships. And that’s very much probably the natural way to go, right, Because partnership for anything is business development at its core. Foundation. So I think really the founder is being able to put an offering out there for a being able to find and recruit partners and learn from other people, other members that are on the platform. But what we’re also doing is actually offering quite crucial material through our learning page with blogs about very industry specific ways of partnering, partnering. So whether you’re an SME be in the fintech world, whether you’re an SMB in logistics, whether you’re a startup business in retail, So really trying to take the cause of partnership but be very detailed to each industry, right? Because partnerships in each industry and each region is very different.

Tori Barlow: I think that’s the beauty. You’re hitting on a lot of things right now with Finder, that’s like partnerships in a nutshell. A lot of people don’t really know what they’re doing. A lot of people specifically at startups are wearing multiple hats and you don’t know how to do partnerships and also bring in new logo from direct. I think there’s just a lot going on. So yeah, having that community of, Hey, we’re all in this together on Finder, let’s do it as a team is the right way to look at it. And then speaking of wearing multiple hats, there are so many different places you can start at when you’re building a program at a startup, you know, how do you even begin with nailing down industries to target support, that sort of thing?

Dylan Fernandez: So I think right as a startup, right, most startup founders would have done a business plan. And I think essentially that’s probably the best way to start is is your research and creating a partnership program plan. And you know, there’s some great content out there partner nomics great for partnership training platform there. So really my advice is to connect, reach out, speak to others, and you know, wherever you are from just a company founder or you have more of a business development background than to to really look at just learning. And I think, you know, there are so many communities out there now from partnership leaders to partner hacker that we’re all here to help and support. And that’s the great thing about partnerships is no one’s going in on their own. We we’re all here to support because essentially, if we’re helping your business succeed, we’re helping our business succeed, or maybe even in the wider picture, our industry to succeed, which therefore would mean obviously more business for your business, right?

Tori Barlow: You’ve done this before and you’re in the space so much. So what are some like red flag mistakes people are making today that you’re seeing?

Dylan Fernandez: So from so if I start from the small business side and startups, I think partnerships are being seen as a sales opportunity and okay, that is but a sale is a single transaction, you know, not a ongoing long term partner relationship. So a lot of the things that I’m seeing at the moment is, yes, I’d love to be your payroll partnership partner and provide our payroll service to you, which is okay. Is is a level. But that’s really kind of one way of looking at it. We’re naturally partnerships is really more of a relationship to be two ways, not just one way. And really it’s people are entering partnerships wrongly I believe maybe at more of a. Start up SMB level because I’m not quite understanding. The great thing about this though, right, is we’ve got a learn from our mistakes, which we should all be doing in business. And the positive to it is that you are going to learn what businesses you should be partnering with. So as always, that negative to to a positive to a negative. Also, I suppose it’s okay. You’ve got a partner program now. I suppose my biggest issue I’m seeing is nurturing. Nurturing of partners. It’s all great bringing on partners, but, you know, it’s like real life, right? If you get married, that’s not just it. You’ve still got to work at it. So. And it’s just like that with our our business partnerships. Continue to have contact, continue to be transparent, continue to meet up, you know, whether that’s virtually or in person if you’re able to. And I think. Sometimes people are forgetting that really our personal personal partnerships aren’t much different to our professional partnerships. And if we use our same values for personal partnership, they would be transferable into a professional.

Tori Barlow: You’re right. I always saying it takes two to tango for partnerships and you can’t just send a contract over to a partner, have them sign it and expect all these leads to come flowing in. You also have to realize that partner experience means a lot. Are you constantly sending them content or are you updating them, having beers with them? And you also have to know that that partner is probably also looking at your competitors to potentially partner as well. And if your competitors deliver a better partner experience than your sole. So yeah, it all comes back to that. And do you have any tips for folks to keep up with engaging and and doing nurturing?

Dylan Fernandez: So yeah, I think cubicles are great. Now sometimes that’s it’s more it’s difficult to maybe, do, you know, a monthly meeting review with your partners, but a start up, I would say that’s probably more possible, right. You know, if you put the work in at the start, then hopefully if you’re doing that right in the long term, it will be easier because you built your foundations of trust, transparency and understanding each other. So I would say don’t go into a partnership going or only speak every quarter. Try and be as open minded. And if you’ve got that spare 5 minutes and the old partners on LinkedIn, drop them a message, go, Hey, how’s it going on your side? Is there anything I can do to help? I think one great way of doing it, you know, I’ve become friends with some of my old partner managers from BigCommerce and Cloud Econ one, etc. You know, we still speak now daily, so, you know, it helps you professionally as well as personally.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. No, I think that that makes a lot of sense. And being at a startup, creating a partner program, there’s so many different moving parts and expectations you have to start with leadership by and whatever it is. What are, I guess three things that someone listening can walk away with. If they’re building a program that you would recommend.

Dylan Fernandez: I’d recommend market research. And the best way to do your market research is looking at your competitors, looking at their current partners, and understanding and reading how how they are doing it and put your own twist on it, right? Everything that works in the world as we see it today is usually always the foundation of the same thing. It’s just putting your own twist on it, right? So essentially that that’s probably key point number one. Key point number two is be open. So one thing we do will find find out with our members is we really try to drum in to be open because it’s like you said, it takes two to tango and to two brains are better than one. So actually sometimes opening and listening to someone else’s fault will actually create more ideas and more fruitful partnership activities or co selling opportunities, co marketing opportunities than just thinking of yourself. So definitely stay open, stay open minded. And thirdly, I think; Stay.  So what? I’m looking for it. Be stay active with your partners. You know, from when you’re a startup, you’ve got your handful of partners. Don’t forget about them when your you know, your revenue is now 1 million plus. I know they’re the ones that have been through it with you and will probably understand your business better than any of your partners after that. So always, you know, keep in touch and, you know, people partner with people. You know, the term generally is people buy off of people. But people partner with people. So just be personal.

Tori Barlow: I love that people partner with people. That’s so true. Look at competitors for market research. Be open with your partners and stay active. What great takeaways when building a partner program at a startup. Thank you to our guests Dills or Dillon Partnerships Coordinator at Finder. And thank you 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.