Why Partnerships are (Still) the Heart of our Business

February 22nd, 2017

Jacob Smith

Jacob Smith

SVP, Engagement
Great businesses - like marriages and championship sports franchises - are built on outstanding partnerships. 

Last week, SVP of Product Aaron Welch and I headed to the West Coast for our annual “founder’s trip” - a roadshow tour of sorts that took us from Sunnyvale to San Francisco, and from Palo Alto to Portland.  We spent a whirlwind six days meeting with dozens of hardware partners, software partners, customers, potential customers, investors, journalists and prospective employees - as well as a few longtime friends.  

As I nursed a cold one on the plane flight back to Boston, I was confronted with just how much of Packet's current momentum and success stood on top of what I would describe as "partnerships."   Partnerships in the traditional sense, but also a wide variety of non-traditional ones!  Friends and allies who believe in our vision, or who see the value in saying "yes" to a meeting, an idea, or hunch. 

The Proof is in the Pudding

As I tried to shake off my icky-Nyquil-induced non-slumber on my Alaska Airlines flight and looked back on our trip, I jotted down a few examples that energized me to invest even further in this approach:

Weaveworks Wins the Day - After a week of coffees, beers, breakfast meetups, and two-hour working sessions I had a massive email backlog to claw through.  At the top of it, however, was a reminder from Anita Buehrle at Weaveworks.  Was I ready to publish the kick ass technical guide that she and her team had prepared and sent over to me a few days earlier?  Why yes!  (See: Exploring Microservices in Kubernetes with Weave Cloud on Bare Metal).   

Seriously, we all know how hard it is to get yourself motivated to write a solid piece of content.  Take that energy and multiply it when doing it for someone else’s website, using their platform.  We have always been big fans of Weave's products, testing and promoting them to our clients when we think there is a good fit.  To see this mutually-beneficial relationship grow was heartening, and had me thinking about how I could incorporate Weave Cloud into my next demo project.  Win / win for sure!  

While it takes two to tango, this kind of partnership seems to be especially understood in the world of startups.  Throughout the week we met with friends at Platform9, Portworx, Datera, Aporeto, Nexenta, Rescale and many others - all of whom came to the table looking for ways to grow through mutually beneficial partnerships. 

My Team - Every great road trip stands on the shoulders of an awesome team back at home.  I can honestly say that every road warrior should have a Golden, Damian, Felix, Jem, Paulo, Rey, Ronggur, Naji, & Edo to back him up.  

While Aaron and I ran out of batteries and in general ignored the ticket queue and JIRA boards, they moved forward an amazing amount of work while keeping the ship pointed in the right direction:

  • Golden - Handled like a zillion tickets, sniffed out platform issues, tested new features including our Custom iPXE, and wrote some killer documentation.
  • Damian - Finished another beautiful technical guide (did you catch his Bird BGP one?), organized two upcoming meetups and scoped out digs for our Spring Junto events.
  • Felix - Whipped out 15+ new / revised pages for our upcoming customer portal refresh.
  • Ronggur & Edo - Implemented a custom Swagger UI for our API docs, and improved our website caching protocols to work with a new CDN.
  • Naji - Worked with three friends he found to translate our technical docs into Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. 

This kind of team partnership is built on a special varient of trust, and it's one of the most exciting things to see flourish in our small but growing company.  

ARM - One reason for our trip was to connect in person with some of the folks at ARM and related companies whom we had worked with at length online, but never met in person.   It was great to spend time with a group of people who are climbing a pretty steep mountain (ARM in the datacenter!) and yet doing so with smarts, commitment, and ears & eyes wide open.  

As someone involved in the ARM world for about 11 months (instead of 11 years!), I was impressed and humbled by the way in which our ideas were considered.  My stereotypes of big, stodgy companies (reinforced all too often in other contexts) were blown away.

Open Source - A highlight of the trip was the chance to meet with a variety of our open source friends, including Evan from Minoca, Sami & Miska from Kontena, and Michael & Rudy from the Yocto Project.  We also met with people doing amazing things in open source at big companies: the Open Contrail team at Juniper, Elsie at Qualcomm, Larry at Cavium, and Kyle with Red Hat.  

These people innovate with the community at the center of their efforts, and in some sense none of us would be where we are at without them!

SoftBank - Last year, during our 2nd founder’s trip, we visiting a zillion VC firms in search of funding for our crazy idea of automating fundamental infrastructure.  While Sand Hill Road was not a great fit for our model, our path ultimately led us to SoftBank, which invested in our Series A last summer.  

I continue to be impressed by the vision of this huge company, but mainly by the personal partnership we've received from Andy Schwabecher, Phil Shevrin, Eric Gan, Yamasaki Tomohiko and so many others.   

Take Away

In the hustle and bustle of a fast-growing business, it’s easy to forget the importance of investing in partnerships.  It is especially easy to think that calling something a partnership does the trick - it doesn't!  For a partnership to work, you really do have to "show up."  

I think in-person is actually really important, but either way you grow partnerships (and the trust they require) over time, slowly building things up as each party adds value to the other.  

There's also another good reason to stop and think about your partnership strategy: it makes financial sense.  How else can a small, resource-hungry stratup change the world?   My former boss Philip Maneval (at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society), used to draw parallels to community organizing, asking us all to reach out and build alliances with other organizations, and to add value to our communities - making our own small venture that much more relevant and important to an increasing pool of people, companies, and nonprofits.   

I watched this approach flourish over the course of ten years, seeing how through partnership you could do amazing things with very limited resources.   Smart advice for a startup too!   

 


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