We sat down with Dropbox's Business Development Executive, Abhishek Lahoti, to discuss why Partnerships are crucial to the tech industry and how to best manage them.
Abhishek, thank you so much for finding time. You have been working in the tech-industry for a while, Why do you think companies use partnerships today? Why do you think it is important, if it is important for you?
I think in the industry that we're in right now and the time we live in, there's no such thing as a successful isolated piece of software or technology. Everything we do has to interact with another piece of software at some point in time, because we have so many apps that we're also screening. When I look at partnerships I am looking from the perspective of "How can I make a user trying to achieve a task of some sort, if it's work or it's pleasure or whatever it is, in a more streamlined fashion?" Partnerships are very important, because what they do is they allow us to sort of jump over the hedge to our neighbor and say "let's create this little connection that lets our customers fly between our products really quickly". And without that partnership in those closed systems, you have the most frustration or the challenger softwares, other companies and people who are breaking out. You see this in places like banking, where challenger banks are now a new thing, because old banks never made partnerships. As a result, companies like Dropbox, like Slack or Zoom, like Google, do a lot just to become really really partner oriented.
Brilliant. How do you define partnerships?
It can take a lot of forms. We have various forms of partnership in Dropbox. To start with, there's channel partnerships, where people sell products themselves. There's technology partnerships, which I work on. And technology partnerships are the ones where we align our products together. There can be money changing hands and that doesn't mean it has to be. But it's more that our users will get the benefit of seeing our application or our software or our APIs and vice versa in other touch points. There are the big ones that we've announced, like Slack, as I mentioned, to interact with Dropbox or interact with Slack in our services.
I assume that you work with many partners, right? What’s your framework to engage and evaluate partners? How do you do it? I’m sure it’s not a simple process, but...
Sure. I specifically look at Partners of a certain ilk, so that's the first thing we look for. But in an engineering sense, I'm looking for Partners who are creating some sort of benefit in the workplace. It is very important for the Technology Partnerships that I’m in. Whenever I evaluate partners, it's looking at it from "How are we taking what is a tricky flow concept that's not easy for a user, and how we're making it better?" If you’re a company with a partner that also does a lot of cloud storage, I won't see a lot of value of us replicating information, because that ultimately actually adds more work. Because now we have information stored in two places, rather than one. However, if a customer says: “My finance team sits in Paychex constantly. Can you please integrate to them?” That provides me with an idea that says, okay, finance person has to go from Paychex to Dropbox, switch windows, break their concentration, find a new location, find information, switch back windows, and therefore you've lost 45 seconds, 30 seconds of productivity. And the flow, most importantly, in that momentum that you had before. My endeavor is to keep all that stuff together, because incrementally over a year, that's a lot of savings of a lot of peoples’ times.
You also have been working in business development - What is your advice for other companies who engage in partnerships? Not necessarily in the software industry, but in other industries too? What do you think is important to keep in mind while using this business model?
I treat a partnership a little bit like I would treat a customer. In the sense that I would never look at a partner as someone who's necessarily on the same equal level as me in terms of “Oh, we just need to talk more casually.” I try to treat them like customers, because the whiteboard approach of customer treatment is the way that Partners benefit most from each other. It's allowing the person who’s your counterpart to feel as though there's a lot of effort and energy being put into this partnership, which often times there is. We sort of forget in our process that this is somebody we want to make sure is wanting to gain and be beneficial. Ultimately, a good partner is one that helps you become successful in your company, as well as them successful in their company and so that relationship is very important. Working closely together, having good rapport, meeting up whenever you can meet up for coffee or whatever, discussing new features, talking about what other projects you can do together - that's really important. And often times in the partnerships world in business development, we take for granted when we went through a great, huge cycle of paperwork and contract signings and then we launch something really amazing in a couple of months and then we forget to talk to each other for a year, which is never helpful.
Right. My last question is – there are two different approaches you can go qualitative or quantitative. When it comes to partnership, would you advise to select one or two partners who are big and high-touch, or select multiple? How do you think about this?
That’s probably the million-dollar question. I don’t think there's the perfect answer, because in spaces like ours, where our reach is still pretty high, numerous partners help more of our customers to be successful. We just want to make our customers feel connected and successful because that indication allows them to be better at Dropbox. If it's a smaller company, then potentially it could be that your reach has increased by tens of partners, but you’ve lowered the quality. So the integration of your product is not viewed as particularly sound at that point, so perhaps it's more qualitative at that point. I personally like to opt for a bit of both – finding the top five-ish partners in any space that I’m in, and then really aggressively evaluating partners after that. Saying, "are they ready to be a partner of Dropbox now?”
Abhishek, thank you so much for your insights.