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How to Partner with Marketplaces & Platforms w/ Bryan Williams, frm Director of Partnerships @Xero

🎬 E39. I’m excited to share our deep dive with Bryan Williams on how to partner with SaaS #marketplace and platforms.

Bryan has incredible experience of leading Partnerships - #Ecosystem & Apps in Xero and later founding a partnership consulting Hockey Stick Advisory.

🚀 During his 5+ years in Xero, its ecosystem exploded to 1000+ apps, while Bryan had an opportunity to speak with thousands of CEO on partnerships.

In our conversation he shared his practical advice and best partnership frameworks.

📍 In this episode:

  • How and why partner with SaaS and cloud marketplaces

  • Key metrics driven by embedded partnerships

  • Better-together story of building with a platform [examples]

  • Beautiful customer journeys via integrations and partnerships

  • Channel vs tech partnerships - similar or different?

  • Mistakes to avoid while starting and scaling partnerships

  • How to stay top of mind of your partners?

  • How partner incentives are evolving?

  • Partnership lifecycle

  • Great partner programs [references]

  • Key questions on the path of becoming a platform

  • Communities as strategic assets of organizations

Bryan, great to have you. You've been in Xero for a number of years, leading its partner ecosystem. You had a chance to see the entire partnership journey, building the platform, building the marketplace, building communities around Xero. At the same time, recently you moved to the other side and now you're consulting companies. I'm excited about talking with you about this entire partnership journey. What are the best practices around partnerships, partnering with companies like Xero. And what do you think is partner excellence and how to become great in partnerships?

My first question to you today is about marketplaces. These days, a lot of companies like AWS, Microsoft, and Xero have built marketplaces. And partnering with marketplaces is a big trend today because smaller companies look at companies like Xero and they're, like “wow, that is a thousand apps on the Xero marketplace. How do we partner with Xero and how do we become successful with selling maybe to some of those companies?” And now you coach companies. How do you advise approaching a company with Xero in terms of partnering with them?

Great question to kick off with. I think there are a few ways to look at it. To start off with, if you look at a partnership 101, it's our company or a company working with another company and how can we do more together or what does that look like? Typically, the partnership itself is set off with the expectations of maybe they've got customers that we want to go after together, maybe we want to do some brand work or partnership or some promotion together where we're kind of like better together. And recently, over at the Catalyst conference in Miami, Reveal talked around the concept of nearbound. They define ecosystem as working with other companies that are also already talking to your ideal customer, which makes a lot of sense. But I think when it gets to working with the likes of a platform, such as Xero, or Shopify or Atlassian, Salesforce, the list goes on. The rules to partner do vary. And the platform themselves are all set up for scale. And what I'll do is I'll set up partner programs intentionally full scale to be unlocked with that. They can't work with everyone, and they'll have opportunity cost around who they work with, and around it. And there'll be a bunch of criteria to work through, and to provide a pathway for those partners to be able to accelerate their growth and to aspire to unlock some benefits.

And what we find is, as Scott Brinker puts it, most platforms have a really long, medium and even longer tail of partners who are building out niche solutions to the platform, which is by design, it makes a lot of sense. But they all want the attention of the platform themselves, or whoever it is. How can I unlock some of those customers around it? And typically, what they'll do is they'll go to the source on the platform and look for opportunities. How can I work together around that? In reality it doesn't actually work that way for scale.

Few tips around the approach, which I typically like to recommend. And I'm working with a few clients now to help them accelerate their growth alongside as well.

And to kick off with you, the 101, the foundations as you have to play by the rules of the platform to start off with.

They will have partner programs in place. And to start off with there. Usually, that'll involve an integration of some sort to add more value to the core platform, which is what the marketplace offers, as you summed up.

How can your solution add value to existing customers there to even enhance the core platform which unlocks the network effects, drive some viral growth back to it and it’s a better together platform. That's table stakes, that’s foundational and it's often the gates and the access to get to be on that marketplace to start off with.

However, it's also important to build a deep integration and to add true value. Just because you can get access to an API, or you can get access to some marketing material and end up in a landing page. Building for brand association is largely a waste of time, in reality, if you're looking to partner with them accordingly. When you're looking at integration, I understand every company has limited resources, and you build out components in stages. And that's totally fine as long as there is a roadmap which is continued on. But have the consideration around what would an integration between your offering and also the platform actually offer for the customers? Because if it's incredible, then what you're going to do is you're gonna start some viral loops happening where the customer is gonna start talking to others. You build some community around as well. You'll build some advocacy in the market and be able to get that going along.

And then thirdly, I'd suggest, building to a platform, there's a bunch of ways you can grab the attention of it, or increase adoption and awareness of your brand alongside it as well. I encourage companies to consider beyond the partner program and playing by their rules there. How do you truly complement the platform, if it's the orchestrator, and you're gonna complement a role? How do you complement their offering truly, to be able to offer more? And what I mean by that is how can you support their marketing efforts? If they're doing comms components, how can you support your role alongside them and demonstrate you out of value?

If these are thought leadership components or messages out there, how can you support that? if there's events you can get behind, as well. And the more you're able to do this, you're able to build some groundswell holistically with a 360 degree view, to accelerate your growth alongside them as a partner in order to reap some rewards in return and to be able to grow alongside of. However, just in summary and closing at this component, it's not a case of seeing a big, aspirational platform, and thinking that they're going to provide a firehose of customers back to you, which is the common typical approaches, as people kick off with.

When you open many VC future looking projections, you will see that partnering with marketplaces is one of the top things. I mean, previously, VCs loved marketplaces in general and now they love that their companies would partner with marketplaces and they see great results from partnering with AWS, and so on. Why do you think it is such a hype?

Good news is the hype is moving from an art to it more of a science increasingly, and I’ll talk here about a few key metrics. If we're able to build partnerships and deeply embedded, it's got a bunch of commercial and long term benefits, which VCs like to see.

To start off with, if you've got connected apps to your application, typically providing better customer outcomes, because you're offering more features combined. What that does, it drives NPS right up. With that, if you're operating with a bunch of connected tools, it is more likely that the switching costs become increasingly higher. Then suddenly, the unit economics increase because churn is decreased with connected apps.

Now, if they're also looking to use more of your application embedding through a partnership lens, then it's probably going to drive two other metrics that go with it.

Potential ARPU of your product, because they're going to use more of it. And if you've got various modules or components or add more users, they're likely able to add more. And you're able to suddenly drive more ARPU driven through the partner influence, which then influences the lifetime value of those customers and the metrics which run out.

when they're looking at the metrics and the commercials of a business which has got heavy partner influence, or able to attach with partners or grow alongside, they're able to have customers which are sticky, got higher ARPU, less churn, and providing better customer outcomes. It's quite a desirable business. On top of that, if you're able to have effective partnerships that are generating some growth to go with it, potentially driving leads, or unlocking new revenue channels, then you've effectively got a new sales arm, which is producing results for your business as well in the growing level.

And for a VC suddenly, when they're looking at the metrics and the commercials of a business which has got heavy partner influence, or able to attach with partners or grow alongside, they're able to have customers which are sticky, got higher ARPU, less churn, and providing better customer outcomes. It's quite a desirable business. On top of that, if you're able to have effective partnerships that are generating some growth to go with it, potentially driving leads, or unlocking new revenue channels, then you've effectively got a new sales arm, which is producing results for your business as well in the growing level. And for a typical SaaS or tech business, you've got the opportunity to try and drive by direct sales teams yourself, via digital version by product-led growth or its partner-led or partner-influenced revenue to go with it. And there's a bunch of really healthy metrics which come with that, which makes the upside in the future lens of the partnership influence business for SaaS business and into the VC is quite an attractive opportunity to look into.

Imagine that I would want to partner with Xero or with another marketplace, I would say. I should have a very crisp “better together” story. Do you have any advice, in terms of building this better-together story. And maybe if you have an example of a better-together story, that is very good, that will be fantastic.

Well, when you're looking for a better-together and building with a platform, hopefully in effectively what you'd be doing is be even partner with that platform make a choice to do so strategically, is because you want to be able to offer the features of that platform, which you don't have to build yourself.

An example which I love to talk to is about in Australia in the North up in Darwin, there's an app called servicem8, which is iOS only, which provides a solutions for trades to be able to service their jobs out in the field, move on to the next job, remain efficient and pass that information back to Xero. And what it means for them is that for a lean team, who are focused on iOS by design only, they don't have to build accounting solutions. They don't have to build the invoicing depths or the functions, even though they offer some components of that themselves. And are able to prioritize and continue to work out building a really robust and deep niche trade and construction app for their clients and be able to build that. And through the possibilities unlocked through the API's are very able to pass push information across to Xero, and able to grow effectively. And what it means for a solution like that is that they're not just a tradie app anymore, they're a “tradie plus accounting solution” in conjunction - they serve as a better together solution. Every one of our customers is going to have accounting needs. And so we're able to partner with an accounting solutions provider. And as they continue to build out their core focus, their product gets even stronger, enabling network effects enabling strong NPS. And they're able to partner with Xero, or other solutions to be able to provide and rely on that accounting functionality.

Great example! I think in your description somewhere, you mentioned “beautiful customer journey”. I love this term, it shows your appreciation of customer focus, but also, you're considering customers to be almost like precious. This is at least my perception. What is a beautiful customer journey, let me ask this question back to you. And can you give an example of a beautiful customer journey from your previous experience?

I think in today's digital era, I think it's anything which is as frictionless, easy, seamless, and able to get into other software seamlessly and get on with it to start off with. And I feel like a product-led growth movement coming through increasingly enabling that. The easiest version of it, when you log in to most software these days, it's going to provide you the option to be able to sign in with either LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, Xero sign-in capabilities, or others. It's allowing the data and API capabilities, we have to grab information which you've already approved, and be able to push it across. I feel increasingly that in-product, contextual recommendations, where you're at is the way forward to be able to increase adoption for ahead. For everyone listening or watching this, you're gonna have your phone within proximity of you if you're not listening on the phone itself. And for the apps that you operate your day to day business. if they were hard to log into, if they are really lengthy to sign up to, if they have complicated user journeys around it, you're probably not going to use it much. If you take a moment to consider the apps which you really love to use, and are easy and ones you talk about, they're probably quite simple by design, and requirements are quite straightforward. As companies are building out their functionality and scaling, it's the consideration to think how can I actually provide that just frictionless experience in the same way that the likes and when you order something on Amazon, you can only just swipe if you've got Amazon Prime, and you just purchased something and it's at your door the next day, it's ridiculously easy to do. During the lockdowns all around the world where people are ordering more than they need on e-commerce absolutely. With a young family myself, we got to know our courier very well. We nearly deserved to give him a Christmas card. He was coming to our door so much, we have various things that we were ordering.

How can you get your customers into an easy flow and easy experience, one that provides delight along the way, ongoing? And how can you extend that into your partners as well? And what does that look like in terms if it an embedded experience? Is it in product? Or is it using the information you have to be able to pass information across an API environment to just seamlessly have a data flow go both ways ideally.

How can you get your customers into an easy flow and easy experience, one that provides delight along the way, ongoing? And how can you extend that into your partners as well? And what does that look like in terms if it an embedded experience? Is it in product? Or is it using the information you have to be able to pass information across an API environment to just seamlessly have a data flow go both ways ideally.

Talking about channel partnerships vs tech partnerships, how do you think about that? Where do you see overlap? And what are the things that should be true for companies to be successful either doing channel partnerships or tech partnership with a company like Xero or maybe smaller companies?

That work side by side and they will be cross over. When I think of tech partnerships, I'm thinking of potentially embedded in product. Technology solution partners potentially around where you're utilizing their capabilities to be able to operate and extend the value of your platform ongoing. Those can be things like reviews embedded in, things like intercom, etc. That can be payment solutions to be part of your offering which are embedded in. Needs to be frictionless and it needs to feel and look like your solution. You don't want to be bouncing out it needs to be in product preferably. And the idea is to trying to drive more adoption of your own product around it. And this was a really tight relationship, and how can you grow together?

Whereas the channel opportunities, how can we grow together ideally through an integration, to be able to expand the functionality of what you're doing, but also access potentially new customers, go faster, scale, all those benefits to go with it. And tech partnerships by design should grow faster if they're embedded in your product, whereas channel is something you have to invest with, grow, nurture, continue to explore further to really reap the rewards, to add value to the other side, and to yourselves as well.

You’ve been speaking with 1000+ CEOs over the course of your career, about partnership, and you advise them on partnerships. Thinking about their partnership strategy, and what are the mental models, or a key concept that you advise them to start with when they think about partnership strategy, templates, or checklist, I’d love you to share.

Typically, partnerships is an extension of, it's an addition beyond sales and marketing. And it's usually someone who's within the business already, typically, and they're like, Hey, go chat to these partners and see what can happen. It's a little bit of a spray and learn in the past. And the methodology or thinking behind it often is quite immature, in its early stages, despite good intent. It was “going to try something with these partners.

And in today's era, and pleasingly it's increasing, it is moving away from less art, or gut feel, or an executive view or an opinion to more towards science increasingly. The maturity of the partnership strategy is evolving. And in terms of building out that partnership ecosystem muscle, there's a few tips which I typically tend to lean on.

We often talk in terms of the ICP, ideal customer profile. What does the ideal partner profile look like for you? Who is in the spheres of influences, as Jay Mcbain says, around you as a business, where you're potentially sharing customers, and what does that look like? And from there, you're able to look at the TAM (Total Addressable Market), the SAM (Serviceable Available Market) and what is the opportunity around to go with it?

And once that's established, the next step is to be able to look, what do you actually offer this other partner? Everyone you want to approach on a partnership lens, they're going to have conflicting priorities, they've got an opportunity cost themselves around who they partner with, and why.

And depending on the size of them, they may or may not have partner programs or gates around who they partner with and choose to use their resources with. It's not a case of just go chat to every partner, and hope for the best component. You need to really lead with value to do that. How do you be able to do that and go about it? There's a few different ways.

Firstly, if you do have mutual customers today, how can you shine a light on those? How can you provide case studies? How can you provide lots of reviews, preferably on the other partner side as well, to demonstrate the value that you are bringing alongside them. Also, make sure you've got a really clear value prop around how you differentiate yourself compared to others in your field as well.

In the past, especially in the reporting spaces in Xero, it's a very crowded space as people use the information available in the accounting solution and build out solutions to provide management reports, cashflow insights, forecasting, all range. And it is a crowded space by design. And it's essential to be able to have a really clear defined value proposition of what you do. When others are looking at solutions in the space, they understand what you do differently? What it looks like? How it feels and how you add value to go with that?

And if you're able to demonstrate that to your intended partners to go with it, then you've got a long way as for them to be able to talk about you, to you internally and share the message and to go with the approach.

And from there, if you're able to give some quick wins early on and build some groundswell internally, it's as much as building internal stakeholder endorsement and awareness as it is externally out to customers to build the future of the channel, because partnerships is an area of the business which does need to be invested in ongoing and it's something that you do need to water in order to grow into build rewards ahead.

Can we touch a little bit more on what people tend to do wrong? What are the typical mistakes that people make when they start partnerships or like when they try to scale partnerships. How would you advise them to avoid them?

A few things. If there's no strong integration to start off with, then you're not going to provide the customer as much delight. If it's buggy or there's issues, you're going to put good support docs. Or it takes a while to get into, it's not frictionless, then it's not really going to be an impactful partnership, it's not going to lead anywhere. You might get some buzz around an announcement of a partnership, or some media around it, but it's not going to actually provide ongoing value. And the partnership will stifle. That's one thing.

And then the second thing is, in my time at Xero every second week some upcoming aspiring partner would reach out to me via various tentacles. Either through someone across the business or externally or an introduction that they want to chat, because they've previously chosen Xero as their key part and they want to do more. How can we explore doing more to them? And essentially, what they're looking for is hoping to provide that firehose of customers for them without actually considering their value proposition, how they would partner with considering a current partner program. I'd see this every week and see it over time. And we would say back in return “what are you offering back to us while we prioritize around and have you seen our partner program?” It's actually a lot of homework they could have done before even approaching. Despite really good intentions around it, they just fail to gain traction in that way.

Really interesting point. But at the same time, you as a partnership manager, and not only you, but also partnership managers who are partnering with you. You need to think how I engage partners and how I stay top of mind. Maybe if an integration is amazing, it bubbles them up in your mind itself.

Engagement is one of the big questions. How do you advise partners to keep their partners engaged?

You’ve got to stay top of mind and have regular engagement across the board. The point I made earlier around, hey, do you engage across marketing efforts, comms efforts, or webinars, or what opportunities are you presenting to their sales team? How can you understand their sales team’s KPIs, what they're trying to achieve? How can you be a strategic asset to work alongside them to achieve their goals? And how can you play a part. And it is a case of the more you give, the more you receive. And transparently, it's hard for a small startup, or someone who's getting going and looking to scale up to add a lot of value around it. And if anything, you need to over invest in that partnership in the early stages to really understand the drivers of the major platforms or major partners you want to work with. Now trying to understand if there was a Venn diagram of where you play alongside them. And if you can play a complementary role, and walk alongside them as someone that they can use in their sales tool or in their toolbox, to be able to talk to and about around the possibilities, then you're on a journey with them, including their sales messaging, not against them, or something that's a nice to have down the side.

That is a really good insight, actually. You need to embed yourself into different facets of the work not only product, but also marketing and sales, and maybe community building as well. A very good point.

Let's switch gears and talk about partner incentives. Until recently, companies were incentivized typically by commission. And now it seems to be changing from just pure commission to a way to influence revenue and different ways to get the same results through a different type of motion. What do you think is the best practice today for incentivizing partners? And where do you think this trend is going?

There's a few layers when you think about partners. You've got the technology partners, like you said, channel partners, and then you've got the likes of digital agency partners to go with it. And you could write a bunch of subcategories to go with it. Fundamentally, what you're looking to do with partners is to either onboard, potentially recruit, enable and support your existing customers or bring new customers to your platform to your business to go with it.

What's the motivation for them to do so? In years gone by it was the hopes that there would be an affiliate program or referral program, but if they recommend or implemented your software, they get a small clip of the ongoing revenue component. Now, that's still about and relevant today, but it's not the focus as much. Especially, if you're looking to build out a channel for digital agency partners, what they're looking for is either project or service based work ongoing to help complement or add value to their customers on that side. How can I do ongoing projects? I think a great example in recent years is just a rise of Shopify Plus and the digital agencies which have spawned up or shifted their focus towards it.

It's not a case of just installing Shopify Plus and then see you later. It's all the project work around that. How can I optimize that website? How can I improve conversion, how can I improve payments? How can I drive adoption? Is it marketing? Is it Facebook, Google, SEO? There's a whole range of services, which support around it. HubSpot has done a fantastic job. And typically in the U.S, it really stood up on a pedestal as the leading partner program deliberately because of the agencies and that it's able to support around the edges of it. And so the primary driver for these types of agencies is that ongoing service work to help their clients win and succeed. And if software is a part of the solution, or the enablement for that, that's phenomenal. But it is moving away from the previous focus of just providing a small introduction fee or referral fee or component as a motivation driver for that. It's a short term lens.

We spoke previously with Jay McBain, we talked at length about influencing a customer over the course of the entire journey. And not only on a buy in decision, but also later and also retention and cross selling, and so on. That's brilliant.

Let's talk about partnership excellence. Like we discussed, you are now CEO of your partnership consultancy, and it's a great move. Very trendy, and thank you so much for actually bringing all this expertise that you built over the last years and spreading it across multiple companies, including actually sharing this with us.

Let's talk about partnership excellence, what are the main attributes of partnership excellence in SaaS companies? When they start thinking about a partnership program, what are the things that should be true for this partnership program to be successful? From beginning to scaling, maybe you would walk us through a beautiful partnership journey, how it's typically emerging?

There's a few characteristics. If you had a clean slate, let's build a perfect partnership function, let's walk through what that would look like.

To start off with, you need exec support from the top down - you need it to be enabled and supported by the exec level component to say that partnerships is not just an extension of a sales team of hopes and dreams and see how you go. It's actually an important strategic asset for the business to pursue around it. As you're able to build out that partnership muscle, wrap a community around it, have deep embedded integrations - it's also a competitive moat against others in your space as well, because you can offer more in conjunction with those to go with it. And with that, with the exec support to go with it, you need clear objectives about what partnership is, and also what it isn't. And the patience to realize that you need to invest in it over a period of time and water it and grow it in order for it to bear fruit and for it to grow into a useful revenue unit of adding value of the benefits, which I've mentioned before. And making sure that expectations across the business are clear.

Quick question around that. What is the time horizon that you typically advise to allocate for the initial stage of a partnership program?

It depends on what the objective is to come back to it. If you think it's going to be just a new revenue channel, and it's just going to pour leads in, it's unrealistic. You can't really have a view on that until you've done a market scan, and you've had some initial engagements with those out there in the field to see what existing offerings around there, what are your partners’ objectives are? And you need to go do the due diligence, do the market research, and then come back and then you would have an answer around what is the lead time for it to actually generate component. Because sometimes partnerships are actually not all about just driving revenue. Maybe it's a component around adding more value, or it's a feature we don't have, we really need someone to partner with around it. If you go back to the objectives of what the partnership is, then you would start to be able to assess and say, alright, how long is this before it's actually we're going to provide that solution or unlock a channel to be able to go with and have a realistic view. It's not a case of starting a partnership function today and in 60 to 90 days, or six months, or a year or two years, you've got these immediate turnkey results, to go with it. It is curated, it is bespoke, it is intentional, but it's also complex, because it's also intertwined with other partners' needs, and how does that function and how does it sit alongside?

Going back to the question around, what else can you do to try and build the perfect blueprint of a partner program to go with it? It is an evolving component, the partnership program, which we'll build out this year, or in this cycle, or in this sprint, the next year and next component will refine and it will be improved upon. And it's foundational work that you do to be able to refine it. And what it looks like and the purpose of it will shift and change as well.

And that's where if you're going to over communicate internally, continually update your exact stakeholders to go with it, as well as your partners alongside you, then you're able to evolve for the good of the company, to progress ahead.

And I haven't seen many examples of a turnkey partnership which overnight, just floods in new benefits to go with it. It is an evolution and is a layer on top of it.

If you take a step back and look at the typical journey of a SaaS company. They'll typically get some traction themselves, they might be able to add more ARPU or add more value. And then from there, if anything, partnerships is another layer, which adds on top of and grows once it's nurtured over time to go with it. With that approach, in that mind, it becomes a strategic asset of the business over time, if invested in properly along the way.

Great answer, and even though it doesn't give very definitive components, I think it's so true what you just said. Because it takes time, you need to test on the market, you need just see what's working and iterate on that. When it comes to great partner programs, obviously, Xero is one of them, HubSpot you mentioned. What are others that you refer people to look at as great references?

I think Shopify has done a great job, they've had explosive growth around the edges. They have the program and very clear definitions to go with it what it means to partner with it as well. Stripe has got an evolving Partner Program, which they're building out increasingly over the last few years. Deputy just introduced their own partner program and is looking to bring that to life. The partner programs that work well, from what I've seen and through previous research, as part of some of this work. It's very clear, digestible around what's required to participate, but also what benefits you get in return. And furthermore, have an aspirational goal to reach towards to unlock more benefits ahead.

The idea of a good partner program is that you get people in, you get them invested, effectively, you're reducing a lot of questions coming back to the direct team, because they know where they sit within the program of work. But if you can also provide incentives for them to further invest in the partnership with a North Star that you want them to get to, they now keep adding more value to your customers as they look to improve that partnership across the board. Things like is it adding reviews? Is it improving integration? Is it providing more customer delight? Is it building to our API's? Is it support around events that you want them to come into? Is it sharing your messaging? If you're able to clearly articulate that through their partner program, and that's where you're able to start to scale your efforts as well, because it moves from being a one to one partner relationship, or engagement or one to many, which is in reality, really hard to do.

You were in a senior role in Xero, leading the partnership ecosystem. And now you're on the other side. I'm sure that a lot of people have come to you and asked “Great Bryan, I have this SaaS business and now I want to be a platform”. And platform is a very trendy word as well, maybe even more trendy than partnership. What are the top three questions that you ask them?

Platform is a label stick on a lot of tech companies today. There's various definitions of platforms that are still playing out. I like to refer to it how Marshall and Peter Evans and those guys define it. It typically should have an open set of API's, a set of governance as you grow, but be able to unlock value on both sides, which is available through the API's and what's possible. And you're able to by design have a better together story to go with it. Many companies call themselves a platform by potentially offering many modules or various features, or various functionality, and therefore they're a platform to go with it. But in my understanding of the definition of a platform, they're not quite there yet. And they've probably realistically more a SaaS company with various modules or various offerings or features of what they do to go forward. And in terms of moving towards being a platform, I like to use the matrix from BCG group, which provides the complementors through to becoming an orchestrator of the platform. And the roles and responsibilities of the platform change as you get bigger. Typically, a platform has got critical mass where they've got enough customers where there's a tipping point, we're able to scale around it. And that's what attracts partners to wanting to build with them, because they've got a massive amount of customers they want to go after. However, the orchestrators of the platforms have a bunch of rules, which they have, because they do own a customer base. They have influence or power in that circumstances, variable set of rules of engagement to go with it. And they're able to affect the influence they have on their customers and also to their partners alike. As those upcoming partners who compliment the platform are growing, as they get bigger, they'll add more features to the front end of theirs. And they'll be able to get close to the platform themselves. And some make the transition right across to being a platform. But that's a lengthy journey of extremely complex moving parts. And I often advise, to come back to your question, how can you think like a platform today and move towards it? And what does that look like? And how can you add more value to your customers ongoing to try and get to this tipping point scenario, where you're able to potentially build out your own API's to have partners start to build back to you to be able to potentially have your own marketplace, and be able to do that. But it's a journey to be able to get there. And in reality, and the opportunity that I've seen in the market is that most companies are on the way there, not all of them, some choose not to and just build a coordination to stay there. But it is an evolution, it is a journey. And it's definitely you can't call yourself a platform overnight.

Totally agree with you. My last question, a big topic in itself, and I hope that we may discuss it in one of our next conversations. But I would still want to touch it today and it would be around communities.

Communities are now considered to be essential. Xero’s built an amazing community around that, very engaged. And you mentioned in one of our conversations that it was super involved and engaged even during hard times, during COVID and so on. What are those essential things that you think people should be mindful about communities? And where would you put communities versus partnerships as a chicken and egg scenario? What is chicken, what is an egg? Where communities fit into this entire picture?

Communities are strategic assets of organizations to wrap around their product and offering to go with it. You can't buy a community or to turn one on overnight, you build it, you grow it. They're built on trust, you're building advocacy of your product and their interconnectivity into other users, or others who have similar traits around it to be able to do it. And the way I see communities is that there's different layers to it.

If you're building a partnership, one to one, it's back and forth. But if you were to build a partnership ecosystem and build one to many, then you're able to wrap a community around that. And what that means is you're able to empower everyone around that, around the core platform, or the core offering to how they can all grow together and be an asset. And you've also got communities of your customers, and how to unite them and build advocates. I think those in product lead growth, the likes of Figma, or Miro, or, and others. They're able to spin up a product and build up this advocacy of customers who are early adopters and put them all together in a group. Community should be wherever your customers hang out, wherever that is on, a Facebook group, Slack groups, Discord, Telegram, it doesn't matter. It's about how to bring them all together to have regular engagement, to be able to further the drive that effectively the network effects of your offering around it. But using just your solution is not the core benefit, it's actually connecting others to be able to enhance their own usage, connecting them, who are doing like minded work around it, to build trust, to enhance rapport. They are increasingly a strategic asset. And the term in the US is community-lead growth, which has only evolved in the last two years. It's a label on something which has already existed and has been around for some time. And it is evolving quickly that those who have got a strong, established community, one that they protect and nurture, are leading the way and they'd be hard to take down because you can't just pick up that community and transport it elsewhere. It's embedded. And it is full of advocacy, which is really something that a lot of companies should strive to have.

I love what Marshall said about communities that it's kind of much easier to attach a product to a community then the other way around. But at the same time, you need to be able to build a big community and it's not trivial as well. That is a great conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

As a way to wrap this up, tell us more about your consulting business, which is Hockey Stick Advisory. What are the things that people can reach out to you for and how they can connect with you?

I've set this business up and established that just a few months ago, on the back of a lot of organic conversations I've had over the last few years where other companies across the region who are scaling up were looking to work out, how can I build the partnership ecosystem muscle? How can I establish and connect to a community and how can I evolve towards being a platform. And with that, and the current maturity levels of the partnership industry, I saw an opportunity to be able to set that up and help a next generation of companies build out this muscle.

And with that, people can reach out to me via LinkedIn or via my website, And what I'm looking to do is I'd like to get in there and do an assessment of their capability today. What's required for success? How can they set them on a path of forwards to be able to build and create impactful partnerships, which actually do generate returns for their business, depending on what their objectives are. And help them scale faster. The name is a bit of fun in the name of being a hockey stick. All companies appear to have these hockey stick growth aspirations and the mandate of the company is at least I want to help them get in that direction faster. And I feel that enabling partnerships is a key strategic asset to be able to do so. And that's what I'm setting out to achieve.

I really enjoyed speaking with you. And I think that the insights that you shared show the depths of your understanding of the subject. And this sounds sometimes as a simple subject, but it’s not. It's so many intertwined parts that create partnerships and the things that you need to be capable of doing for building a great platform of the level of Xero for example. I look forward to following your success in your advisory and appreciate your time.

Thanks, Roman. It's been great to connect and look forward to having our conversations ahead as well as we both path our ways forward.


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