Partnership in competitive markets and how to hire for your partnership team

Second part of our interview with Yolanda Lee, frm Partnerships at Deliveroo, Uber, Rocket Internet where we discussed secrets of superapps’ success in Asia, why resilience is crucial in partnerships and why it’s important to think outside the box.




You worked in Asia Pacific, specifically, Singapore. And Singapore is a place where Uber had to sell to Grab. Grab is now becoming an "everyday everything app", they offer video streaming services and even wealth management now on top of food delivery. How do you build partnerships when your competition is so active?

My approach to running a partnership team in this region has always been not so much to focus on the competition. It's good to be aware of what they're doing, but ultimately be very focused on who your customers are. Whether that is serving your restaurants better, serving your customers better, serving your delivery riders. I think if you focus on what drives them, what's important to them, then it's very easy to find partners and think of how to deliver. I think it's really about quality and not necessarily quantity. And staying very focused on delivering value.


Why do you think this super app mentality is not quickly adopted by the West? What implications this has for partnerships?

Super apps have been very successful in the Asia Pacific region, largely because they tap into consumer behavior within the region that is heavily based on price sensitivity in a lot of ways. To give you an example, when I first moved to Singapore, I was shocked. It was in the days of Uber and Grab. and the taxi companies had their own apps as well. And I would see people open all three apps, look at who is offering the best voucher deal, and choose one accordingly. There was very little sort of brand loyalty. And there is a much higher degree of price sensitivity in Asia. And a lot of these super apps have built up a following that is largely, and not necessarily that's what sustains it, but in the initial phases, it really was about being able to get discounts across all of these platforms. And they were able to acquire a lot of customers and burn through quite a lot of cash simultaneously. I think we'll have to see the test of time in the post-Wework world, where everybody is looking at a path to profitability, whether these sorts of models are sustainable. I think that has, at least in the initial phase been this sort of appealing to price sensitivity, has acquired a lot of customers initially. And then that stickiness has kept them in the app.


Going back to consumer behavior, I personally like more when different services are in different apps. I tend to compartmentalize them in my head as well. But then consumers in Asia are very happy to open an app and have tens of different services. Why is this happening?

That's a good question. Why this consolidation? I think there being a lot of less mature markets in Asia, that there's a lot of first mover advantage in these super apps as well. So not only are you the first super app, but you're really the first one who is also enabling people to book cars online, enabling people to book medicare online, and all of these services. So I think it's the combination of that price sensitivity with that first mover advantage. And so if the first touch point of a consumer is with an app that can also do movie ticket bookings, can also do ride sharing. There isn't that need for a consolidation after the fact. Whereas in European markets, in Western markets, you see that there is much more entrenched loyalty to vertical players. And it's much harder than to translate that behavior, then to a super app, because it wasn't the initial touch point.


Going back to partnerships, and hiring people for your team. Who were the people you were hiring? What skill set are you looking for? And what is your advice for people who want to go to partnerships, what type of skills they need to develop?

Because partnerships can be such a broad and diverse space, finding the right team is very very important. Firstly, I think you need someone who is highly resilient. Because you can face a lot of challenges in the partnership space. You can work on a deal, say for months and then it will eventually fall flat or somebody will pull out. So finding someone who can be resilient in the face of those challenges is really important. I think organization is also incredibly important. Because again, there's long lead times, staying on top of that, following up and being on top of multiple moving pieces. So from the ideation to the execution side of things, it requires strong organizational skills. I'd also say creativity as well, is that I think the best partnerships are a little bit out of the box, not just copying something that a competitor has done. That having someone who can really think outside of the box and deconstruct problems in a unique way is very strong as well.


My last question is that the partnership field in itself seems to be changing, right? It depends who you talk to obviously, but what do you think? How is it going to evolve in the next let's say five years?

I absolutely agree with you that partnership is a growing space across many sectors. I would say one thing that I think is really going to come to the fore is measurement and attribution. I think there aren't very many tools around necessarily. Measure, say, the media value of a partner's channels that you have exposure through. A lot of building business cases internally requires you to be able to show the impact and really measure on a granular level. what the impact is on your core commercials of a business. So I think that's something really important. I think a lot of teams might use something like Salesforce, but which isn't necessarily the best way to engage with partners and to really measure that impact. And so that I think is something that is going to change. You know, being able to really define success metrics and then be able to show in an easy way. Because sometimes a team's work cannot really be just doing those post deal analyses and being able to show that impact.


Brilliant. That was my last question, thank you so much for being with us, and sharing your insights.

Thanks for having me.

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