Businesses today increasingly grow with data partnerships - so you won't want to miss this conversation.
Etan shares valuable insights on the do's and don'ts of data partnerships, how Crunchbase leverages data partnerships to grow, and the importance of making data-driven decisions.
We also discuss Etan's journey in partnerships, from WeWork to Crunchbase, and his experience with building trust, having difficult conversations, and creating transparency with partners.
In this episode:
0:00 - Intro
1:00 - Etan's Journey in Partnerships: from WeWork to CrunchBase
3:10 - What are Data Partnerships
6:00 - The Power of Data Partnerships for Driving Awareness and Revenue
10:00 - Emerging Trends: Ecosystem and VC Partnerships
13:00 - DO's and DON'Ts of data partnerships
16:30 - Crunchbase Venture Program
17:20 - Making Data-Driven Decisions - Trends in Personalization
20:00 - WeWork's Partnerships: Growing via Brokers and Strategic Projects
24:30 - Importance of Resilience and Profitability. Lessons from Leading Partnerships at WeWork
28:30 - How to Build Trust and Maintain Partnerships at the Times of Uncertainty
32:00 - Difficult Conversations and Creating Transparency
33:10 - How to Build Trust in Partnerships: Getting Personal with Your Partners
35:10 - How to Break into BD and Partnerships: Advice for Young Professionals
[AI edited transcript]
Hi, Etan, great to have you today. You are in the partnership team in CrunchBase, which is a very famous company, very excited to hear how CrunchBase does partnerships, which is probably best in class. Before that you were in the WeWork, doing partnerships there - it's an amazing company. You went through very interesting times in WeWork. I look forward to chatting with you about all of that - best practices and partnerships, how do you build resilient partnerships, especially in turbulent times. But I would love to start today by asking you how you came to partnerships, what does your journey look like from the beginning?
How I got into partnerships was quite different, actually. Back in 2017, I was a senior in college and really interested in the tech ecosystem. I wanted to join a tech company, but the only way to get in was by networking and speaking to people in the industry. It wasn't like the traditional investment banking route, which offers opportunities in the tech ecosystem for students right out of college. So, I figured the best way to get in was by networking and talking to the right people to find out what types of roles I was looking for. That's what led me to WeWork. During my senior second semester in 2017, I was able to get an internship on the finance team. This was kind of the beginning of the growth trajectory that they began, and I was on the finance team for a few months. Then graduation happened, and that's when I figured that WeWork was the company I wanted to be a part of. It was a high-growth company, and I ended up getting a full-time offer on the finance strategy team. I was there for about a year and a half.
As I was thinking about my career path, I always wanted to be in partnerships, whether it's a bizdev role or partnerships role. That's where I always figured my career would take me. So, I networked within WeWork and ended up joining the enterprise partnerships team at WeWork. I was there for about three years or so. This was during the turmoil of the pandemic and the mass layoffs during the IPO downfall. It was definitely a good experience to go through that type of turmoil early on in my career. I think I learned a lot about resiliency and what not to do at a growth-stage company. But overall, it was a great experience, and that's what led me to CrunchBase. Last summer, I really wanted to join a tech company with a focus on technology. That's what led me to CrunchBase a year and a half ago. Right now, I'm on the revenue partnerships team at CrunchBase, focusing more on data partnerships.
Amazing journey, CrunchBase is a great company. I think data partnership and revenue partnerships are something that a lot of people don't really understand. CrunchBase has a wealth of data across multiple companies. I would love for you to explain what data partnerships is, how it looks in CrunchBase, and then we go deeper into that
I would break it down into two aspects. The first one is data coming into CrunchBase. We have a few members on the business development team that focuses on partnering with companies that can enrich CrunchBase dataset. If you go on CrunchBase, you might find various different data points. There's different sources as to how we get that data. But a large part of our business development team, a lot of their key goals is getting us more data points, enriching the datasets, adding more profiles. That would be the data coming in aspect.
On the other side, we have data going out. That's where the revenue partnerships team sits, And that's the team I'm on today. We focus on partnering with companies, ranging from early stage companies building out their MVP product to mid to grow stage startups, all the way to Fortune 500. Any company that displays company data and they want to enrich that data, they would leverage the CrunchBase API.
Just a few examples that are publicly facing today. If you go on LinkedIn, and you search any private company on LinkedIn, let's say for example, Stripe, you would see funding data powered by CrunchBase. You can see more about who the investors are for Stripe. What's their funding history? How much have they've raised in their history? This gives a great overview for users on LinkedIn to better understand details and company information regarding Stripe. That's one example.
Another example is Yahoo Finance. You might have researchers or analysts looking on Yahoo Finance for private companies. They're also one of our partners where they enrich the datasets they currently have today with the CrunchBase API, so you can search private companies and see more information regarding who their investors are. What's their funding history, how much have they've raised in their history. So those are some of our partnerships we have today.
For use cases it could be market intelligence platforms, Risk Manager, any of the equity trading types of companies. Any company that displays information regarding companies and individuals would greatly benefit from the CrunchBase API. So that's how we define data partnerships between data coming in and then data going out of CrunchBase.
Makes a lot of sense. It makes your partners share more of the intelligence probably with their customers? But it also gives CrunchBase itself more data, so it enriches the existing ecosystem. I would love you to dig deeper deeper into how it's different from partnerships. Because on one side, you spent some time in business development and salesy maybe roles. Your current role is data partnerships, but also it's about revenue. How it is connected with revenue, how it's actually partnerships, which are typically 2-sided.
On CrunchBase’s side, the value exchange for CrunchBase is the first aspect is revenue. That's definitely a key component of our team is generating new revenue sources. When you go on CrunchBase, there are ways to sign up, that's more so of our software product. On the revenue partnerships team, we try to find ways to generate new sources of revenue, and that's where data licensing would come in. The first value exchange is revenue for CrunchBase. The second part that I think is super important, is helping spread awareness of the CrunchBase company, of the CrunchBase dataset - we call this attribution. Anywhere, anytime we partner with a company, and they leverage and license the CrunchBase API, they would need to provide attribution to CrunchBase. If you go on LinkedIn, you search the private company, you'll see funding data “powered by CrunchBase”. A large goal or key goal of our team is to spread awareness of the CrunchBase data. When a user is looking at LinkedIn, a user is looking at a startup company, and they see profile information that's powered by CrunchBase data, it's helping spread awareness of CrunchBase company and CrunchBase dataset. For CrunchBase, there's two components, there's the revenue aspect. But it's also how do we spread awareness of CrunchBase? How can we generate more users to the CrunchBase platform? On our end, that's the value exchange we get. On the partners ends, there are a few components.
Number one, they get valuable datasets that are coming from CrunchBase. CrunchBase, is known as the go-to platform to find more information regarding companies. But I would say the bread and butter of CrunchBase is funding data. When you're thinking “I want to learn more about a startup. Who are their investors, how much have they've raised in their history”, the go-to platform is CrunchBase.
On the partners and they get valuable information and valuable data points. One example could be, let's say a recruiting company is one of our partners. And they leverage the CrunchBase API. A few examples that are very valuable to them, their users, let's call them candidates, they get to learn more about a company before applying. If I'm looking at a LinkedIn opportunity, and I can see more information about who the investors are of LinkedIn, how much have they raised? Are they public, or are they private, this helps candidates make more valuable data driven decisions. On the other side, you also have the recruiters, when they're looking at profiles, they might get 10,000 candidates on a monthly cadence. It's very hard to sweep through these candidates to figure out who would be the best fit. These recruiters have the ability to make data driven decisions and trying to find those candidates with it might be relevant industry experience. If you're a Fintech startup, you're a FinTech recruiter, I want to find someone who has direct FinTech experience, they're able to make those data driven decisions with the CrunchBase API. There's definitely a lot of value exchange going back and forth. And that's just the beginning of it.
So it's like data intelligence, but also brand partnership effectively - spreading awareness. And I think there's a lot of edge cases probably across different industries. We spoke recently with Scott Brinker, VP of platform in HubSpot, probably one of the opinion leaders and thought leaders in MarTech. We talked about how data is becoming the new oil for a while, but a lot of collaboration now between companies around data. I’d love your opinion, how do you see this landscape evolving over time.
For partnerships, specifically in tech companies, what I'm seeing is a common theme of two types of partnerships. The first one we're all probably familiar with - ecosystem partnerships. This involves answering questions like how to keep users engaged on our platform and what other product features we can add to keep our users engaged and on our platform. We're seeing this today with different platforms and startups that are launching, as they don't want users to go to another platform to accomplish their goals. It's all about adding new features and product capabilities to create an all-in-one platform. For example, Airtable is focusing on data analysis and finding ways to collect different datasets from your current Salesforce to create a more enhanced version of what you're currently building on Salesforce. Scratchpad is coming out with features where you don't need to go to Salesforce; you can do everything on Scratchpad. Many companies are building tools and partnering with other companies to add more product capabilities and functionalities to their platforms.
On the other side, I'm seeing more and more companies creating these types of teams and roles, which are VC partnerships. In my opinion, this is an excellent opportunity to unlock customers through one medium, instead of targeting hundreds and hundreds of prospects. When you think about VC firms, they might have 1000 to 2000 portfolio companies who could all potentially be users of whatever product, feature, or platform you're selling. Going directly to a VC firm is more efficient and a great opportunity to unlock revenue. Typically, you'll work with the head of platform or head of community at a VC firm and try to sell into their portfolio companies. Instead of targeting 1000 companies, you can target one specific profile at a VC firm. This gives you the opportunity to sell into these portfolio companies. Large Fortune 100 companies like AWS, Google, and Facebook are focusing on this type of VC and private equity partnership as a great way to unlock revenue.
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Start free with 3 partners We did a great interview with Lauren Hoffman, who was Head of Partnerships in On Deck. It is not a VC firm, but a community and it has some features related to VC. I've seen recently that Brex is pushing hard. I think Mercury is doing lot of things with the VC community. Obviously Y Combinator is one of them, which has an entire ecosystem of startups just collaborating with each other. Totally agree with you. From your vantage point of being inside these data partnerships, running them day-to-day and launching. What do you think is sort of DO's and DON'Ts of data partnerships?
That's an excellent question and there's never a right answer. Many people have different opinions on what you should do, but from my experience working at CrunchBase and WeWork, I've learned a few do's and don'ts. First, don't sell, but rather understand what your partner is looking for. This is something I always ask during partner calls. For example, what data are they currently surfacing on their platform and what data points do they wish they could have? This can help determine if it's the right fit and partnership, especially if they're looking for data points outside of CrunchBase's dataset. It's important not to force the CrunchBase API on them if it doesn't make sense.
Additionally, understanding the partner's product roadmap is crucial. If they plan to expand their product capabilities or certain regions, you want to ensure that the API makes sense for them. Finding the right partnership is key, even if it means there might be a better data alternative for them. The focus should be on unlocking and figuring out what makes sense for the partner and if it's the right opportunity for both parties.
In terms of don'ts, it's crucial not to force a partnership on a company, specifically CrunchBase. Don't try to sell to them without understanding their goals. It's also important to consider if the company will be around for a while and if they're recession-proof.
Overall, it's about understanding the needs and goals of your partner before trying to accomplish a partnership. Avoid forcing anything and instead try to find a sustainable deal model that works for both parties. This can lead to a long-term partnership that benefits everyone involved.
When you think about CrunchBase and partnerships, you immediately start thinking that CrunchBase has a lot of data and partnering with VCs would make a lot of sense around forecasting and using this data. I'm wondering, apart from embedding your product into someone else's product, do you also partner with investors who take advantage of all this wealth of data that exists on CrunchBase? So how do you sort of think about it?
We actually have a CrunchBase Venture Program. Right now, we partner with over 4000 VC firms across the globe and share data. It's a small industry, but there's a lot of value that can be shared among investors and CrunchBase. We have an official program where if you're a VC with portfolio companies and want to share that data with CrunchBase, we can work out a partnership. We partner with VC firms and exchange data through our program.
Regarding CrunchBase and data partnerships, my last question is about projecting this trend a few years ahead. What are the things that you're particularly excited about?
As I've mentioned before, what really excites me is the aspect of data-driven decisions. For example, when you go on Spotify and the platform recommends songs to you based on your listening history, I find the technology behind it really interesting. The same goes for Netflix when it recommends different types of movies or shows based on your past. I like that it's personalized and customized to the user's needs and what they've been watching or listening to.
On CrunchBase, what really excites me about data partnerships goes back to data-driven decisions. As companies embed CrunchBase data on their platforms, they enable their users to make data-driven decisions. This is crucial, especially in enterprise sales when you're trying to sell into different teams with different needs. You want to ensure that you're getting the right information that's customized to your company. Salespeople at Company A might have very different needs than those at Company B, so they should see a platform that recommends different profiles and prospects that make sense and are customized to their needs.
So what really excites me is that CrunchBase is the leader in helping companies make data-driven decisions. On our platform, a typical use case might be a sales prospect coming in and having a profile similar to Netflix. They can sync their Salesforce or plug into our platform to understand what types of companies they're selling into and hopefully recommend similar profiles or prospects they should be targeting. I think the aspect of data-driven decisions is definitely exciting and will be the future of enterprise sales as well as the entertainment industry.
I look forward to seeing more and more powerful capabilities in CrunchBase. I see that more and more companies ingest each other’s data and exchange data, and it's becoming more and more powerful and exciting. Let's switch gears and talk about your previous company, which is getting sort of reborn now - WeWork. We use WeWork frequently and it’s still number one in shared office space.
The reason why I want to talk about WeWork is because it has a lot of best in class capabilities. You were in partnership in WeWork, and WeWork also had a biz dev and sales team, right? A lot of people who now work in partnership, they surprisingly still have a question how it’s different from sales? I would love your story about how WeWork structured partnerships and how they were different from sales?
I can give an overview of how our teams are structured. A few years ago, back when we first started, our Enterprise Sales Team at WeWork mainly focused on working directly with clients. Think of these as large customers and helping them attain their goals of global expansion. For example, IBM may be looking to expand office spaces within WeWork locations in the US, Japan, and China. Our Enterprise Sales Team would work directly with these large clients to help them achieve their goals. The main goal of our Enterprise Sales Team, BD, and Partnerships Team was to partner with real estate brokers who represented these large clients, similar to a VC partnership. This strategy aimed to unlock revenue opportunities by going through one individual instead of targeting hundreds and thousands of customers. We partnered with top accounts like JLLs, CBRE's, and Cushman & Wakefield broker firms who represented these large clients. By working with one partner directly, we could expand relationships globally with multiple clients. For example, we could partner with a CBRE firm that represented companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and then gain access to multiple accounts globally. We also had strategic projects to spread awareness of the WeWork profile.
One example is we had a service store where members could log into their accounts and see different apps or purchase various software tools, productivity tools, and lifestyle tools. Members could receive discounts from companies like Slack, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Airtable for productivity and lifestyle tools. We worked with different firms to establish partnerships, such as offering gym discounts, to try to get them on our services store. Many VC firms are now providing their portfolio companies with access and discounts to services and tools, similar to what we did. This is one strategic project that our BD team worked on. Another project involved getting WeWork membership or access to credit cards, such as Chase or Amex. As a cardholder, you might have been able to get access to WeWork spaces or discounts. This was another way we structured a strategic project to increase awareness of the WeWork profile.
Regarding collaboration, if an enterprise sales team member is closing a deal with IBM, and IBM has a broker, the sales team and the BD team work together. The BD member joins in with their broker, while the enterprise sales rep also joins in and brings in their enterprise client.
WeWork grew amazingly fast - a lot of kudos to the company for been able to do that. But also because the company went through a certain type of turbulence, I think there are a lot of lessons that we can get from WeWork. Maybe your experience could be directly applicable to the current times, when we probably go into some sort of a recession in the next several quarters, My question is to you, what did you learn from leading partnership in WeWork in times of uncertainty?
My experience was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was right out of college and things moved very quickly. There were weekly strategy changes, and that type of environment is crucial to learn early on in your career, especially in the startup tech ecosystem. Going through an economic downturn and rapid changes at startups teaches resilience, which is essential because once you learn that, you can face any challenge. I highly recommend anyone who's eager and young and wants to join an early stage startup to get that experience early on because it's so valuable as you grow in your career. Specifically, how we worked and what I learned was that the mentality was growth at all costs. Back then, it was encouraged by VC firms and the market. We should be expanding to different markets, creating different product lines. Global expansion and growth were the key focus. About 4 years ago, those were the goals of the market, and you would see that at every tech company. It was spend, spend, spend, and grow at all costs - whatever it took. Getting VC money meant putting it into growth, and profitability was never a concern. It was super interesting to be at a company working in that type of environment where profitability didn't matter.
Now, you're seeing the whole market changed. Now I think a lot of companies' main focus today is profitability. Back then, from my understanding, growth was the most important aspect and not profitability. So, I think it's super interesting, I'm not sure if it's direct, but I really do think we weren't shown that profitability is more important than growth.
A few things I learned are very important to focus on your core product instead of engaging in different product lines and adding new functionalities to your platform. It's crucial to focus on the core product, generate revenue from it, and make sure it works. Once you see profitability, that's a good time to expand into different product lines. Expansion versus profitability is a trade-off.
In today's market, profitability might trump expansion, especially during a recession or downturn. Investors are probably pushing for more profitability. I mentioned the core product; it's essential to ensure that your core product fits in this marketplace. It might not make sense for a business early on to start growing and expanding into different product lines. Focus on the core product today, measure, and achieve profitability. Once you're in that mature stage, figure out what the next step should be. Is there a new product line you should enter?
Those are the few things I learned during my experience.
What could be actually more directly transferable is how do you lead partnerships? Or how do you work with partners in times of uncertainty. You need to build much closer relationships with partners, compared with clients even, right? Because then your partners will then interface with your potential clients. How do you keep them engaged? How do you build trust? How do you make sure that this relationship is not falling apart, when there is a turbulence in the company?
This is a very interesting question, especially given its relevance today during an economic downturn or towards a recession. You need to ensure that you have trust with your partners. One thing that I've been doing that's been super helpful is being honest and transparent with my partners. So, asking those questions like, what does your product roadmap look like? If you're building an MVP product with no funding and no real product roadmap, is now the right time for you to invest in an API? So, I always try to be upfront and transparent in asking more about their product roadmap. Do they have a budget? Do they have funding? And then being honest with them. Is this the right time for your team to go in, invest in an API, a Data API, and start building out your product with that heavy investment without any funding? So, it's really all about unlocking that information, understanding what their product roadmap looks like, and whether or not they have funding. Being honest and transparent with them is key. If I believe that now is not the right time for this company to invest in a Data API, I will definitely let them know. That builds trust and transparency. You always want to be honest with your partners. So, I would say that you're seeing a lot of companies being very careful with cash. You're seeing layoffs in the market. You're seeing companies going through hiring freezes. Budgets are constrained right now. So, I always think that finding creative ways to build partnerships might not necessarily require cash upfront today. It's really all about being honest, figuring out what the goals of your partners are, and then seeing if there are ways that we can both benefit. It might be rev share or a different type of partnership or joint venture. It's really important to build that trust and find ways to work together that might not include cash upfront today if your partner cannot afford that during an economic downturn.
To double click on that, from the top of your mind, what would be your hypothesis in terms of which partnerships would be more relevant today? Because from our view of the market, for many partnership teams it's pretty challenging times, because partnerships typically take time and kind of slow compared with sales. where you would sell to customers. What are the things you’d recommend to explore for partnership teams today?
You're going start seeing during an economic downturn just more creative partnerships where both companies can find value. It might not be revenue up front today, but it could be rev share. I think we're going to start seeing more creative deals because many companies will be very cash constrained and may not want to invest in a partnership that involves cash right now. So, I believe we're going to see various innovative ways of partnering with companies.
I've heard a statistic recently that 65% of investments in the early stage fail. This translates into partnerships almost directly - a big chunk of partnerships don't get to fruition or don’t get results that were expected. This brings us to difficult conversations, and you probably had a chance to do some difficult conversations in partnerships in your time in WeWork. Do you have any advice in terms of keeping transparency and building trust, but still having some difficult conversations with partners? How do you do that?
Transparency is key here. Let's say you're potentially partnering with a competitor product and trying to figure out the right deal model for this partnership. You want to be honest with your partner and showcase where our products overlap. It might be a specific product feature or targeting the same user base. Show them exactly where we overlap and answer the question: how can we build our products complementary to each other? What are certain areas where we can work together and benefit without cannibalizing any revenue sources? When having these difficult conversations, it's important to build trust from the beginning. With trust, you can build a unique and creative partnership that lasts a long time. Showcasing where we might overlap and being honest with them are critical in finding ways to make that partnership work.
Building trust sounds great and I think it's more about being reasonably open from the beginning. Keeping a certain cadence of communication and bringing more and more reasons to believe that you're trustworthy, and doing incremental stuff. But I'm curious, what's your framework of building trust, how do you think about it?
Excellent question. I would say we're seeing articles about these layoffs, and people are talking about the real-life aspect of going through a layoff. So, I try to put things into perspective. We're all humans with families, and I believe it's essential to establish a personal connection. During our first call with a partner, I like to learn about them on a personal level. Where do they live, what are their interests, and do they have a family? Building trust from the start is crucial. When you ask about personal things, partners might trust you more and want to build a partnership. It's all about establishing a relationship based on personal connection. Although it's important to talk about business and understand their product, I always try to learn more about the partner at the beginning of the call. I might ask about where they currently live or their past work experience. Shared interests can also drive conversation, but it's important to get to know your partner on a personal level. In my opinion, that's the key to a successful partnership.
Very last question is about young people who maybe like starting right now, or just just graduated from college and they are curious about partnerships. Partnerships sound amazing, because you tend to work with multiple companies, you tend to understand the entire ecosystem. And it opens a lot of doors really. But at the same time it's not obviously easy, if you go deeper into the specifics of the partnership. What is your advice for young people who want to maybe go into partnerships?
This is the exact question I had when I was young and in college, speaking with individuals. I wanted to learn more about the lessons and advice you would give to a college student who wants to enter the tech ecosystem and get more involved in the BD partnership space. For partnerships, there are a few things to consider. Unlike investment banking, where there are thousands of analyst roles available to college graduates, partnerships are very different. It's not your traditional route. Typically, it takes about 5 to 10 years into your career before you get involved in partnerships.
Here are a few lessons that I would give to young college students. Number one is networking. It's essential to amass a large network of tech individuals. Networking is a big part of BD partnerships, and it's all about who you know. From my experience, networking was key for me. Number two is to learn. Understand what a BD manager does at a tech company, what their KPIs look like, what their goals are, and what they focus on. Essentially, it's like taking a college course. You should amass a network, learn from individuals, and figure out if this is the right role for you.
The first step is to network and talk to individuals to learn. The second step is to gain experience in different types of roles and companies. This is crucial to understand what you like and what you don't like. It's challenging to know from college what type of startup you want to work for. Experiencing different types of roles, industries, and companies will help you understand what is the right fit for you and where you can see yourself succeed. Later on in your career, this will be beneficial.
Finally, for a new hire or a college graduate who is enjoying tech for the first time, be a sponge and learn. Ask colleagues, friends, and mentors as many questions as you can. This will lead to finding a mentor. Finding a mentor early on in your career is essential to navigating difficult decisions, such as what types of jobs you want to get, what types of companies you should apply for, and who you should be speaking to. It's hard for a college graduate to make these decisions alone, and a mentor can greatly help you early on in your career.
Great insights for young people, but also people who want to go into partnerships in different stages of their career. Finding a mentor is essential. I would say - find multiple mentors. We're trying to bring more people into our channel to explain how partnerships work. I really appreciate your time today. Last question is about how people can contact you, if they want to be in touch.
You can send me a message on LinkedIn. That would probably be the best method. We could always send emails back and forth. My email will be on my LinkedIn profile. So I would say that's the best form of communication and I'm happy to chat with anyone looking to get into tech. Anyone in BD or partnerships that wants to just share knowledge. I am more than happy to have those conversations.