The 5 Step Approach to Finding the Right Tech Partner for Your Startup

September 22, 2020

Whether it be personal or professional life, all growth involves building long-lasting relationships. People seek out other individuals whose attributes complement/supplement their own to help them grow emotionally, and with whom they can collaborate on lifelong goals. Businesses seeking to scale similarly seek out partners whose assets or skill sets can help them achieve their aspirations.

Be it business or personal, "for better or worse" can often be made "better" when key factors are taken into consideration early, minimizing the chance of future "heartbreak."

1. Know Thyself

Just as you seek a life partner to help you expand in certain areas, business partnerships can help you overcome technical limitations. An Entrepreneur article outlines how, in an era of rapid digital transformation, partnerships are often the only way for companies to keep up with the surging pace of change. Whether you're searching for a better way to collect and analyze consumer data or trying to improve user experiences across devices and channels, there are plenty of potential partners that specialize in these areas. By forming relationships with them, your company will save money, tighten your focus on core business objectives, and bring technology solutions closer to those objectives.

Self-awareness is key to success in personal relationships. In business, it is just as important to understand your organizational strengths and weaknesses so that you can seek out a partner with the right skill set and experience to help you reach your targets. Clearly outlining your strategic vision, technology gaps, and short and long-term goals will help guide you to select a tech partner with whom you can build a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Questions to ask yourself - do you need:

  • Specialists or generalists
  • Front-end or back-end development, or both
  • Business analysis
  • Specific domain expertise

    • Mobile app
    • Web platform
    • Internal company software
    • Database
    • Cloud computing
    • AI
    • IoT
  • Specific vertical expertise

    • E-Comm
    • Retail
    • FinTech
    • Healthcare
    • Automotive
    • Edtech
    • Travel
  • Specific stage assistance

    • Ideation
    • Brainstorming
    • Proof of concept
    • Prototype
    • MVP
    • Wireframing

2. Get "Out There"

Once you understand what you are looking for in a partner, your friends will tell you to "get out there" and find the "one." When looking for the right technical partner, the concept is similar but usually won't be found through a "cute meet" scenario.

Go Online

No, we don't expect you to set up an online dating profile for your startup. However, online resources such as Quora and Clutch offer facts, opinions, and reviews of outsourced development and IT firms.

Ask For Referrals

A HubSpot study noted that 57% of the organizations using their platform credit referrals as the top source of lead generation. Have you ever seen an application or site in the marketplace that you love? Reach out to them and find out who their software development firm was.

Go To The Source

Have you narrowed your potential partner list down? Ask to speak to past and current satisfied customers. Reputable organizations will be willing to share with you a list of clients that you can contact directly to ask questions about processes and outcomes. It is also essential to look beyond the one-off project work. Most development work rarely is ever "done" in a rapidly changing landscape. It is crucial to understand how a technology partner handles ongoing demands and addresses the needs to keep design and user interface fresh and innovative.

Make The Case

If you love to eat gourmet meals at home, finding a life partner that enjoys the same is most likely necessary for you. Eating their cooking before getting married might be a milestone step in your relationship. Along the same vein, assuring that your potential tech partner has both the experience and expertise in the areas important to your organization will be a critical step towards working with them.

Reviewing a firm's case statements can give you insight into how they approach the work. Case statements outline; how the organization addresses challenges, what solutions they implemented, specific tech stacks that are utilized most frequently, innovative methods applied, their overall development processes, and how they maintain the focus on user experiences.

Perfect Match

Forbes notes that an ideal partner will also have YOU as their perfect buyer. Out of your narrowed pool of potential partners, chances are only a small percentage specializes in your business model and technology. And a smaller percentage picked early-stage startups as their ideal segment.

3. Talk It Out

Open Communication

Open and honest communication is critical to all successful unions, at home, at work, and for business partnerships. This is especially critical When developing complex software solutions. The key to ongoing success between you and your technology partner is being on the same page. Expectations need to be clearly outlined in advance. Timelines, milestones, sprints, and how hurdles will be overcome should be delineated.

Making sure that everyone is speaking the same language, literally, is essential as well. This is especially important for partnerships across the globe.

Transparency

While clarity and openness are essential in all relationships, it is especially important in a startup environment. The uncertain nature of early-stage startups can often breed anxiety. Working with a development partner that communicates regularly and transparently - and asks for feedback - about project deadlines, milestones, and challenges will ensure a much more positive engagement. Tech partners can accomplish this by using shared project management tools that provide a straightforward roadmap of accomplishments. This offers both technical and non-technical stakeholders a means to quickly understand the project status.

4. Meet The Family

It is no longer necessary to ask a father's permission for his daughter's hand in marriage in most cultures. However, it is common to meet your intended's family before moving into a committed relationship. Just as you want to know more about your significant other's extended family and what they are bringing to the table, you should learn more about your potential tech partner's extended team.

Once you have narrowed down the list of contenders, dive a bit deeper. Ask questions specific to; the development team, who will be your direct account points of contact, and who will address billing issues or technical issues - i.e., access to files/project management tools.

5. Shared Values

Build A Future

Choosing life or business partners will not end well if you do not have shared values. If your goal is to live in a major city, have two luxury cars, and three children who will attend private schools, you will not be compatible with a person who wants to live in a different rural country each year, building field hospitals in poverty-stricken communities. Neither goal is right or wrong. You just most likely will not be happy together. The same is true of businesses; understanding each other's core organizational ethos will be vital to know how well you will work together.

Lisa Box, SVP- Corporate Development and Strategic Alliances at WP Engine, shared her thoughts about value alignment and scalable growth in a Forbes Council Post:

The biggest way to derail a partnership is when your core values, as companies and as people, are misaligned. As with most partnerships, your mutual outcome is scalable growth and revenue. If your goals and objectives aren't aligned, you won't reach the desired result. For example, when I approach successful partnerships, I don't view revenue as the goal, just the outcome. The goal should be more aligned with what the mutual benefit to end customers from the partnership is, which will lead to higher revenue, efficient use of resources, and other intangible results.

Like A Family

Jill Dvorak, VP of Content and Retail Strategy - National Retail Federation, notes in a Relate post that great tech partners are an extension of your in-house team - not a satellite that's only informed about changes on a need-to-know basis. Tech partners might have better, or at least differently valuable, insight into your customer data when they're integrated into the team at this level.

Price Does Not Equal Value

When you were a teenager, it was expected that the most sought-after person in the class was the most attractive or the best athlete. However, if you talked to them, you often realized that you had nothing in common, or worse, you didn't even like them.

A similar situation can occur now. You may seek out a big, fancy development firm because of the work they did on "THAT" company's super successful application. Their pricing might not fit your budget, and the account team structure of larger firms may not be right for your small startup.

On the other hand, you don't want to select a tech partner solely on cost. You need to be sure that the organization has the technical ability and capacity not only to provide your organization value today but that you can envision them helping you scale in the future.

Choosing a tech partner is not an endeavor taken lightly. Your startup team will be working closely with them to bring your vision, your "baby" to life. Clearly understanding your organizational needs and conducting rigorous research will help you find a software development firm whose skill set, expertise, culture, and values match your own. This will increase the chances of building a long-lasting, aligned relationship and ensure future success for all.