Humphrey Bogart’s famous line in “Casablanca” might best sum up what makes a great tech (or any) partnership, but it can still be really tough to find the right person or company with whom to team up for the short or long-term. Here at By the Pixel, we’ve been lucky to partner with some of the best companies out there, and we’ve learned quite a bit along the way.
Why does it matter?
Partnering with the wrong team or business can really set you back. If there’s a mismatch in goals, expectations, communication, etc., your projects can run over, not meet your needs, or just not happen at all. And no one wants that! So it’s important to find the right partner from the very beginning to be successful, no matter what it is you aim to do.
So, what makes a good tech partner?
There are many attributes to consider that can make or break the partnership, no matter where you are in your process. The first thing to figure out is the expected duration of the partnership. Are you looking for someone who offers a feature or service you lack, and vice versa, for a short-term project? Or are you hoping to launch and maintain a full product suite with the semi-permanent help of another agency?
After you figure this out, it’s easier to prioritize qualities to help you find the right partner for your product, feature, service, or ongoing symbiotic growth, and the prioritization may differ across businesses or over time.
1. Passion for the work
It’s kinda cheesy, but it matters! When you partner with another company, make sure they’re as passionate about the work you’re doing together as you are. And although it’s an intangible quality, you can gauge someone’s excitement by how quickly they reply to emails or phone calls, how enthusiastic they seem in meetings, how many questions and ideas they come up with, and more.
Passion alone isn’t enough to sustain a project, though, so don’t put all your eggs in this one basket. And if someone isn’t passionate at the beginning of a new project, you can rest assured that the development process is more likely to stall passion than stoke it, no matter how exciting the work you do together may be!
2. Problem-solving mindset
Problem-solving, which requires both critical thinking and creativity, is almost always at the heart of a technology leap: smart people come up with ingenious technological solutions to problems and then find new ways to apply them. For this reason, you’ll want to both be and partner with a technological problem solver.
You can first tell someone is a problem-solver by the way they approach problems. Do they dive in and do things the same way they’ve always done them? Do they research, find the ways other people do things, and then do it the tried and true way? Or, do they back up even further and start with even more questions?
Problem solvers never stop asking questions. Never content with doing things the same old way and always looking for the best solution, people who are looking to truly solve problems constantly ask, “why and how?” And it’s not just speculative: if you’re in the presence of a problem-solver, you’ll know because they move quickly between “why” and “how,” for each line item in your shared to-do list, turning problems into tangible, measurable action items.
3. Complementary technical skill sets
If your shop and your potential partner have all of the same skills in common, it may not make much sense to team up (though there are certainly exceptions). For example, if you’re a marketing agency looking to develop, release, and promote a new software suite, you may want to partner with a company known for their strong development skills. As an added bonus, they will also benefit from your marketing chops in a partnership like this, so it’s a win-win.
Reliability is a less glamorous thing to look for in a potential technology partner than something like “passion.” However, it’s every bit as important, if not more so. If your possible partner is someone you know, like a longtime friend or professional contact, you probably have a pretty good idea of their reliability. However, if your main contact with the new potential partner is through a referral or shared acquaintance, it can be hard to judge if they’re going to stick it out for the long haul or ghost you halfway through the project.
A good place to start is the company’s website, noting their case studies, blog, and current clients. It’s also a smart idea to check out online ratings, including Google, Yelp, Glassdoor, Indeed, etc., depending on their industry. Signs that they might be unreliable include poor ratings, large gaps in work, content, or ratings, or a lot of employee turnover on hiring sites. You can also ask mutual friends and acquaintances about working with them, but tread carefully and don’t ask things you wouldn’t want your potential partner to find out about. The last thing you need is to be labeled a “gossip” or untrustworthy yourself!
Once you’ve completed your vetting process, don’t be afraid to bring up what you find with your potential partner: you’ll have to work through conflict if you decide to move forward with the partnership, and this gives you both a chance to see how you handle difficult conversations together.
5. Similar risk tolerance
There will come a time when you’ll have to make a decision during a partnership that neither party has any idea of what the outcome will be. That’s not an “if,” but a “when,” because there are always unknowns when you do something new. And when that time comes, you want a technology partner who is willing to assume the same risk you are and not throw you under the bus.
The best way to find out their risk tolerance? Ask them. Posit scenarios that you’ve been a part of in other partnerships or take an online assessment together, and then set up a time to talk about what risks you both are and aren’t willing to take with your new partnership. Risk tolerance should be addressed early and often, and don’t be afraid to involve other stakeholders and your financial advisors in this assessment, as well: many marriages diverge on risk tolerance, so expect the same for any other relationship, including tech partnerships.
6. Communication in common
Before you enter into a technology business partnership, make sure that you have a good handle on how and when you’ll communicate. This isn’t necessarily an attribute that someone or a company has - “oh, so-and-so is a great communicator!” - but more of an expectation that you set together and stick to.
Will you use cell phones, Teams, Zoom, GoogleMeet, Slack, email, SMS, etc. to meet? How often do you both expect to talk about progress on the project? Do you want the meetings to be very formal, with minutes taken by a third party, or would you rather get together and chat about progress over a beverage? How will you handle conflict or setbacks? Are there individual, cultural, geographical, or other barriers to communication that you need to iron out?
It’s easy to skip this step, especially if you’ve known someone for a long time socially, but it’s always a good idea to address communication expectations early and often. And never forget that great communication, no matter how or when you do it, starts with listening.
7. Fiscal responsibility
No matter the type or duration of your tech partnership, you’ll want to make sure both parties have never been in serious financial trouble in the past. And if you have, make sure you disclose it to your potential partner, as well as the ways you’ve worked to resolve it. This kind of goes along with things like “reliability” and “communication,” but it’s worth repeating specifically because tech partnerships can involve large amounts of money, and you’ll want to be, and partner with, someone committed to transparency throughout the engagement.
If you’re truly concerned about a potential partner’s financial history, don’t hesitate to ask them directly about it. A reasonable person that you want to partner with will understand that you’re both taking on quite a bit of risk by working together, and if they seem put out or nervous to disclose this information, it’s worth investigating further or putting the kibosh on the partnership entirely.
An often-bemoaned skill, relationship-building (or “networking”, to use the dirty word) is crucial to any new technology partnership. Does your new potential partner know a lot of people in many industries who might benefit from the thing you’re building together, or is it going to take a long time to build up the subject matter expertise and network to test and market the new product/feature/service? Are you adept at reaching out to people, or does it make you nervous? Do your networks, and the ways you grow them, complement each other?
Remember that socializing, whether for business or personal reasons, takes practice. The more you interact with other business owners, customers, vendors, and other contacts, the better you’ll feel about reaching out when you have something that might work for them or to ask for their help/expertise. We’ve all struggled with putting ourselves out there following the events of the last few years, so don’t be surprised if it takes a few conferences, online interactions, or phone calls before you feel truly comfortable and take comfort knowing you’re not alone.
Tech partnerships are about a lot more than the tech
Technology partnerships aren’t that different from any other business or personal relationship: in order to find a good partner, you’ll want to first be a good partner. And you can do all of the vetting in the world and still end up with a partnership that doesn’t meet your expectations, because nothing is guaranteed.
But when it works, and we’ve found that it often does, great technology partnerships offer symbiotic, exponential growth and learning, indefinitely.
And we’re here for that.
Interested in partnering with us?
We’d love to meet you and hear your ideas! We have a long history of tech partnerships, some of which span a decade or more, and we enjoy and are proud of the continued evolution that an invested tech partnership fosters for all involved parties. Check out our case studies to see how we’ve grown with our partners over the years, and reach out to learn more!