As Head of Partnerships at Coda, Nick Valluri was tasked with building a partnerships team from scratch. In his own words, “It’s certainly been an adventure,” and Valluri is a veritable hive of information when it comes to the process of successfully and strategically creating a digital ecosystem, from defining partner journeys to hiring a partnerships team, and much more.

We tuned into the Partnered Podcast to catch Adam Michalski and Nick Valluri chatting about ecosystem strategy and creating a digital ecosystem, and jotted down our favourite take-aways for you below. (Catch the whole episode here.)

Valluri’s key insights from creating a digital ecosystem at Coda.

Coda’s ecosystem of partners includes strategic partners, integration partners, incubators, start-up accelerators, and service partners. Valluri says that Coda, an ‘all-in-one doc’, is interesting in that anyone could be a partner, which makes it doubly important to know how to prioritize and execute strategic partnerships. Coda’s strategic partners include companies like Amazon, Slack, and Zoom, which can all help increase Coda’s reach by getting them in front of a wider user base.

For their service partners, however, Coda’s service potential is the most important question. Where the service potential is limited, good service partners need to be able to solve for the customer through various stages of the customer lifecycle and take advantage of the many ways that service partners can monetize partnerships.

There’s a shift towards finding distribution opportunities through SaaS ecosystems.

While Valluri still sees value in more traditional reseller channel partnerships (where partners don’t have their own products), he sees a shift towards finding distribution opportunities through SaaS ecosystems rather than through those more traditional reseller routes. This is because SaaS ecosystems offer highly impactful opportunities to re-sell your product by bundling it with partners’ complementary products and services. Done right, this can be achieved at scale.

While it’s difficult to compete with household giants like Microsoft, if two products are a truly good, natural fit, the challenges of partnering up are worth the opportunities. “What I learned at Google was that if you invest properly in the tooling to support that ecosystem and you find that product-market fit, then the job almost becomes more about marketing than the partnership itself,” says Valluri. “It becomes about how do you tell that story? How do you drive acquisition? How do you get in front of users with that joint solution? And to me, that’s a more solvable problem than ‘how do you create a bundle out of thin air that competes with Microsoft?’”

Coda is moving from a ‘pipeline business’ towards a ‘platform business’.  

Valluri mentions a book that informed his thinking around partnerships: Platform Revolution by Geoffrey Parker. According to Parker, there are two types of businesses, pipeline businesses and platform businesses. In a pipeline business, you build everything in the customer journey. In a platform business, you set up a platform and the community adds value. Think of a car manufacturing company (pipeline business) as opposed to Uber or Airbnb (platform businesses).

Framing your thinking around creating a platform business will help inform your strategy around building a digital ecosystem. Ask yourself, who is your community? Who is going to add value along the chain? Who is going to build useful integrations? Valluri points out that these partnerships are not always big agencies; many big value-adders are individuals within the community or ecosystem.

“I look for opportunities where they’re part of our community, they’re adding value for customers, and it’s something that is really scalable. Something that I can rinse and repeat and something that I can grow,” advises Valluri.

Final thoughts on the future of partnerships…

Valluri makes three final points about where he sees the future of partnerships going:

·  There will be less and less separation between product partnerships and go-to-market partnerships.

·  These days, APIs are `table stakes’, and integration frameworks, partnership frameworks, and SDKs are becoming much more important.

·  Companies that have some of the most successful ecosystems are those that see the potential of their customers, super-users, and community to become partners. “For us, anyone can be a maker, but for me, that means anyone can be a partner,” says Valluri. “And I think that applies more and more to the ecosystems we’re seeing become successful.”

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