Episode 1: Brian Friedman, CEO/VP of Digital Innovation, Loopd/Aventri

Brian talks about why strategic partnerships are essential to startups, co-selling in the event-tech space, common myths about partnerships and more.


Brian Friedman, VP of Digital Innovation at Aventri, the former CEO of Loopd, joins us on The CoSell Show

 

Topics Discussed:

    1. Why strategic partnerships are essential to startups
    2. How partnerships and co-selling is different in the event-tech space versus other industries
    3. The most common myths about startup partnerships
    4. When to cut bait when things aren't working out
    5. ow to successfully find, engage, and manage co-selling partnerships.

Brian also recently wrote the book Takeaways, an Amazon #1 Best Seller.

https://brianmfriedman.com

Hosted by Taylor Baker for CoSell.io

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Follow Along With The Podcast Transcript

Taylor Baker:

Hello, listeners. My name is Taylor Baker and this is The CoSell Show. This is a particularly special episode because this is our very first one here at the CoSell Show. We will interview the titans of business all about the things relating to partnerships, co-selling, and innovation. Today we are thrilled to have as our inaugural guest, the one and only Brian Friedman. Brian, can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background? I know you have an especially interesting educational history.

Brian Friedman:

Yeah, definitely. So I went to college actually at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. After my junior year, I went out to Silicon Valley, where I went to a program called Draper University. The whole entire idea is that it was almost like a pre-incubator. So, at that program, we'd come up with the ideas and then essentially try to get them funded. So at Draper University, I came up with my company with Loopd, which was analytics for events, so conferences and trade shows, using wearable technology and mobile apps. After running that business for three years, I sold it to an event-management software company called Aventri, which is global HQ is in Connecticut. So I live in Connecticut now, and I'm currently the VP of Digital Innovation at Aventri, and I sit on the executive team here.

Taylor Baker:

Congrats on the acquisition. That's a huge win. Now let's talk a little bit about your views on strategic partnerships and how they are essential to B2B, or business-to-business, companies.

Brian Friedman:

Yeah, I think partnerships are so key. When you're looking at your business and you're trying to see, "Okay, how can I add on some more, let's say, features or even a client base?" For us, at least here at Loopd, I'd always ... Well, at Loopd, not as much, but I'd say, "Okay, can we partner with someone? If not, can we buy them? Okay, if not, can we build it? How much is that going to cost?" And I think for a startup, when you don't have the ability to acquire another company, or, let's say, you don't have an addition to add another developer, and let's say you don't have added to have another sales guy to get you to that customer base that you want, partnering is so helpful. And at the beginning of Loopd, I actually invested more in sales than I did with partnership development. And what that did was when we went out to the market, we were a competitor with all of our competition out there, where if I started out with partnerships they would've been like, "Okay, here is where our top functionality is. Here are the gaps that you fill in. And by the way, we think you'd be super valuable for this client base." And then they bring me into a co-seller relationship. So I'm all for partnerships.

Taylor Baker:

Perfect. Thank you. A large part of our audience includes fellow entrepreneurs, such as yourself, and those working in this startup space. When would you say is the best time to instigate these partnerships?

Brian Friedman:

I'd say right from the start. Obviously, know what your mission is. Know what you're trying to solve. But have an idea, kind of like define, "Okay, here's the problem I'm trying to solve" and then go out to partners. And from there, you can create a proof of concept and kind of have an idea of what you want to do for that pilot. A lot of times, the partner is going to tell you. But I'd say basically try to focus at getting that relationship as soon as possible so the person trusts you. That way they can say, "Hey, here's our gap. Here's where you can fill in." Then you can form your proof of concept together. From there, once it kind of is validated within, let's say, their company, then that person will probably become your advocate and help push you throughout the organization, and they'll work for a few clients. Once that goes well, then you can get a lot more client base. So I would say it's never too early. Definitely start early. Start building those right relationships from day one.

Taylor Baker:

Having worked in the event tech industry, how would you say strategic partnerships are different from other industry spaces?

Brian Friedman:

The the event technology industry, it's an odd one. It's kind of like this archaic, old-school industry, which is now becoming more innovative since marketing can now attract more dollars to it. So it's becoming more relevant. But what I found out, and this is the reason why I focused on selling at the beginning, is I'd reach out to a lot of these companies and they didn't want to partner with me. And the reason they didn't want to partner was that each company was trying to be a single one-stop-shop that did all the technology. And they were also afraid, since we were more innovative, that we could essentially build out their core functionality and then over time transfer their clients to become our one-stop-shop and that necessarily wasn't the case. So I'd say for some industries like ours where partnerships aren't as affluent, also not as frequent, it's very important to say, "Hey, here's what you do well. Here's what I do well. Here's the trust. And now, let's go forward together."

Taylor Baker:

How do you get over that initial hurdle when it comes to establishing trust, especially as the new kid on the block? Do you have any tips and tricks?

Brian Friedman: 

In the event industry, I kind of look at it as a life cycle or the event marketing life cycle. So you got before the event, we're going to create a website so attendees know about your event. Through that website, they can buy a ticket or they can register for it. For other attendees, you can send out emails that they're driven to that registration forum. So you got to have before-the-event. And then you have after-the-event, which is, let's say, analytics, figuring out where your ROI is, figuring out "Okay, how can I optimize my emails, my websites, my reg form?" So during the event is where Loopd focuses since we were doing wearable technology and mobile apps at the event for the attendee experience and for driving the analytics to help improve their overall marketing. So in our situation, which we didn't do, but just being an honest and transparent person, what we should've done was we should have basically started partnering with companies who did before-the-event. Companies that did after-the-event said, "Hey, we fill that gap, the in-between. We connect it." Where a lot of the partners we were reaching out to was a lot of these more innovative startups who were all focusing on during-the-event. And through that, it kind of created this urgency of "Okay, well you reached out to be a partner, but you just say very similar and you can easily get into our space. How can I trust you?"

Taylor Baker:

That makes sense. Thank you. And how did you create a plan with your partners to efficiently execute the partnership in terms of co-selling and co-marketing?

Brian Friedman:

Yeah, so one partner that we had, more of like a co-marketing partner, is Kissmetrics. And Kissmetrics is an awesome marketing company. They weren't really focused on events, but they were focused on tracking website behavior and doing a lot of optimization through messaging. And they saw that having event analytics going into their system would help improve their data in their targeting online. So with them, I had a relationship through a mutual connection to their CEO. And then basically their CEO said, "Okay, Brian, great guy. Here's what he's trying to do," introduced me to their CMO. From there, we created a marketing plan. And through the partnership we said, "Okay, we're going to do a series of webinars, blog posts together. We can share each other's lists so that we can basically help each other with the lead generation from that." And from there, Kissmetrics at the time was a much more established startup. They were a high-growth company for us. We had 10 to 20 employees. They had maybe 50 to 100. We were doing maybe $500K to a million dollars revenue at the time. They're doing, I don't know, maybe $30 to $50 million of revenue. So having them saying, "Okay, if you're doing event marketing, use Loopd, and here's how we believe it fits into the ecosystem" was huge. The reason it worked out is they weren't doing the same thing as us. They were in the marketing space for kind of online. We were in this offline event space down here. But we said, "Hey, our data can definitely plug into yours." And through that, it was kind of a symbiotic relationship.

Taylor Baker:

Wow. Thank you. That sounds like a great example of a working partnership. In that respect, how do you continue to measure your success with a partner as your relationship grows? And conversely, what do you do in the event that the partnership is not working out?

Brian Friedman:

Yeah, so partnerships, it all comes down to relationships. It's why I like events so much is that in-person connection. With partnerships, it's the same thing from the start. So I think you need to find your internal advocate at both companies. You need to identify, "Okay, what's your motive?".

So for here at Aventri, we have a pretty standard process for partnerships. Usually, the way it works out is to step one's referral. So basically, referral partners, we're saying ... Let's say it's something like a Kissmetrics. "Hey, you're all looking for website analytics and tracking? Use Kissmetrics." A Kissmetrics client says, "Oh, you're looking for event marketing? Go to Aventri." From there, once it's been validated, then we to step two, which is integration, where we kind of after we validate all the possible use cases, we do a POC with that best technical integration, and then we kind of co-market it together since we have this connection.

Taylor Baker:

The Business Dictionary called, and we are happy to answer. Here at CoSell, we cater to entrepreneurs at every stage. So we decided to create this micro-segment to explain commonly used business words and acronyms. So without further ado, today we are tackling POC, which in this case stands for proof of concept.

Brian Friedman:

So let's say I went into a partnership where I was expecting stage two, technical integration, at step one. And then the company said, "No, we're doing the referral agreement at step one." Our intentions weren't going to be aligned at all. So I'd be disappointed where they're also going to be not necessarily alienated but saying, "Okay, we don't want to do integration yet. We want to do this referral agreement." So I'd say step one is kind of saying, "Okay, hey, here's our roadmap together. We're going to start out like this. And then if it goes well, we'll get to here." A lot of companies will say, "No, we need to start out with a technical integration," and that's fine. So really setting expectations and then also making sure that on the sales side that revenue is driving to it. So at least if our partners ... We have a marketplace where we track analytics and demand, and we send an update monthly to all of our partners. We'll also do a call frequently with our partners, myself, kind of leading our tech partnerships. I'll have calls monthly, sometimes more frequently, every two weeks, with our partners to make sure, "Hey, here's the volume we're getting. Here's what we've heard. Let's accelerate, or let's kind of hold onto the current pace." So I'd say kind of recap real quickly, make sure that you have expectations set. Make sure that just like this, how we're having this conversation, that you really maintain those personal connections, that you both have the same drive to promote each other's companies together.

Taylor Baker:

What would you say are some of the common myths about partnerships?

Brian Friedman: 

So I know a lot of companies are afraid to do partnerships because they think the partner's going to steal all their clients. I don't think that's necessarily true. It could happen, where a client wants to switch over for some other products. But the idea is that, once again, you're filling each other's gaps and you're becoming kind of like this cohesive one-stop shop together. And the other one is that I'd say partnerships, from a sales perspective, once it's handed over, that the client's kind of lost. They don't have this integrated solution, even if it's not integrated from the tech side. I'd say it's not true.

Brian Friedman:

At Aventri, we try to make sure that we co-create and co-design and co-market together so that it almost feels like a single company. If you're going from Aventri, let's say, to Kissmetrics or Kissmetrics to Aventri. So those myths, I would say, do not exist if you follow the right process. But I would say definitely believe in partnerships. Go for partnerships. Don't be afraid of them.

Taylor Baker:

Thank you. Brian, can you share a little bit with our listeners about something you wish you knew before you had started engaging in partnership ecosystems?

Brian Friedman:

Yeah, I wish I kind of knew what the standards were in the market. So there's a lot of mar-tech companies now that are putting up partnership pages where they kind of has, they say the agency model, where it's almost like a referral model. They call it the tech model. They call it the build-out model. And usually for a referral agreement, if it's, let's say an agency model, it's usually 10% revenue goes to the other company. Where then when you go to an integration partner, it might be 20 to 30%. So with myself at first, a lot of times I didn't get these partnerships to the next step because I didn't know what that other company's process was. So I'd put some numbers out there and they were like, "Okay, first of all, he's not asking for a standard referral agreement. He's asking for way too much." And they wouldn't tell me that. It would kind of go silent. So after talking to enough companies, I figured out, "Okay, here's kind of the model that most people follow." And once I kinda said the right numbers, the right structure as the starting point, they'd be, "Yup. Makes sense. Send it to legal. It can happen really quickly. Yup. Does this stuff make sense? Okay, our sales team will get on it." And then from there, we could customize it. So I would say I wished that I knew what the baseline was in order to customize before customizing without having a baseline.

Taylor Baker:

That makes perfect sense. Thank you, Brian. In closing, word on the street is that you recently wrote and published a book and you have a blog and you have a podcast, all of which I think our listeners would love to dive into. So can you just share a little bit about how our listeners can contact you or find all of your books, podcasts, and blogs?

Brian Friedman: 

Yeah, so I started Loopd when I was 19 years old. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I was guessing every single second. So the way I figured out what to do was I would find people who were six, 12, 18 months ahead of me and ask them, "Hey, I got this situation. What should I do?" And over those three years, I recorded all those different situations I was in, the advice I got, and the outcomes that I took. And I distilled it down to the 50 top takeaways. So my new book is called Takeaways: Secret Truths from Leading a Startup. It's a really easy guide, almost like a pocket guide where you can open it for different advice on fundraising, business growth, marketing. And it launched yesterday on Amazon. It reached number one in bestseller status, which I'm super pumped on. And you can find it by going to Amazon and searching "Takeaways, Brian Friedman." You can also learn more by following me on Instagram, Brian M. Friedman. And I have a website, BrianMFriedman.Com, which as you were saying, it has my podcast, it has my blog, Own It, and it also has other content around my new book.

Taylor Baker:

Congratulations, Brian. What an adventure you have had and more success to you in the future. You are an absolutely epic first guest for us here at The CoSell Show. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom gems with me and our listeners.

Brian Friedman:

Yeah, thanks for having me. It was fun.

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