The common perception for entrepreneurs is that ruthless competitiveness is the primary way to win markets. But there are extraordinary—often “first-of-their-kind”—benefits in choosing collaboration instead.
For female founders, while the desire to “do it all” and solve problems on one’s own is often natural, employing an abundant mindset versus a scarcity mindset will not only help solve those problems, but will also open the door to new perspectives and opportunities.
Just look at the example of recently acquired, digital health clinic, Maven, founded by Katherine Ryder and Suzie Grange, who partnered with the leading health navigation platform provider, Castlight Health in 2018. That partnership propelled Castlight into a one-stop solution for families and employers via Maven’s family benefits, and enabled Maven to expand its reach.
Perhaps you’ve already identified the need for a potential partnership for your business, but aren’t quite sure where to go. In identifying the primary business function you’d like to solve, grow, or expand, consider potential competitors in your space, including larger businesses, businesses in adjacent verticals, broader ecosystem players including in the non-profit and government sectors, and businesses serving similar markets with different offerings—these could all become potential partners for a flourishing synergistic relationship.
In identifying and proceeding with a particular partner, it’s important to be strategic, consider relationships broadly, and always protect yourself.
- Be strategic: Ensure that the partnership will indeed support your strategic priorities. You want to be sure that both parties get equally beneficial rewards and the relationship is not one-sided. Be sure to clearly outline your goals, metrics and what success looks like.
- Consider synergistic relationships broadly: Some partnerships may not be as evident. Consider looking outside of your exact domain and consider what other services your target consumer is using; this is often the best source for potential partnerships.
- Protect yourself: Especially at the outset as you enter conversations, you want to be sure that you are only divulging information that you are comfortable with the other party knowing. Always put an NDA in place for further protection.
Several actionable steps female entrepreneurs can take:
- Whenever you are considering building something that is already out there, examine those offerings and ask whether collaboration is not a better option. The key measurement is whether your strategic goals will be served, your interests and rights preserved and whether both parties serve to benefit.
- As stated above, consider all of the tools and services that your existing customer base is using. As a startup coach, I often guide my founders to talk to their customers excessively and a key question to ask them is exactly this: “What other products or services do you use day-to-day?” Starting with your target customer is the best way to validate the strength of any potential partner. Another way to discover this is through observation, but asking is a great starting point that’s often easier to execute on.
- Finally, be open to conversations. There are many times that founders may be introduced or approached by seemingly competitive companies. Before saying no or not responding, really evaluate whether there could be partnership toward common goals. With the point above, if conflicts do seem possible be sure to create protections but don’t shut the door before you’ve had the chance to explore the possibilities. A great tactic here is simply to write out the pros and cons of pursuing the opportunity and evaluating against your current company priorities. These tasks will often elucidate whether to proceed or defer to a future time.
By taking a collaborative approach to entrepreneurship, female founders can better serve their customers, enhance their service, and create new opportunities to scale. In the end, businesses cannot operate in isolation, so creating a track-record of mutually-beneficial partnerships will put you on a path toward long-term growth and innovation.
What I’ve always found inspiring about women is that we rarely choose the “easy” path. Rather, we push ourselves to make the choices that lead to the greatest outcomes. Choosing collaboration over competition is just one of those powerful decisions.