Tag Archives: p2p payments

Now hear me out,the Apple/IBM partnership is BIG for mobile payments

Apple IBM PartnershipI have worn many hats working in the financial technology vertical including business development, product, marketing and partnership development. In fact, I managed the IBM partnership for a PFM technology provider I joined in 2010. IBM played an important role for the PFM technology provider for it opened access to many of the financial institutions that run on the IBM technology to support core, online and mobile banking systems. Specifically, the PFM solution ran on IBM’s Websphere mobile software and on the IBM DB2 data base software. The software compatibility proved to be a strong selling point during business development discussions with banks that ran core legacy banking systems on Big Blue.

I learned fairly quickly that one of the biggest objections from mid-tier and larger banking executives was, “love your technology….but it MUST run on our legacy core and online banking systems.” Fortunately for us, we overcame this objection by playing the “we run on IBM” card to continue conversations. Unfortunately for IBM, these legacy limitations prevent many financial institutions from launching new tools and features that help consumers access their money through a mobile device. As we fintechers all know, these mid-tier and large banks are losing customers to the more sophisticated, innovative and mobile centric financial institutions…like Moven, Simple or GoBank.  An April 2013 Forrester study found that nearly 50% of respondents said they would be willing to switch to a bank with a better mobile experience.

The recently announced partnership between Apple and IBM could fix this and will position both companies very well for continued growth in the mobile banking and payments verticals..even with Millennials. I know, this is shocking …but in the words of Kevin Nealon, “now hear me out.”

As part of this partnership, IBM will be launching roughly 100 native mobile apps developed specifically for iOS. These apps are part of the MobileFirst platform IBM launched earlier this year and will adhere to the security, backup and data movement capabilities IBM is known for across the high technology industry. These capabilities are what keep banking IT executives coming back to Big Blue and a few of these iOS apps will strategically address the specific needs of the banking vertical.

The collaboration between IBM and Apple to build these apps will allow legacy systems written in Assembler or COBOL to run on the iPhones and iPads. Penny Crosmen at American Banker states, “Making existing mainframe applications usable on iPads could help banks bring mobility to old technology.”  This is HUGE for it helps banks easily engage with customers within the branch, through merchants or at home through a mobile device without having to make heavy investments in new technology or go through the lengthy process of selecting a clunky third party provider. For example, a bank will no longer need to license mobile platform technology from a Kony or mFoundry for their IBM partnership will open up mobile functionality through iOS sitting on top of legacy software. This is cool for the banks…but SCARY for mobile platform providers.

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The biggest use cases for the IBM/Apple mobile technology marriage can be seen at the branch and merchant levels. I can easily envision a wealth management representative having an in-branch investment conversation with a client using an iPad. The representative easily accesses a client’s core banking information from the mobile device and displays current balances, checking account activity and recommended investment opportunities right on the tablet. Taking this one step closer to the consumer, I envision the consumer later that evening going back to the banking application and sharing the investment recommendations with his/her spouse. Together the couple reviews the recommended investments, discusses financial goals and asks for further detail from their adviser directly from the iOS application.  Tadaaaaaah! The mobile/table user experience is helping the bank build deeper customer relationships through helping consumers manage their money…leveraging a channel the consumer prefers.

The second benefit of this marriage comes at the business banking level. This relationship should make payment providers pause…and maybe even shit.  Imagine a small retail merchant opens a business banking account that includes the “rental” of a payments tool like a card reader. The Apple/IBM relationship enables the bank to provide payments tools, card processors, etc. through already widely adopted iOS products. The bank may even function as a third party retailer for the iOS hardware and will save money by phasing out those clunky counter top card processors.  Banks will take away a key competitive advantages from payment providers who boast about the ease of use and mobility of collecting payments. Additional benefits for the bank are the ability for business bankers to track small business activity and recommend lower cost banking products, loan savings opportunities based on the specific business activity and transactions. Banks can also FINALLY find the right channel to provide those ever so sought after (and never well executed) locally targeted special offers and discounts to consumers.

For those of you keeping score at home, the consumer will also benefit from the IBM/Apple partnership. The iOS loving consumer will now be part of the same payment ecosystem merchants have with their banks. The iOS system now includes Passbook and it is no far leap to envision this evolving into a wallet that holds bank provided payment cards. This is “duh” obvious. Given that merchants, banks and consumers are all part of the same iOs payment system, consumers can easily continue using their long held VISA and Mastercards on their mobile device.  Continued adoption of the same payment ecosystem may provide opportunities for lower processing fees for all involved. Unfortunately, at this point the mobile payment providers are now banking on lower fees as their main value proposition. However, if banks are able to provide an easily adopted mobile wallet with many iOS supported merchants accepting these payments, even lower fees may be a moot point. Consumers will be able to FINALLY use their mobile wallets at the merchants and service providers they have always used.

Wow, way to go Apple.  You created a true mobile wallet.

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Fitness apps are great model to help consumers talk about money

Eric DunstanThis past weekend I attended a beach wedding in Santa Cruz, CA. I played the role of husband to the matron of honor and father to the ring bearer. I spent a lot of time with the groom and groomsmen as we waded through the schedule from taking pictures to the bride walking down the sandy aisle. Having never met 90% of these people, most of the idle conversation topics focused on how long we’ve know the groom/bride, where we’re from, the weather, sports and physical fitness.  The wedding party was a very physically fit group and a lot of time was spent discussing work out routines, fitness goals, injuries, metrics for measuruing those goals and what mobile fitness applications were used. One groomsman was a tri-athlete, another a cyclist and several runners…me included. Even though we all did different sports, we all shared a common language around how we set goals and measured success; how many reps/sets, timed distances, time splits, calories burned. Of course, as the day wore on and the drinks flowed, these reported metrics achieved super human status. “I ran a marathon in under two hours, backwards…uphill both ways. In the snow. Waiter, can I have another Grey Goose?” The common interest and shared vocabulary of fitness enabled 8 guys to have a great time at a wedding.

There continues to be a lot of media coverage about our lack luster economy and the fear that many people have about their financial fitness. The fear has grown to a level where many books, websites and personal finance management services have emerged to meet the demand. Clearly, money and sound financial management is top of mind for most people. Unfortunately, talking about ones financial health is a taboo that it is never discussed openly even with close friends or a spouse. I openly discussed my physical health at the wedding last weekend…but it would be WEIRD and AWKWARD if I discussed my financial goals and health with the other groomsman. Why? Isn’t financial health just as important as physical health? We ask others for suggestions on improving our physical fitness.  Why not our financial fitness?

Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest, addresses the taboo of talking about personal finance in her book, “Financially Fearless“. “We openly talk about everything else, from sex to diets to politics, yet when was the last time you spoke with your friends about money?” I think Alexa is spot on. We as a US society DON’T talk about money and how to manage it well. Most Americans prefer to put their heads in the sand and not think about financial planning for it’s too scary or confusing. One of the biggest reasons we don’t talk about money is that we don’t know how and we don’t have a common vocabulary or framework to pull from.

Eric Dunstan

Flexscore is working to provide that financial framework to enable the conversation. They have developed a methodology that helps consumers assess their financial health through a score and provides support for how to improve. The score measures factors including assets, debt, savings, cost of living, retirement savings…and weights them against a goal. Goals include by what age to retire, buying a vacation home, or sending a kid to college. Flexscore users can compare their goals, expenses, and scores against others within their peer group.

What Flexscore is developing sounds a lot like a fitness app! I am an avid user of the Nike+ iPhone app where I set goals, track fitness activity, achieve milestones…and compare against others. The Nike application also let’s me challenge others to a race or to ask others for coaching advice. Wow, this is a fun way to track fitness activity and engage with friends. Can the same level of engagement be achieved with a financial fitness application? Through the right approach, I think a financial fitness application can be very powerful in helping others discuss money, goals and questions they may have about improving compared to their peers. A scoring system, such as Flexscore, will be a key engagement element that makes measurement informative, fun and something that can be easily discussed with others.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to envision similar personal finance discussions happening with the right measurement tools and applications developed on mobile devices. Going back to the wedding I attended, the wedding party was quick to whip out their phones and show off their fitness data on Nike+ or RunKeeper. The application UI makes the data visually fun to show off and discuss. I can easily envision the same conversation happening around finance applications. The conversation could start with a groomsman saying, “We are really trying to pay down our credit card debt, but it’s not happening fast enough.”  Another groomsman could respond, “I’ve been using this great finance app that scores my financial health. It’s helped me A LOT.”  The conversation goes on from there.

Driving adoption of these finance apps by going direct to consumer will be quite expensive and the marketplace is crowded. However, I think the right strategy for Flexscore is to white label their solution to financial institutions and advisors. A similar platform, Set for Life,  takes another approach by white labeling financial education and money management tools to corporations as a benefits program to get employees to start talking about their money. Flexscore and Set for Life hope to pull through a solid customer base through these white labeled partnerships …while receiving a monthly per user fee. Smart…and this strategy does not require aggressive and expensive direct to consumer acquisition programs. The right clients and partnerships will build a large and highly engaged consumer base for both companies.

As Gen X , Gen Y and Millennials age, the greater the momentum around having financial oriented conversations. The key play for companies like Flexscore or Set For Life is to be the platform that these users engage on to discuss and engage with their finance. Consumers will benefit and so will financial institutions and advisors who are looking for opportunities to engage customers. Consumers will be drawn to the banks and providers who do this best.  Those who don’t engage at this level will watch  their consumer base walk out the door.


Avoiding the boom-chickaboom clubs at Finovate in San Jose

I have attended several Finovate events over the past few years in their exotic 🙂 locals of San Francisco, New York, London and Singapore. As a denizen of the south end of the San Francisco Bay Area, I was surprised and excited to see that the next FinovateSpring event will be hosted in San Jose at the City National Civic.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 11.59.10 AMSan Jose is roughly 50 miles south of San Francisco and has long time positioned itself as the capital of the famous (if not infamous) Silicon Valley. San Jose is home to many tech giants including eBay/PayPal and Cisco. Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook are located in cities just 20 minutes up the 101 or 85 freeways. San Jose is also home to the San Jose Sharks who are snapping at the heals of the LA Kings in divisional play offs.

Even though the San Jose area is home to many world famous brands, technologies and teams, it is NOT a booming cultural mecca of historical sites, tourist attractions and a bustling night life. In fact, the downtown San Jose area rolls up the sidewalks after work hours and most restaurants close down around 9pm. Unfortunately, any nightlife is limited to the standard “boom-chickaboom” type clubs that blare “Rhythm of the Night” on a speaker turned up to 11.  Yes, I’m aware that I’m mashing together several pop culture references here.

So where to go and what to do when we all descend on San Jose for FinovateSpring on April 29 and 30? For starters, I’ve listed below a series of local restaurants that are great to host business dinners at and are within walking distance of the Civic.

Original Joe’s  – Does not accept reservations and good for smaller parties.

Il Fornaio – Accepts reservations and hosts larger parties.

The Grill – Accepts reservations and hosts larger parties.

Firehouse – Accepts reservations and hosts larger parties.

There are a few options for after dinner entertainment…but they are limited. The San Jose Sharks will be in Los Angeles unfortunately. However, there may be something happening at the SAP Center worth attending. The nearby Hotel De Anza and the Fairmont Hotel hosts jazz musicians in their lobbies most nights for something more low key.  However, avoid the bars and club scene in downtown San Jose.  There was a fatal stabbing at a bar just last week…and it even happened on a night early in the week.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 12.00.19 PMAs a resident of the south bay area, I recommend visiting the nearby town of Los Gatos. Los Gatos is a small town tucked to the side (map) of the Sillicon Valley and is a 15 min drive or cab ride South/West of San Jose. There are several great restaurants in the downtown area and many interesting bars for after dinner drinks and strategy sessions. “Rhythm of the Night” is seldom heard.

I’ve listed my favorites based on personal experience. I recommend making reservations at all restaurants for each is well known in the area.

Restaurants

Nick’s

Cin Cin

The Lexington House

Bars

Carry Nations

C.B. Hannegan’s

The Black Watch

Cabs can be hard to find in the area so ask the restaurant/bar host to call one for your party.  Keep in mind that Los Gatos is also a great town to just walk around in too.  If you are into exotic cars, the Los Gatos Luxury Cars  dealership has a store on Main St where one can drool over Aston Martins, Bentleys and Lamborghinis.  There are also several gift shops and clothes boutiques to purchase a peace offering for the home front. There is an Apple store too in case you forgot your iPhone charger at home.

I hope you enjoy FinovateSpring and have a chance to explore the Silicon Valley.


Mobile payments innovators must eat more fast food

Like a good citizen of the FinTech community, I downloaded the major payments apps to my iPhone including PayPal, Square and Dwolla. I also searched for opportunities to add loyalty cards to my phone’s Passbook. I deposited a small amount in each payments app and added my Starbucks card to Passbook eager to make a payment with my mobile device. Unfortunately, each of these payments apps and features remain unopened after a year from downloading. I have not been successful in finding stores in my local area that accept payments from Square or PayPal or have a loyalty card compatible with Passbook, aside from Starbucks.   To make matters worse, I typically just open up the Starbucks app directly and avoid Passbook all together!  Clearly the mobile payments or wallet value chain is broken and innovators are struggling with defining how customers and businesses want to use the mobile device to drive their purchases.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 3.45.39 PMThose of us who follow FinTech closely are well aware of the struggle for defining the mobile wallet correctly. “Wallet” is a loose term these days.  Most people believe payment apps are wallets even though a wallet typically includes feature or cards beyond just payment tools.  If this wallet perception is true, then why are apps like Square and PayPal NOT the driver of mobile wallet ubiquity? I think getting closer to the correct definition of the mobile wallet requires us to pay close attention to what’s happening at retail…specifically at the fast food franchise level.

National fast food chains such as Burger King and Wendy’s are launching mobile apps that enable customers to order and pay for food using a credit card.  These apps are retailer specific mobile wallets that will enable the brands to build deep customer relationships by understanding buying patterns to then reward customers with specials offers and discounts. Frankly, I’m a little surprised it has taken the fast food guys so long to build and launch these apps. Starbucks has been doing this for over two years. Over the past few years Starbucks has clearly won my loyalty as they guide my purchasing through bonus star offerings. There are significant implications for mobile payments innovators if the Burger King and Wendy’s apps are widely adopted and are successful in generating more revenue and creating deeper customer relationships.

First of all, consumers are saying they want brand specific apps that enable them to pay and reward their loyalty. Think the Starbucks app.  These mobile applications are essentially loyalty cards.Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 3.44.39 PM Secondly, consumers are also saying they are willing to pay with their credit card through the application…and don’t need a new payment platform. For example, the Burger King and Wendy’s applications require the consumer to enter in credit card information upon sign up to make purchases. The consumer makes purchases on the same Visa, Mastercard or AMEX platform used to make all their online and offline payments. These mobile payments will also be covered by the policies defined by each credit card to protect against fraud. Given the entrenched credit card payments system and fraud protections, there is really no consumer need to sign up and manage another payment platform.

Brands and retailers will be monitoring closely the success of these fast food applications. If these applications continue to be effective payment empowered loyalty cards, what role does the mobile device play?  Similar to a real wallet, the mobile device is the holder of the many branded loyalty and payments apps.  Does this put the mobile devise in a unique position should these retail brand specific apps be successful?  Yes, for the mobile device IS now the mobile wallet.  No one should have a heart attack and die from digesting this concept.  It’s nothing new and is a recurring theme a several mobile payments conferences.  Daniel Mattes, the CEO and founder of Jumio, articulated his vision for the mobile device as a wallet at Money2020.

However, there has been such focus around the mobile wallet being an individual application that many people think of Square and a few others as being wallet innovators.  This is starting to change as people digest what Apple may be doing in the payments space.  Thinking this through, Steve Jobs may have had a similar vision. Passbook is a feature to store tickets and loyalty cards. It’s not a stretch to envision storing encrypted credit card information and ID on the device. I think it’s safe to assume that Apple will not be entering just the payments business….but will most likely be defining and enabling the iPhone to be a true digital wallet. Expect Samsung to follow a similar strategic path.

The big question will be how long it will take for the mobile payments vertical to evolve to this point. A lot of money has been invested in Square, Flint and PayPal to invent another platform. However, Visa and Mastercard will be active and well funded suppliers in the mobile payments war. It will be a matter of time until the right mobile device features emerge that enable the major credit cards to easily plug themselves in to mobile transactions. Once the right device feature emerges, the mobile payments vertical will be locked up quickly.  Unfortunately, this means many payments apps will become part of those “hey, do you remember….” so common at cocktail parties.


Can Apple Benefit from a Strategic Partnership with PayPal?

The fact that Tim Cook hinted that Apple might be getting into payments is no surprise.  It’s more of a “duh.” Apple has the user accounts, consumer credit cards on file, and millions of iPads and iPhones in market.  The launch of Touch ID and the iBeacon sensor only connect the dots even further.

Apple’s Passbook paves the way for expanding the wallet beyond loyalty cards and into the ability to make online and offline payments. The launch of the Touch ID addresses security concerns and helps prevent unauthorized payments should the phone, or “wallet”, be lost.

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In the online world, it’s not a far stretch to imagine a consumer using their Apple ID to authorize a charge to their credit card for a purchase made on an e-commerce site.  However, competitive pressures from Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal may make convincing e-commerce sites to accept Apple payments that much harder.  One recent article points to Apple making payments as part of the iOS developer kit…which would easily provide code needed for a developer to add a payment feature to their mobile commerce app.

However, the opportunity for Apple gets more challenging in the offline retail world.  Yes, iBeacon creates a network to enable mobile payments through detecting and authenticating a mobile device.  Cool. However, Apple faces the challenge of convincing merchants to adopt the payment processing hardware, dongles, etc.  Google, Stripe, Square, and Dwolla also face this problem, among others. Even with its big brand recognition and marketing strength, Google was not able to grow offline retail adoption of its wallet.

So what are the opportunities for Apple moving forward?  Apple could build its payments business through acquisitions, or strategic partnerships.  Square has been a leading innovator in the payments space, is building merchant adoption and has a strong focus on UI/design given their recent hardware release.  While a Square acquisition may be expensive, Apple would quickly acquire payments processing technology, a growing user base of merchants and a design focused group of developers.  Bloggers have also identified Stripe as a potential, less expensive acquisition.

I think Apple can benefit the most, however, from a strategic partnership with PayPal.  Recently a LOT has been written about PayPal feeling the heat from Apple and pitching to help build out their payment network.  Some people see this as a signal PayPal is feeling threatened.  Yes, the competitive threat is there.  However, PayPal has many elements that Apple needs to be a leader in this category.  I think together, PayPal and Apple can create a break through wallet that defines the mobile wallet.

First of all, PayPal has addressed many of the cross-boarder (currency) trade challenges that Apple will eventually face.  Remember, Apple products are ubiquitous and they face hurdles in every new market they enter. We all know that Apple will not want to limit payments to the US market.

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Secondly, PayPal has a merchant program in place and is regularly improving the product feature set. This in market learning will only improve PayPal’s ability to deliver a solution merchants actually want and can easily adopt.  PayPal is also co-marketing with merchants to drive consumer adoption.

Lastly, PayPal is seen as the “most trusted” mobile wallet brand as defined by a 2013 Javelin study. Why is this important?  In light of the recent data breaches, mobile security will be a big factor for not only consumers, but for merchants.  Yes, Apple’s fingerprint ID is fantastic to access the device and authorize transactions.  However, there is a lot happening in the payment processing back-end that PayPal has focused on securing for almost 20 years. A partnership with PayPal will enable Apple to address this hurdle and avoid a dreaded data breach.  Should the unthinkable actually happen, culpability would most likely NOT fall squarely on the shoulders of the world’s number one brand.


What Can Bank Social CRM Teams Learn from Ford? A lot!

Last year my wife and I began our search process to find a new SUV. Our consideration set included Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet. I tweeted out one evening that we were considering the Ford Explorer and asked for feedback from my community.  Within 24 hours I received a reply…not only from friends, but also from Ford.  The response included a link to the Explorer’s features and an offer to schedule a test drive. Color me impressed. (Tweet me at @ericdunstan with the 80s movie reference)

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I responded that we were interested in a test drive. A Ford rep quickly responded and offered to schedule a demo and to provide incentives.

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Ford is effectively using social media as a lead generation tool and quickly acquired my information to schedule a test drive.  I used all natural language text with no # or handles. Clearly Ford is monitoring the social media channels and has an effective strategy to capture the information and act on it.   Nice work.

I recently blogged about my frustration with the mobile deposit feature of the Wells Fargo mobile application.  I tweeted my frustration as part of a theraputic venting processes.  Within 24 hours Wells Fargo replied with a tip to address the mobile application #fail and a request for me to call a 1-800 number to address any further issues.

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I applaud Well Fargo for capturing or “hearing” my frustration on Twitter and responding.  However, given the importance of social media as a marketing channel, Wells Fargo’s response is almost a given.  I would imagine that almost all of the Top 100 banks have similar processes in place to monitor and manage the social media channel.  However, I believe Wells Fargo’s response falls short of meeting my customer needs and their social media team could learn a lot from what Ford is doing.

The Wells response was very generic and made me do the heavy lifting.  “Try closing the app and restarting your phone.  If the problem persists, please call 800….”  Duh. Wells Fargo, I’ve been an iPhone user sense the iPhone 3 and know that restarting an app is a quick fix.  However, given the Wells app recent reviews, I think this functionality fail is an application problem.  Additionally, the LAST thing I want to do is call your 800 number to then have to dial through a myriad of prompts to eventually talk with a representative after a several minute wait.

The Ford response was very personal, responded to my specific question, and provided a channel to connect with a representative directly.  Ford made me feel personally taken care of, listened to and treated as a desired customer.  Wells could have worked harder by…

1. Offering to collect my information so an online/mobile customer service rep could contact me directly

2. Having the rep present the option of contacting him or her directly through a Twitter DM to help trouble shoot

3. Providing me a link to their website with a list of known issues

4. Acknowledging my frustration and offering an incentive as a “mea culpa” for their failed application

I feel like my concerns were heard by Wells Fargo, but I don’t feel personally taken care of to ensure my issue was resolved and that I’m a valued customer.  This is an example of the difference between just listening to the customer and engaging with the customer.  By engaging with the customer, Wells has the opportunity to personally respond to my need to show that my customer relationship is valued.  Ford did this so well that we bought an Explorer from them.

Moving beyond just listening to and engaging with the customer may require rethinking how customer support teams are trained and incentivized.  Additionally, companies should consider implementing a social media analytics and engagement software solution.  These solutions go beyond functionality of Tweet Deck that enable users to track multiple accounts and listen for mentions of their company or brand.  The more robust solutions, like Attensity or Nimble, for example, enable companies to listen to the customer, analyze the need and then act on meeting the customer need.

Consumers are increasingly frustrated with their banking relationship. There are a few Internet and mobile only banks, like GoBank or Moven, which take the mobile experience and customer service seriously.  Leading banks, including Wells Fargo, will quickly lose customers should they not learn how to actively engaged with their customers through all channels of customer support, including social media.


Know your customer first to find the right strategic partnerships

This week I had a conversation with an executive at a mobile banking company. We spent a majority of our time discussing the strategy of using strategic partnerships to build a customer base, deliver products that meet customer needs and generate revenue. This executive shared an unfortunate experience where his team was pushed into a partnership where they provided most of the product development resources and had to commit to the lion share of the marketing spend to promote.  Unfortunately, the double barrel commitment yielded little return in helping the company achieve its goals. The partnership was more of a distraction and had high opportunity costs. Frustrating.

Strategic partnerships are an important lever to pull to grow revenue, drive acquisition, build out technology, and increase product functionality.  However, it’s mission critical that the right strategic partnerships be established or the relationships will be a distraction and take critical focus off of what is important.

One of the most important exercises a company must go through is to understand who their customer is and how the company will meet customer needs.  Without this understanding, it will be impossible to find the right strategic partnerships. Once the customer is understood, companies need to evaluate potential partners across 4 factors.

The first factor is access to the right customer.  Will the partner enable a company to market their product to a customer segment that will generate revenue and have high life time value?  If not, the partnership will yield access to consumers whose needs are not met.  As a result, little value will be provided to the company.  Unfortunately this happens far to often as young companies rush to find ways to acquire new users and monetize as quickly as possible.  As we all know, this is a symptom of a short-term focus and a need to show growth to current and would be investors.

The second factor is to understand the required investment needed to realize the value of the strategic partnership.  For example, eBay entered into a strategic partnership with PayPal to meet the needs of its users to pay for things securely online.  Yes, eBay had to invest product resources to integrate the PayPal technology into its listings.  However, the investment had a very positive ROI for it brought huge value to eBay buyers and sellers. The product partnership proved to be very successful, as we know, and eventually resulted in eBay acquiring PayPal.

The third factor is the company’s internal resources and willingness to support the partnership.  I’ve seen many companies stumble on this factor. I was part of an organization that needed to partner to quickly provide product features to remain competitive.  It was one of those standard “make vs buy” debates that resulted in the executive team deciding to move forward with a partnerships strategy.  Unfortunately, employees outside of the executive committee did not feel they had the resources needed to support any technology partnerships and quickly dug their heals in and resisted any discussions. Needless to say, any partnership agreements quickly stalled in the implementation process.

The last factor is both parties’ shared interest in a successful outcome.  The partnership must be of equal or greater strategic importance to both partners.  While at Excite@Home I managed a strategic partnership with Paramount Pictures that was designed to increase awareness that Excite was a destination to learn more about the latest blockbuster movies. I managed a team of developers, designers and marketers to build solutions to promote Paramount’s movies across the Excite@Home network.   We busted our butts to get things done.  Unfortunately, Paramount didn’t have much interest in promoting us as defined in our partnership agreement.  We were lucky to get an Excite@Home logo placement on the front page of the Paramount website…but were nowhere close to receiving any offline placements.  Paramount reminded us of this too frequently.  Such is life in the big city. It will always be Silicon Valley vs Hollywood.

So blah.  What is the conclusion to my bloviation? Before company executives start frothing at the mouth to strike strategic partnerships, it’s important to do the introspective work first.  Who is your customer?  What customer needs are being met with the product?  What needs are not being addressed by the product?  Only with this sense of corporate self-awareness can companies enter into fruitful strategic partnerships.  Without doing the upfront work first, it’s like searching for a spouse without knowing what qualities one is looking for in a mate.


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