Grow your Startup on the Backs of Known Brands

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Isaac Newton

When you start out as a startup, no one knows who the hell you are. You can always make your big splash on TechCrunch, Mashable, etc. — but that traffic will just come and go. Sometimes people have this mentality of, “If I build it, they will come,” and I can tell you now that isn’t the case. You’re just an upstart trying to build credibility in the industry/space you’re competing in. It’s an uphill battle you have to face in order to educate everyone who you come in contact with about what you’re looking to build, but it gets easier and easier after getting some wins in your pocket. One way to build a winning streak is to use larger known brands to help build your brand.

Make connections with recognizable brands

During the earlier days at TeachStreet, we wanted to see if larger educational companies would like to use our platform of connecting with students looking to learn to gain more leads/sales for their business. I literally did the following to put together my list of brands I’d like to work with:

  1. Identify the categories we wanted to go after. In our case, it was: test prep, tutoring, music, fitness, and business/computer training.
  2. Within the categories identified, list the desired companies in those industries.
    Measure the opportunities with each company. For us, it was city and category coverage. Which one had the most centers, teachers, etc.
  3. Check your network and see if any of your connections have any ties with the companies on the list. We used our networks heavily, which even included teachers on TeachStreet. Linkedin is also a gold mine to help find the connection you need.
  4. Prioritize with the leads through introductions from your network first then move to cold calling.

This is probably the most difficult part of the process because it’s about landing that first partner to take a chance on what you’re doing. Once you land those first few established partners, you’re off to a great start. We were lucky to have a couple of great partners initially here at TeachStreet like Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.

The brands should help promote the partnership

Once you get the first few companies on board, be sure to treat them as partners and have them understand that their involvement will help this partnership succeed. One of the ways these larger companies can help you is by promoting their presence on TeachStreet through email newsletters, blog posts, Facebook posts, and Twitter. This is probably one of the most valuable things you can get from your initial partners since their network of customers are probably larger than yours and if you’re able to capture a portion of those customers to use your site — that’s a great start. Plus, more likely than not, their competitors are following what they’re doing and their announcement will allow you to have easier conversations with potential partners in the future.

Showcase the successful partners as much as possible

Use the partners who have been successful on your site and showcase them like no other. Promote them on your blog, social media outlets, and primarily on your site. It’s important to have these initial partners be successful because in the end, you’ll be using them as your case study examples to potential partners on why your product is working. At TeachStreet, we were able to eventually bring on a good amount of Premium Partners to create a showcase page, which helped us get more business.

So let’s recap:

  1. Connect with larger brands you’d like to work with and close those deals
  2. Try and have those larger brands promote their presence on your product
  3. Promote and showcase the hell out of those partners

If you do those right, all you really need to do is rinse and repeat while improving the process and product along the way.


  • KirstenWinkler
    Aug 8, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Joe. Really great advice, took some notes 🙂

    • Joseph Sunga
      Aug 8, 2011 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks a lot. I thought it’s time to put some of my thoughts on paper for a change.

      • Ferdespina
        Aug 9, 2011 at 12:37 am

        Nice work very simple yet difficult to execute…u guys doing done work

        • Joseph Sunga
          Aug 9, 2011 at 12:44 am

          Thanks a lot Ferdie. It’s all about execution and doing the heavy lifting especially when you’re not a huge recognizable brand initially. The weight of brand recognition is definitely another topic I’d like to touch on. An email coming from Microsoft/Amazon will probably be noticed more than one from a startup — how does one get noticed?

  • daveschappell
    Aug 9, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Joe spills the beans about how @TeachStreet has become a powerhouse…

  • Harold Hing
    Aug 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Joe, totally agree. Look at Service Alley, we were running fill speed ahead with the backing of a well known brand which made it soo much easier to approach customers and break into a new market. Also being a well known individual doesn’t hurt easier, ie the adoption of Square and the backing of Jack Dorsey.

    • Joseph Sunga
      Aug 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      Yeah, the power of having a known brand is super helpful. They pick up your calls. They email you back quicker. etc.

  • uSpeak Team
    Aug 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Very interesting post indeed, great to get some actionable, concise and focused advice.

    • Joseph Sunga
      Aug 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      Hopefully this helps you moving forward. It’s a matter of executing.

  • coderoid
    Oct 9, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    So, does it mean for your first partners, you waive all the fees and expenses? What is the interest of Kaplan, for example, to direct their students who read their email list to your website – wouldn’t they have commission fees from those students which they would pocket otherwise?

    • Joseph Sunga
      Oct 9, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      With all of our partners, we get paid whenever we drive them a new student. That’s for our first partners and our partners today. I think it’s important for companies, especially startups, to provide value for their customers and charge for it. For Kaplan, they could have not helped with anything, but we were in a partnership and as partners we encouraged a two-way street. It’s hard to do, but they are great partners and it’s important to set expectations early.


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