3 Proven Strategies Every Startup Should Use to Partner With a Bigger Company

Wrangling a partnership with Uber can’t be easy. Large companies can already be difficult to work with–and Uber’s recent history has been, well, tumultuous.

On Wednesday, San Francisco-based car-rental startup Getaround pulled it off. Uber and the startup, which landed on Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list in 2016, have teamed up to create “Uber Rent,” a service that allows users to rent vehicles from Getaround’s fleet through Uber’s app. 

The way the deal came together is perhaps the more interesting news. It’s instructive for any entrepreneur looking to partner with an industry behemoth.

Getaround first approached Uber about a potential partnership several years ago through a mutual investor, says co-founder and CEO Sam Zaid, and talks went nowhere. In the ensuing years, Getaround started gaining traction in the Bay Area. When the company reached out again in late 2016, Uber employees were using the service themselves–and were more willing to engage in conversations. “It wasn’t like we were pitching a pitch deck,” Zaid says. “Everyone knows what Getaround is, everyone in the room knows what Uber is, so let’s talk.”

Then, 2017 hit. For Uber, that meant sexual harassment allegations, lawsuits, regulatory fights, and boardroom power struggles. The Getaround deal stalled.

After a few months of patient negotiations, a pilot program launched in May 2017. The following month, Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigned as CEO–but the program survived, and Uber Rent is now live. Zaid attributes overcoming those roadblocks to three strategies, which every startup should use when striking a partnership:

1. Don’t be afraid to push back.

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, the early conversations around Uber Rent were heavily strategic and guarded. Neither company wanted to reveal its agenda. Zaid says the teams started communicating more transparently after he encouraged his employees to push back against the larger company, earning Uber’s respect. “When you have a smaller company working with a bigger company, a lot of the time, the smaller company is afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘this doesn’t work for us’ or ‘let’s do it a different way,'” Zaid says. “That’s what fostered this degree of trust.”

2. Treat everyone as one team.

Uber dispatched just a handful of staffers to examine a potential partnership. Getaround’s “team” included most of its company. The difference in scale stopped mattering once the parties started viewing the employees involved as a single team, regardless of who paid their salaries. “Obviously, there’s always going to be some tension there,” Zaid admits. “That’s where the transparency, trust, and communication balance it out.”

3. Align your goals.

Any partnership will feature competing priorities and goals. Zaid wishes he had worked more intentionally to make sure Getaround and Uber’s visions were aligned from the beginning. “Early stages, it’s probably not as necessary,” he says. “But then things start snowballing. There could be product issues, engineering issues, operational issues, legal questions that come up throughout.” Being aligned from the start could save you months of back-and-forth–and could keep the partnership from falling apart.