Estee Goldschmidt (Stern '17) is the founder and CEO of ShopDrop, a platform that helps urban fashion lovers discover sample sales so they can wear brands they love for prices they can afford. She and her co-founder Lexi Zimmer writes about their entrepreneurial journey.
This post is part of the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 blog series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way. Learn more about the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 participants here.
We get it; you’re a startup founder with little or no money, depleting your savings and praying that humanity will acknowledge your sweat and tears by ultimately adopting your product. (Hopefully, sooner rather than later.)
For any startup to prosper, it is imperative to build a productive and lasting partnership. Partnerships are beneficial for customer acquisition, marketing, and fundraising. When resources are scarce, getting scrappy is a must. Things get especially difficult when partners expect financial compensation in return for their services, which you have no feasible way of providing.
Check out these 6 tips for creating lasting partnerships with influencers and brands when you don’t yet have the audience or the money.
At ShopDrop, building partnerships are at the core of our business. We aim to build relationships with brands, vendors, and consumers. In the months that we’ve been working on our startup, we have learned a great deal and also made our fair share of mistakes. Be wise and learn from us 🙂
1. Be a human
We’ve all heard this before–companies are people too. Remember, you’re not speaking to TimeOutNY or Who What Wear, you’re speaking to Sarah and Robert and Jen. Be empathetic when speaking to people, a compliment goes a long way. Just like you, these people likely spend the majority of their days slaving over their company or their blog or their Instagram account and appreciate when you point out a specific thing you’ve read of theirs, or what you’ve learned from something that they’ve put up on their page. Tell them exactly why they are the perfect partner for you! Why they have the same mission and a similar way of seeing the world, and how collaborating with you would truly create something special.
2. Get on the phone
We live in a world where email and texting have become equally, if not more common than phone conversations. Especially when it comes to reaching out to the masses, it can be difficult to make the time to just hop on a call with someone. I promise people will misunderstand you if you only communicate via email. Even if you are reaching out to someone cold, I would definitely recommend asking them to get on the phone with you for just a few minutes. Ask them about themselves before you jump into your pitch, and use what they share with you as leverage. Find out what they don’t have and show them how you can fill that gap.
For example, the other day we were speaking with a fashion influencer who focused the majority of her account on natural hair. This girl had a major passion for design and fashion and wanted to slowly make the shift over to fashion, as well as natural hair on her account. The more she spoke, the less it mattered that she had 80K followers and we had 4K, we had something valuable that she could not access on her own.
3. Promise long term relationships when possible
At the beginning of the summer, we announced the “launch” of our app with a VIP event in SoHo where we invited PR, fashion influencers and anyone who we knew would care to be a part of it. With virtually no budget for an event of the size (approximately 100 people), we rolled up our sleeves and went to town, looking for anyone who would be willing to sponsor us. Although we did receive too many no’s to count, the yes’s we received were enough to throw a killer party in the basement of a boutique in SoHo. One tactic we used when securing sponsorships was offering a long term partnership. What do you have to lose? Often small companies will find it valuable to be offered exposure, as well as a chance to stick with you if you happen to make it big. I was very surprised when our wine sponsor and DJ agreed to perform for free if we promised to use them next time when the money starts rolling in.
4. Keep in touch!
It’s extremely important to keep in touch with anyone you make a relationship with. Similar to networking, no one wants to feel like you just call them up when you need them, falling off of the face of the earth until that person becomes useful to you. Back to that “companies are people too” thing, we’ve found it very effective to drop a line here and there when things come up. Share updates, events and new products as they come about, just remember to keep it relevant!
Throughout the spring semester, we had a group of college students work as brand ambassadors for ShopDrop. During one of our monthly events, we invited a few fashion bloggers with large social media followings to join a panel and help us plan our launch event. Giving them the opportunity to share their expertise with students was our way of offering them value, and when it came time to invite them to the event, each and every one of them was in attendance.
5. Don’t aim too high
I imagine that this is the opposite of what you’ve heard throughout your professional career, however. Shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars and all that jazz. As a realist, I believe in reaching out to and attempting to form partnerships with companies who are “within your league.” That doesn’t mean staying away from the Facebooks and Googles of the world with your brilliant idea that will revolutionize the way they’re currently doing things. What it does mean is taking into consideration what you have to offer–as far as engagement and other resources are concerned, compared to how much you are asking to receive in return.
6. Grow a thick skin
I recommend keeping your skin thick and remembering that in early stages, rejections are inevitable. The more partnerships, even though small, you get under your belt, the easier it becomes to actually shoot for the moon. Additionally, during stages of discovery, low-risk partnerships can help you discover exactly what your value is, and teach you how to package it to those larger influencers and brand so they’re coming after you.
So there you have it, folks, you don’t have to have 1 million users or excessive budget for influencers in order to form partnerships and promote your brand. From our experience, the best advice we can give is to be empathetic, remember there is a human being behind those emails and behind that online presence… It is your job to find out what they are missing, and you can show them that they’re exactly what they’ve been needing all along.