Is the word partnership another empty term the agency world has used until it's exhausted? Has it lost its true meaning? Probably, and that’s why we need to rethink it. Either way, one thing is for sure: The client/vendor model for creating digital products is broken.
The scene sounds too familiar and old fashioned at the same time: We have vendors focusing on profits and clients who only care about costs, like two actors pulling the opposite sides of a rope. Who wins with this model? No one, it can only bring attrition.
There is something I’ve called “the traditional model of mistrust” in doing business: upfront payment before the vendor delivers anything and scope creep when the client has the power by holding payments.
We believe there is a better way. Actually, we know it. Working FOR clients is not as effective as working WITH clients. It’s all about partnerships, which essentially means building relationships based on trust and empathy. And just like in any healthy and everlasting friendship or relationship the underlying basis of success is a high level of confidence in one another.
Working FOR clients is not as effective as working WITH clients. It’s all about partnerships, which means building relationships based on trust and empathy.
This model overcomes the struggle with recruiting and outsourcing that early-stage companies suffer. At the same time, it helps ease the lack of time for managing specs, tracking progress and other burdens founders usually face.
Minimum Perfect Experience
It’s proven that both greater outputs and cost savings can be achieved with a suitable partner. Not only when it comes to creating digital products but also when we talk about urban and rural regeneration or economic development.
The right partnership allows each actor to benefit from cooperation, while still retaining autonomy. We know our clients are experts in their market, and they know we're experts in building great digital products. What we do is to establish a strong connection where we have the freedom to follow our proven process, while our clients enhance the outcome with their input and feedback.
We help our partners shape their vision into a Minimum Perfect Experience, something they’ll be excited to put in front of their customers.
Instead of pursuing the more typical and lean Minimum Viable Product, we help our partners shape their vision into a Minimum Perfect Experience, something they’ll be excited to put in front of their customers. In fact, we think beyond that. We understand our partners will grow, and that Experience has to grow with them. We future-proof our designs, deliver scalable architectures, and build a solid foundation on which to transition the work to their own teams.
Creating value together
The traditional unidirectional model inherited from the golden age of advertising agencies doesn't work today for software, apps, digital, and creative technology products. The advantages of partnerships in this context are resource availability, effectiveness and efficiency, and legitimacy.
Indeed, partnerships can overcome market imperfections that are caused by external factors for all of the project partners. For instance, sometimes we’ve joined startups as their design and engineering team in their early days at an incubator and help the founders meet critical deadlines set by the accelerator programs. By partnering with us, they achieve their product goals, and we strengthen our business model, gaining a reputation among the startups communities.
Communication and transparency are key too. Our partners always know we are focused on product goals, and we're flexible with timelines but strict with budgets. They know they have to provide candid feedback and share market expertise.
Also related to communication and transparency is a willingness to share the vision and the culture of the companies that are about to work together. It’s important to spend some precious time talking to each other, getting to know each other, trying to understand what one person wants to build and why, and how the other can help. The famous empathy of the design world also applies here.
We know our clients are experts in their market, and they know we're experts in building great digital products.
Sahil Lavingia, founder of the Billion-Dollar company GumRoad, said something once that captivated me: “I am more focused on creating value than capturing it. I still want to have as large an impact as possible, but I don’t need to create it directly or capture it in the form of revenue and valuation.” That brings me to when Mike Maser, CEO of Big Sky Health, told us that their mission, (helping people live healthier, longer lives), is the reason they wake up every morning.
All these statements resonate so much with us at Z1. Showing commitment towards the values of the brands we are about to work with helps founders make the decision to choose Z1 as their partners to develop their products. It's so obvious that sometimes companies seem to forget that when you share values with the people you are working with, everything is way easier.
Hopes, dreams, ambitions
We ask our partners to understand that building software is hard, especially for early-stage startups or highly innovative organizations.
- How do you properly estimate the effort for building a product that needs still to be prioritized and designed?
- How do you properly estimate a project that does not have a clear goal yet?
Uncertainties and constraints cannot be easily added to a Gantt timeline. But you can choose a partner you trust, and know that they’re going to think about your product vision and care about your company as much as you do.
I like what Jules Ehrhardt says about business in the context of time passing by. He compares a company with a temporary vessel for people’s hopes, dreams, and ambitions.“It is never forever”, he claims. “And once the castle slips into the sea, all that remains (and therefore all that is important), are the relationships forged and the work put into the world.” I always try to keep that in mind.