How RapidSOS used creative tactics to build partnerships and a BD engine at scale

RapidSOS EC-1 Part 3: Partnerships

One of the most challenging aspects of leading a startup is the seeming impossibility of building partnerships and executing business development. Large companies are sclerotic and bureaucratic, taking eons in terms of startup years to make decisions that for them are small, but for a new company, can be life itself. Every startup ultimately needs to break through those logjams, and sometimes, they need to lock in quite a few partnerships to be successful.

And then there is RapidSOS. With a two-sided business built around relationships with dozens if not hundreds of companies on both sides of the coin, it needed to gain competency in building partnerships really early and really quickly as it scaled its data platform to improve emergency 911 calls. We’ve already covered the company’s origin story and business in parts one and two of this EC-1, and now I want to turn to the secret sauce: How a scrappy cadre of startup folks were able to break down the walls that imperil partnerships at some of the largest tech companies in the world.

For RapidSOS, which had to scale to support hundreds of partners over the years, the key has been building its team and training them for the unique partners they have signed agreements with.

The key, as we will learn, is a set of creative tactics that the company used to bind as many stakeholders into its business as possible. We’ll look at what these partnerships are and how they are formed, and then explore how RapidSOS integrated with software vendors in the 911 space. We’ll also explore how it educated call takers at public safety answering points (PSAPs), worked with its customer partners, and finally, how it built its advisory board and an industrywide initiative around health profiles to become a key thought leader in the market.

The art of the partnership

“Partnership” is a notably and intentionally vague term often thrown around startup circles. Simply put, it describes a business relationship, generally consummated with a contract or statement of work, that brings two companies together over a common initiative. Unlike a mere sale, where one company supplies a product and perhaps customer support in exchange for compensation, partnerships tend to be much broader and more strategic, and can include everything from cross-promotion and channel marketing to engineering assistance, venture investment, exclusivity commitments and more.