We’re Doubling Down on Partnerships. Let’s Team Up.

Flipboard / August 29, 2018

Cecily Mak, Flipboard’s Chief Business And Legal Officer, Discusses What Flipboard Is Looking For In Partnerships

Building an ecosystem of partnerships is in Flipboard’s DNA. We believe in the power of stories to advance our world — and to make that vision a reality requires deep collaboration with others in media, tech and beyond.

We launched eight years ago with Twitter as one of our first partners, allowing thousands of feeds to surface on our platform, and nine publishers that made their content available for a new mobile experience. Today, after years of investing in these types of partnerships, we work with the best publishers in the world. We’ve created a platform for hundreds of thousands of creators, independent publisher partners and dozens of social partners so Flipboard users can find and share the best stories from across the internet. And there is more to come.

We operate around the belief that our success is dependent on partner success. As our COO, Kal Amin, mentioned in a recent post he wrote on the past and future of Flipboard, we moved to a referral model with publishers when we saw we could more directly support their business by driving traffic to their sites. Our editorial team has collaborated on custom curation with partners like TIMEAxios and Vanity Fair, combining their expertise with our reach to bring important storytelling to our engaged audiences.

In addition to publishers, we work with many organizations in models that extend well beyond editorial collaborations. In June, we partnered with Fitbit to create a wellness community on Flipboard to inspire people to live healthily. Anyone who engaged with the community on our platform automatically entered in a chance to win Fitbit’s new watch and an all-paid trip to train with a brand ambassador. The initiative helped drive awareness for Fitbit’s new product while boosting engagement on Flipboard.

For our advertising partners, we provide insights to help them better create and curate content, from trending topics to content structure (headlines, top copy or image types) that better elicits consumer response. We’ve also partnered with Oracle to better understand our audience and, ultimately, provide our users with a better and more relevant ad experience.

Our message to publishers, advertisers and innovative companies is this: We are expanding our partnerships, getting creative about the content on our platform, and investing in innovation that drives success for Flipboard and its partners. Let’s team up.

On that note, our community manager, Jess Eggert, sat down with our chief business and legal officer, Cecily Mak, to discuss her vision for partnerships on Flipboard.

Jess: Why have partnerships been core to Flipboard since Day One?

Cecily: Our business is built on partnerships across our four key constituents: advertisers, distribution partners, publishers, and content creators. From the very beginning, we’ve recognized and respected that it’s our privilege, not our right, to make the world’s best content available to millions of readers around the world via our platform.

I’ll share an example. In my first few months with Flipboard in 2012, one of our newer publisher partners, a longstanding and very highly regarded publication, reached out to let us know they wanted their content removed from Flipboard as they didn’t like having their articles appear as “one-offs”, separated from the comprehensive flow of their artfully curated print publication.

Initially, I referenced the publisher agreement to confirm that they couldn’t actually have their feed removed for another four months of an initial term. But when I spoke with our founder and CEO, Mike McCue, he immediately dismissed my approach. He reminded the team that our company and product exist because of these valued partners, many of whom have been doing what they do for far longer than most of us have been alive. So instead of pushing back on their request, we scheduled a meeting with their CEO to hear their concerns and address them in innovative and collaborative ways.

I often share this story with new employees or candidates, as it demonstrates this core value of how we handle partnerships: with an open mind, a shared interest in collaborative innovation, and deep respect. When a partner has reservations or concerns about how we work together, we lean into them to better understand how we can collaborate to together meet our goals. In some cases, a partner may need better insights to run a higher quality, more efficient business. In others, they may just need revenue to support their ability to continue to do what they do best: incentivize the best creators to create. We enable our distribution partners to advance their own mission by powering a world-class, premium experience for their own users on their devices.

Jess: What are the ingredients of a successful partnership?

Cecily: In addition to the obvious shared business interests, timeline, and compatible goals, the most successful partnerships benefit from mutual trust and genuine enthusiasm.

Partnerships mean short- and long-term work and commitment — in our case, typically from a range of people across different teams, including product, monetization, engineering, editorial, and more. Foundational relationship-building at the outset empowers these teams to collaborate on more than just the opportunity at hand. When partners work well together, they can, over time, deepen the relationship to proactively innovate and go well beyond the original vision.

It is a lot of work to envision, initiate, build, launch, and then support a partnership. Enthusiasm for the potential of the collaboration is essential to momentum, success, and growth. Sure, a deal can be made without it, but shared excitement will help the people making it happen go beyond baseline for the benefit of all.

Jess: What does Flipboard offer to its partners that no one else has?

Cecily: We approach each partnership with a curiosity and willingness to define our work together in innovative ways. We are extremely committed to quality as a first principle for everything we do. Partners are often stunned with the extra miles our teams will go to make the most of a shared interest and, in turn, bring their best to the work we do together.

Jess: What’s your favorite example of a partnership that worked well for both parties?

Cecily: We had an advertising video product launch last year during which we invited a few key content partners to participate in the beta. In exploring the ways we could collaborate, what was initially a plan for some video experimentation quickly evolved into a broad, multi-faceted and high impact effort with one of our most valued content partners. We helped them boost views of some priority content and, in turn, they worked with us to study the results. Within 30 days, we shared insights that helped to inform future strategies on both sides, including Flipboard’s recent shift to prioritize sending referral traffic to publishers and other content contributors.

The partner then invested in marketing on our platform as well, recognizing that not only were they boosting their brand with this effort, but also directly impacting revenue with millions of new, unique visitors discovering their programs via Flipboard’s curation. It was a win on all sides that supported our ongoing collaboration around monetization, discovery, and the power of curation on both platforms.

Jess: What’s your advice to other startups learning how to create and navigate strategic partnerships?

Cecily: Listen first. Observe how a potential partner works, communicates, presents itself, prioritizes, and sees itself and its market opportunity before starting to define a collaborative effort. Focus on understanding the team and the company, and learn as much as you can before defining the strategy and scoping terms. Be prepared to adapt as you evolve, hopefully together. Get the high level well-defined before getting into the details. Recognize early on that successful strategic partnerships are all about relationships. The partnership is just starting when the contract is signed, not the other way around. Rarely do we want a “done deal” — we want our deals to thrive as our efforts are defined over time. Some of our best relationships with partners are almost as old as Flipboard itself, and they keep getting better with time.

Jess: What’s your message to companies and organizations that want to partner with us?

Cecily: As we grow our audiences around the world, we will continue to build our ecosystem of partners. Brands, publishers, and media companies all work with Flipboard to build value for their brand by connecting their stories to audiences that are interested and paying attention. Additionally, we’d love to collaborate with companies like Slack, MeetUp, and Instagram to add value to people’s lives by improving user experiences that are central to their work, life, and play. So I would say let’s get creative — if there’s a way your business can use Flipboard, let’s talk.

Reach us at partnerships@flipboard.com to get the conversation going. We look forward to collaborating.

~The Flipboard Team is reading 10 for Today