Follow These Principles to Forge Your First Partnership by Jenna Abdou


When Maria Karaivanova joined CloudFlare in 2011 the 20 member team was thriving on “pure startup energy.” The young startup ran a handful of data centers and each team member was unwaveringly committed to the company’s goal to “build a better internet.” 

Four years later, over 200 team members work on the CloudFlare mission and the company serves thousands of global partners like Baidu, Google, and Microsoft. 

Today, Maria joins Beyond the Headline to share the evolution of CloudFlare’s Partnerships team and provide tangible strategies for you to identify, forge, and scale your early partnerships. 

Here's a guide to get you started. 

Determine the most effective way to structure your team. 

CloudFlare’s Partnerships team is divided into three groups: Distribution, revenue generating partnerships, and strategic partnerships. 

To achieve these three goals, individuals close deals and work in account management and solutions engineering to optimize the department’s efforts. 

Maria seeks team members who are capable of “long-term thinking and relationship building and are savvy enough to negotiate large contracts, term sheets, and understand deal scope.”

Build trust. 

In the early days especially it’s vital that you cultivate trust in unique and cost effective ways. 

When attending conferences, the CloudFlare team sponsored event breakfasts where team members greeted attendees wearing company t-shirts. They also provided airport transportation in CloudFlare branded limos to create a social setting for guests to interact with team members on a personal level. 

These experiences help break the ice, invite individuals to engage, and encourage them to visit your booth later in the week. 


Simplify your offering. 

Product descriptions become too technical very easily. Keep it simple by being short, original, and sticky. 

Despite being an incredibly complex business, CloudFlare’s pitch is that they make websites faster and safer. You can supplement special features as the conversation evolves. 

When communicating with potential partners, always ask more questions than you provide answers. Your first goal is to understand your customer’s problem, not pitch your solution.

Always start with your partner’s interests. Never push your own agenda.


Answer these questions to prepare for your next pitch. 

  • What is this customer’s problem?
  • What companies or individuals are in their portfolio? 
  • Where do we fit? 
  • What value does our product provide for them and their customers? 

Streamline your sign up process. 

One of the most telling components of your demo is making it simple to sign up on the spot. This is especially beneficial when speaking with large audiences. 

Once you forge a partnership, provide detailed and accessible materials for your partners that describe how your service works. 

CloudFlare has a team dedicated to training and certification that helps their partners onboard customers and team members. You can achieve this by developing an API and creating educational technical, sales, and marketing resources for your partners and their users.   

Don’t ask your partners to go above and beyond. Eliminate hurdles by building pre-made packages.

Stay top of mind. 

The key to evolving and scaling partnerships is being on the forefront of your partners’ minds. 

Whether in person or via email, the CloudFlare team personally interacts with each of their partners once a month. This is an opportunity to further understand how CloudFlare fits into their work and uncover if they’re looking for new features or additional education resources. Make it a habit to ask for feedback and understand your partners' evolving needs. 

CloudFlare partners also receive a weekly email with data, such as bandwidth saved and number of averted threats, demonstrating how the solution benefits their customers.

The key point to remember is: Partnerships are about long term relationships, not transactions.  

Optimize Your Internal Communication. 

Brainstorm and prioritize your partnerships efforts based on the needs of your team.  Spend time with your product, engineering, sales and marketing departments to gain a deep understanding of how your efforts can support their goals. 

CloudFlare recently expanded to Brazil and Maria’s team is focused on identifying the most respected partners in the region to establish the company’s presence.  

To gain deeper insight on how CloudFlare’s approaching their next chapter tune into Maria's  episode of Beyond the Headline and follow her on Twitter here



Further Reading
  • Why Prioritizing Partners is Essential to Startup Success — The most important lesson I took away from my conversation with Greg Hong, the co-founder and CEO of Reserve, is that whenever you do something you’ve got to go all in. If you’re a sports fan, it’s approaching every game like it’s the Super Bowl, and in the words of Ravens legend Ray Lewis, it’s about leaving your legacy. 
  • A Message to Female Founders — Although startup life is invigorating, as founders, we rarely experience as many humorous moments as the Pied Piper team does on Silicon Valley. One thing we can relate to, however, is Richard’s experience targeting and working with investors. Alexa Von Tobel, the CEO and founder of...


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