In conversation with Paul Fellows, Chief Operating Officer at Partnerize
16th July 2019
Based in Newcastle, Partnerize is the leading provider of partner automation services for the world’s largest brands. Founded in 2010, Partnerize dramatically simplifies forming and managing all types of business partnerships for a constantly growing client base of 300+ global brands.
1. Can you remember your ‘light bulb’ moment when you first came up with the idea for Partnerize?
It was more gradual than a ‘light bulb’ moment, an aligning of opportunities really. I’d been working in the partnerships industry for more than 10 years and I could see a growing demand from clients for a different way or working.
We could see the gradual shift towards a more data-driven, platform-based approach and it finally hit a tipping point. So less lightbulb moment and more growing conviction.
2. Were you employed at the time in another job, or working for yourself?
We had founded another start-up in the partnerships space, which we had sold to AOL. I was working for AOL at the time. But fundamentally, I am an entrepreneur, so it was only a matter to where I would put my focus next.
3. Did you found Partnerize on your own or was it as part of a team?
We did it as part of a team. There were six of us. A lot of us had worked together for several years.
Collectively we covered every area necessary to found Partnerize, tech development, company operations, legal expertise, sales leadership and a background in seeking investment. We had it all covered within our small team.
4. What business support / advice did you access to help turn your business idea into a reality?
We approached organisations like Business Link. Great organisations, but they didn’t really have expert knowledge of the tech sector. That sort of specialised knowledge isn’t what those organisations are about. It would have been hard for a broad business support organisation to add value on such topics. We did seek the help of tech leaders – people we knew and were introduced to. Like any area of business, you need the foundational knowledge but also the deep, category-specific expertise.
5. How fast did your company reach a £1m turnover?
Around the 18-19-month mark. With tech, there is a development cycle that needs to take place before sellers hit the streets. After all, to sell software, you first need to have software to sell. So, the start of sales begins a little slower than in some businesses. It’s different than more tangible businesses like buying a restaurant or providing business services.
6. Can you share some of the highs and lows you’ve experienced along the way?
Getting our “name brand” client was definitely a high point, and our first truly global brand client. Opening our international offices created other really exciting times. We often think about ourselves as a home-town Newcastle company that is impacting global business in San Francisco, Sydney, Hamburg and Tokyo.
For a low I’d say the departure of some of the founding team. We’ve lost some founding team members, which is always a little emotional. The thing is, that if something like that happens – you need to be prepared for it. Some people like to constantly be founding new enterprises. Some like the rapid build phase. Some like both. But some staff change is going to happen, whoever you are.
7. What support do entrepreneurs need to turn their business idea into a reality?
I’d say it’s all about peer-to-peer support and mentorship and getting the right advisers. For example, for Partnerize we track and process £4.5B of retail transactions in 214 countries and territories worldwide. To do that right, we needed the right financial advice on issues like taxation and regulation. We reached out to people that had experience in our sector and had been through challenges like scaling a business.
8. Do you think more businesses should support entrepreneurial leave and help staff create spin outs?
Our team is full of tenacious, talented individuals. I think part of that is coming from North East England. Geordies never quit. We’ve developed a culture around hard work. And a team that takes winning personally. Everyone makes the extra effort.
We’ve created a culture that tries to capture entrepreneurship within the organisation. We invest in those people by keeping them enthused, having them work on new projects for example. Ultimately though, I think if someone is truly entrepreneurial, they will seek out new opportunities.
9. Why is the North East a great place to start a business?
We get stuff done here. There is a real can-do attitude in the North East. We’re also well served by the universities in the region. There are a lot of talented and skilled people here.
Staff loyalty is very high in the North East. People tend to stay in jobs a lot longer than in Silicon Valley, for example. Our retention is almost 50% longer than for the biggest tech companies in California. And that’s for companies at the absolute top of the global pay and perks scale.
We can also offer our staff a better quality of life. As people progress in their careers, they’re looking for a better work life balance. Many of our employees are homeowners because of the cost of living differential.
We also work hard to do right by people. To my knowledge, for example, we have the most generous leave policy for new parents versus any employer in the area. And we provide that worldwide, even in regions like the US where such policies are quite rare.
10. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business?
Go for it and take the risk. It’s not as a scary as you might think. And have a good team of advisers for the areas you don’t know.
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