Ep. 176: Paul Ruppert - Creating Strategic Partnerships

Paul Ruppert, Growth Consultant and Advisor for sales strategy and strategic partnerships, joins Count Me In to talk about the value of the finance team when creating strategic partnerships. Paul is passionate about bridging differences in driving profitable global growth strategies. He has great work experience collaborating with all stakeholders, building trust with customers, strategic partners, and the entire supply chain worldwide to optimize outcomes. His functional skills span business development, award winning product development, global commercialization as well as framing M&A thesis on deals ranging from $5m to $60B. In addition, he's co-authored two SMS related patents, as well as having been a professional ski instructor for 25 years. In this episode, he talks about some of the biggest challenges organizations face in today’s business landscape, what future opportunities will present themselves following ongoing advancements in technology and business, and how to identify and work with up and coming accounting talent when nurturing strategic partnerships. Download and listen now!
Contact Paul Ruppert: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulruppertintl/

Full Transcript:

Adam: (00:05)
Hey everyone. Thank you for coming back to listen to another episode of Count Me In, I am your host Adam Larson, and this is episode 176 of our series. As we hold conversations about various topics impacting the accounting and finance world, one of the underlying themes across most is strategy. In this episode, you'll hear from Paul Ruppert, an ambidextrous executive with deep experience in startups, as well as global fortune 100 enterprises who shares as knowledge and expertise on strategic partnerships. Keep listening to hear more about how the finance team can best support large strategic initiatives for the organization.
 
Mitch: (00:50)
So as we get through today's conversation, we're gonna look at some concepts around strategy, strategic partnerships, but I think it's first important to kick off what are some of the biggest considerations or are challenges that many are facing in today's business landscape?
 
Paul: (01:06)
I think, you know, many people get into business thinking that there's some linearity from a plus B plus C equals D equation, but in reality, it's all about adaptability and change. And change is not only the change that you experience when you start facing various types of problems and challenges and friction points, but also your ability to manifest change, create that change and live through that change. I've been involved in businesses on a global basis and how I approach the business in the US was very different than I was approaching the business when I was in Hong Kong or in Europe. And that adaptability, that agility as it's often described, you know, in technology is really the the watch word more than anything else, in my view. You know, there's, as I mentioned earlier, earlier before our call, I don't believe in a silver bullet solution.
 
Mitch: (02:13)
And as we talk about adaptability, agility, you know, the bottom line is we are looking to advance the business, right, advance the function and adapt to modern advancements. And I think you just kind of mentioned briefly technology here, but without having a crystal ball and being able to see into the future perfectly, what does the future of business really look like? And, you know, as we continue to adapt and be agile, what are we really preparing for? What is the future of the business landscape look like?
 
Paul: (02:45)
Well, you know, that's a big, big question in the context of where is everything going. If you just look at our immediate past in past history, you know, three years ago, I'm involved in the text messaging business and it's been around, it's how, you know, enterprises communicate and connect with end consumers. And we live through it on a day to day basis. When you get tested for what's called a one time password, you know, you just proving that you are who you are. And the business let's say three plus years ago was moving steadily along. And let's say let's call grocery store rates, meaning about three to 5% growth rate. This is a fairly established industry. You know, it's roughly about $200 billion of business globally. It's quite large, but people don't really experience on a day to day basis relative to cost and effect if you will, but they still utilize it.
 
Paul: (03:47)
And since the pandemic, because of the dynamics of how we behave as human beings and being working from home environments and the fact that we are now utilizing zoom and video, et cetera, the reality is that the messaging business has grown to about 30% CAGR for the next three years is what the expectation is. And I am of the belief that once human beings experience something much more convenient for them, they usually don't turn backwards and want to do something less convenient. Okay. So in all of that context, that's kind of the dynamics of where we are going, what it looks like and the over the horizon perspective, the crystal ball, as you characterized it is that your expectations often may be unexpected. Things may not go as you think they are going. And there's lots of converging factors, you know, digitalization prior to COVID, the growth of it, the speed of it, the means in which many business were able to quickly and with great agility pivot to new types of initiatives, you know, I can talk about call centers that were stripped down from being on premise in the course of four to five days and redistributed to the the call center rep's homes, because everybody shifted, you know, we couldn't be in large groups any longer, it was just too unsafe.
 
Mitch: (05:22)
Now a lot of our listeners are in, you know, the business of opportunity recognition. And I know it's very difficult and maybe unexpected as some of these you know, evolutions arise. You know, we first spoke, I know you mentioned something along the lines of you know, the business landscape reaching 6G. So with some of this uncertainty but so much opportunity, what can our listeners really take away you know, from the idea or what should they be doing really to maybe open their eyes a little bit and see what this opportunity means for their individual businesses,
 
Paul: (06:03)
Right. Yeah. You know, we all watch well, many of us watch professional football, the NFL on weekends, and, you know, the number of mobile phone companies like principally T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon all talking about 5G. And then if you were to turn to your spouse or friend that you're watching the game with and ask the question, so why is 5G better than 4G outside of the reach? You know the reality there is that what we're doing right now is probably gonna be the, one of the big manifestations of 5G value, which is video and speed and processing. And so as we then move to 6G, then it becomes much more engaged on such things as what's called sentiment and intent. So you might be reaching out to, you know, let's say your mobile phone provider, because you've got an issue with your iPhone or something along those lines and that inbound call or inbound message or whatever it might be that platform that you're utilizing to connect with your provider, they already have a sense of what your intent is.
 
Paul: (07:17)
Why are you calling, you know, and that's, you know, consumer data products and platforms that are looking at combining your personal behavior, as well as the fact that you might have an iPhone eight. And, you know, the lifespan of that iPhone eight is probably five years past it's optimal performance. And so soon as they start talking to you, whether or human being, or not, whether it's a chatbot that may come into the dialogue as to, would you like to upgrade your phone? We see that it's six, seven years old, something along those lines, that's the kind of stuff that'll be playing out, which is a little spooky.
 
Mitch: (07:59)
It is, it definitely is, but everybody's looking for the answers as fast as possible. Right. So if that means getting them to the solution sooner, I think we're just going to adapt and take that luxury eventually. So with that in mind, you know, I think, like I said, going back to opportunity recognition, this is an opportunity for individuals to really expand their horizon, right. And it's an opportunity to possibly, you know, take their business or their function and look to build some strategic partnerships with others who are able to bring those opportunities to us. So when it comes to strategic partnerships, what are some of the things that individuals should really pursue or make sure that they have you know, for both sides, I suppose to make sure that this endeavor is worthwhile, you know, with technology, there is so much risk and uncertainty but developing strategic partnerships, what are some of the keys to consider there?
 
Paul: (08:59)
Yeah. First and foremost is to be open-minded, don't be close-minded relative to what you're looking at because even potentially partnering with your competitor may have value I'm in a business that is cooperative and competitive at the same time. And you can't do the business without having that type of relationship that you may be competitive hammer and tongs in the marketplace, but technologically, both of you need each other to be able to provide the solution to the broad marketplace. So open mind open-mindedness flexibility. I used to, well, I still use the term agility and humility in the context of you're not walking in saying, this is what I think I want. And instead, you're thinking about where are the opportunities, as you mentioned, the opportunity recognition, the opportunity subsets, and then it's as much about what's your strategy in terms of partnerships, are you looking to influence influencers that are gonna be making buying decisions?
 
Paul: (10:06)
That's a different initiative than trying to figure out I was once in a project where myself and my technical lead in a company, we were in a hotel bar in Tokyo, and this was in 2012. And I said, you know, this whole thing about cybersecurity, we gotta figure out how to be able to provide a solution to identify potential infringements on mobile networks and text messaging. Could we do that? He was like, well, yeah, you know, and he brought, broke it down relative to the analytical functionality, but we didn't know in the platforms. So we then went hunting for who could provide that type of platform, that functionality, and we found them. And so then we reached out to 'em and said, this is what we do, you know, and this is what you guys do. We want to be able to figure out how we might be able to work together. And within nine months, that was a live trial with, at and T. And within two years, we were generating about $16 million in revenues, which was roughly about 8% of the total revenues of the business unit at that stage.
 
Mitch: (11:16)
And, you know, strategic partnerships, something for many of our listeners, accounting and finance particularly internally we address this as business partnering, right? Being able to raise awareness you know, identify some risks, not necessarily give all the answers that everybody wants to hear, but look at it strategically. so before we get to the accounting side of things, just from this risk and strategy, you know, concept and, you know, talking about foresight, looking to see that we need to do something, maybe it is working with a competitor or somebody that you've never worked with before an industry you've never dealt with before, with all this technology evolving now, how do you ensure that whatever partnership you're proposing, you know, when you bring it to the table and you have these internal discussions, how do you ensure that, you know, you get that buy-in and you, you talked about influencing, but how do you take it to the next step where you can actually see the results that you ended up seeing?
 
Paul: (12:14)
Well there's no guarantee to any of this, you know, you may be starting off on your journey with the objective of, yeah. We found this company and they do this type of process, and let's go talk to 'em and you may find that they're not very likable or they're not very cooperative, or they're not interested in having that kind of dialogue because they think that you might be stealing their IP or whatever it is. So it's as much about, oh, you know, coming with an open hand in an open mind and kind of laying out here's the opportunity. I was once in an acquisition in a company that we got approached by a visionary, and he said you know, this text messaging stuff, this was in 2006, mind you almost 15, 16 years ago, this text messaging stuff would be great in a customer relationship management software capability, which is what we do, you know, and those of us who were in the transport side messaging side, we looked at each other and thought, who would've ever thought, you know, we should have thought that.
 
Paul: (13:19)
So, you know, here's somebody who's coming forward with a potential partnership while the partnership was in acquisition is how it all played out in the end, favorably, mind you. But, you know, if we had put up our guards and weren't really interested in having that conversation that wasn't our attitude. We were open to any conversation because we had already been looked at before, you know, but we also recognized that wasn't a good play. We walked away from it. No harm, no foul type engagement. And then something else came up. We were like yeah, this might be viable. And our investors, like, this is what we should do.
 
Mitch: (13:56)
And then, you know, as far as investors, you know, M&A, a lot of that, our listeners are a part of, and I do want to bring this to our, you know, the accounting and finance side of things. We talk about a lot of the strategic partnerships, opportunity recognition, and many of us are, you know, involved in these, but you know, it's cross-functional and somebody like yourself, you said, you're not in accounting or finance. You know, it's important to have relationships with those who do understand that. So, you know, from somebody who is experienced and successful with a lot of these strategic partnerships, from your perspective, what is the value of having somebody with that accounting background
 
Paul: (14:37)
It's critical. and I think I mentioned in our pre-call in the context of how I've approached this being a commercial guy, you know, the moniker, just a sales guy, I'm not just a sales guy. You don't go from sales to M&A, unless you've, you know, laddered up and have a fair amount of skill sets to be able to support that. But in every case where I've run either a product group or even a sales group I had somebody that I designated as the financial expert, meaning somebody who I could turn to and say, I wanna model here. And here's how I want to model this type of pricing exercise or what the valuation might be relative to, you know, let's look at the business case and create that and create that quickly. You know, I can do that, but it takes too long.
 
Paul: (15:24)
And so I'd rather go off and get some, you know, younger, you know, person who literally I've walked in to an office where we thought we were gonna be firing somebody you know, and about five minutes after meeting with the guy re recognized that he was gonna be more valuable if we kept him. And I put him on my team and essentially said, would you be interested in joining the product team, even though you are in finance? And he was like, well, yeah. I mean, that seems a lot more interesting that what I do in finance, it was like, okay, you know, targeting people who would have the right affinity and the right perspective and the flexibility to be patient with those of us who are not spreadsheet monkeys, I should say, spreadsheet, masters. and you get the idea, it's it's as much an attitude in terms of being able to communicate what the objective is, you know, I used to say, I write the manifesto, you write the code and be able to put that forward so that the bridges are made and the bridges are made early on.
 
Paul: (16:27)
And that partnership is established early on, as opposed to, you know, okay, what do you want us to look at now? And even in the context of how to approach the problem, you know, recently I was in a conversation with a client where they were talking about potential acquisition. The company had no corporate development team. This was a substantial company, not publicly traded, but still nonetheless, a very substantial company, almost a billion dollars in revenues. And most of the stuff that they had done in M&A was on the fly, what I would call fire, ready, aim analysis. And you know, I looked around and I asked the question, okay, well, you guys have done a few, but they're really small. And this is a lot larger that you're thinking of, bigger scale. You're gonna have to do it swiftly.
 
Paul: (17:16)
And by the way, there's a digestion period off after the fact. So the numbers may look seemingly at first pass a good thing, but there are a lot of soft analysis and factors that need to be reflected. So we need to ensure that those are reflected in the well that, you know, was a combination of my perspective and on the operational side, as well as the financial perspective of how do we measure and reflect the impact of those as costs, you know, and put a dollar figure behind that. And that that's a collaborative effort.
 
Mitch: (17:54)
And, you know, you mentioned being able to do some of these models or analyses and doing them quickly. And I think a lot of what our accounting finance listeners are looking to do is, you know, upscale with these technologies in order to do their jobs more efficiently. But what you're kind of talking about here is really the re-skilling. Being able to take that skillset and apply it to a different function of the business. And I think a lot of what we're looking to do right, is kind of get that seat at the table. I think that's what a lot of our members and listeners want. So just, you know, you mentioned junior individuals and other finance you know, professionals, but as far as, you know, maybe the technical skills, but also some of those, the softer skills and just personality, how do you identify somebody from the finance team that you want on your team to help your strategic partnerships?
 
Paul: (18:44)
Wow. You know, I wish I could say, well, this was my plan, in each of the scenarios, and here's the plan that I'll use in the next scenario, but that's just not the case. You know, it's as much instinct, instinct is essentially inferred experience and experience is gained. I should say an inferred expertise and expertise is driven by experience. So there's a gut factor in the context of knowing what I'm looking for and, you know, it helps when you're the leader of an organization and, you know, you know, what you want based on your past experiences. I guess generally I would say back to keep an open mind and look to, as you put it re-skill and apply your capabilities in other venues, because those skills may seem routine or even mundane in what you're doing. I mean, that's why one guy was like, yeah, you know, this is gonna be a lot more exciting than, you know, what I'm doing in the accounting group.
 
Paul: (19:52)
Good. That's the whole idea, you know, that may seem mundane and routine in one environment, but then could be an extremely valuable asset in another environment. And that's how you end up by showing your judgment and skillset, et cetera. That's how you end up earning the seat at the table. As you mentioned, you know, we, there's a great book. I'm forgetting the author's name, but it's called range. And the premise of range is essentially that we have gone to the point where there's too much niche expertiers. One person does one thing really, really well, and they are viewed as the grand and therefore should be the unified leader. However you want to characterize it. But in reality, the complexities of the problems that we face, you know, there's a great example, like climate change, you just can't have one perspective.
 
Paul: (20:46)
You've gotta have a lot of different experience to be able to come to the table. And I think that's as much what I've tried to do in my career. I mean, I've kind of ambidextrous in the sense that I have a pretty solid public slash political career when I was in my twenties and then exited into the private sector when I was in my thirties, but still utilized a lot of the skills and expertise that I developed, you know, as a young person in the political world and applied in the private sector. And even in the context, I then took that and pivoted into from going from large enterprises, you know, fortune 100 companies, AT&T, into startups and leverage that polish and process, but then also having the creativity and the agility, and even the attitude of being in a buccaneer inside a startup environment.
 
Mitch: (21:44)
And so I do wanna wrap up this conversation. It's been extremely insightful. So thank you for sharing your experiences, some of the examples along the way you know, just as a last question for you, any last thing that you would like to add, you know, any advice or key takeaways from this conversation in terms of strategy, strategic partnerships, you know, earning that seat at the table, you know, what, what is a piece of advice that somebody in your position would like to share with our listeners
 
Paul: (22:14)
So often I'm not going to label accountants as being the center of this, but so often people like, you know, the minimal viable product perspective of identifying your market and identifying your functionality and moving from zero to one, and then going from zero to one and realizing that, you know, that was a great success, which is essentially approaching a startup and getting a startup up and running. But I'm of the school that, you know, Reed Hoffman, who's the founder of LinkedIn, I believe, and wrote a book called Blitzscaling. And ironically, I kind of did blitzscaling before he wrote the book, but, you know, and as he puts it think going from zero to a billion and think in that context of, you know, I characterize it as going global from the start because global markets are gonna be bigger. They may be more difficult, but if you've got network effects that you can play out, you get faster, you get bigger and you end up defining the terrain that you're operating in relative to your competitors and even your customers. And if you're in that space, you know, then you're really the lead dog in all of this. So if there's one thing that I've would suggest, you know, I would, I'll put it in the context of special air squadron motto, which is the British SAS, who dares wins.
 
Speaker 4: (23:45)
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