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!

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.

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


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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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?

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


are you looking to influence influencers
that are gonna be making buying


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.

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?

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. 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.

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.

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.

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. 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. 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


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.

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?

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


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.
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.

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


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.

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.

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Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
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