Don’t Get Lost In Translation: How To Partner With A Mobile-First Company


Like most Americans I know who have done business in Japan, I spent hours preparing for my first visit.

I had new customs to learn, including how to give appropriate corporate gifts and properly exchange business cards. Ten years ago, it was not uncommon for catering service to bring water pitchers and ashtrays to meetings in which openly smoking was not at all taboo. I had never before seen people light up inside an office.

At my first-ever business dinner in Tokyo, I learned the hard way about seating arrangements that are carefully coordinated to accommodate representatives of all attending companies. Sizing up the group and its movement toward the table, I thought I’d make things easier for everybody by taking a seat that was relatively crammed in amid other tables and chairs. After I took a chair, one of my hosts gently tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move. My hosts had reserved that seat for the senior-most executive at the dinner.

Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation captures some of the humor and poignancy that can happen when different cultures meet. The risk of cultural misadventure doesn’t just apply at the international level, though. Companies of all sizes and industries often find partnering with one another to feel every bit as strange.

Having co-marketed with many mobile-first companies, I recommend three things for non-mobile companies to help them prepare for doing business with a mobile app publisher or developer.

  1. Prepare for a generational shift: Many well-known, mobile-first enterprises are heavily staffed by Millennials. They have cultivated their own work style that may seem more casual at first. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see that they blur the lines between work and off-work in such a way that they are never really unplugged. Smartphones have been around for most of their formative years, so the technologies and trends that may seem foreign to you are completely natural to them. Learn their ways by following some of the brightest stars among their cohort. Inc.’s 30 Under 30 can help introduce you to the personalities this group admires most.

  2. Scouting the mobile players: By now, just about everybody has heard of mobile’s rock stars, companies such as Uber, Spotify, Supercell and Instagram. To spot the up-and-comers, consider using App Annie, which provides app download rankings and intelligence. Study these companies as you would any other to determine their ownership structure, pain points, previous partnerships, and more. Websites like Crunchbase can help you determine if a company is public or private, VC funded or bootstrapped. Look up their founders on Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, SlideShare, and search engines to read what they have published, and be sure to watch recordings of their appearances at events.

  3. Anticipate what a mobile-first company wants most from any partnership: Most of the time, mobile marketers and app developers look for three things in any partnership. They want to increase their app’s distribution and drive downloads. They want consumers to use their apps more frequently, and they want more awareness of their app, brand or company. Think about how you can help achieve these things and you’ll be on your way to a very productive conversation.

Many mobile and non-mobile companies have partnered successfully already, so there’s nothing about any of these challenges that should stop you. Do your homework and you won’t get lost in translation.

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