An Interview with Partnerships Expert Greg Plumb: Finding a Passion for Partnerships and Startups
Greg Plumb has spent the past decade working in partnerships at various startups. Here’s how it all began and what he’s learned throughout his career.
Over the past decade, Greg Plumb has filled a series of partnerships-related roles at various startups. However, that certainly wasn’t how his career began: in his first job, he worked at a large, prestigious management consulting firm. But before long, he realized that this career (and the environment) wasn’t quite what he was looking for.
Instead, Greg developed an interest in both startups and partnerships. While his journey hasn’t always been easy, he’s found a lot to love about his life as a partnerships professional—and he’s gained a great deal of valuable knowledge along the way.
Sarah: How did you enter the partnerships field?
Greg: For the first half of my career, I worked in strategy and operations. I got started as an management consultant at Oliver Wyman, where I helped the largest and richest companies get larger and richer for a few years.
Then, I hopped into startups, and I haven’t looked back since. My first startup role at Signpost was all about asking strategy-related questions: How can we make the organization better with data? What opportunities are we interested in pursuing?
While I enjoyed this work immensely, it required me to act in a very internally focused role. I also wanted to spend time interacting with folks across the organization.
Around the midpoint of my career, I was hired at Criteo. They needed someone to do partnerships as well as strategy, and ops—I had done the latter, and I was excited about the prospect of trying my hand at partnerships.
Sarah: Why would you say working at startups appeals to you?
Greg: In my experience, people who gravitate toward startups tend to have a certain level of comfort with risk. Back in 2014, the thought of leaving a cushy life of management consulting to go into startups was borderline heresy. It was something people just do because it was seen as inherently risky.
But even more importantly, people who have an interest in startups are builders—they want to create things instead of maintaining them. That, I think, is the true unifying force among everyone I’ve met who has chosen to focus on startups.
Sarah: How did you adapt to working in partnerships?
Greg: At the time, Criteo was probably the largest independent ad tech player out there. I had a hybrid strategy and ops/partnerships position on their global partnerships team, which maintained relationships with companies like Microsoft, Facebook (back before it was Meta), and Google. I learned a lot through osmosis in that role.
From there, I received a few promotions, including an opportunity to develop a broader strategy team within Criteo for all global supplies. Then, I got approached by a fund that needed someone for one of their portfolio companies. That led me to the role of VP of Business Development and Strategy for SumAll, which is how I met Scott Pollack, the co-founder and CEO of Firneo.
Scott was literally my predecessor in that role—as anyone who’s familiar with Firneo knows, I had very big shoes to fill.
My role at SumAll was all about building out their partnerships ecosystem. The company focused on small and medium business data, so partnerships played a significant role in what they did. But while I was there, SumAll transformed dramatically. It was acquired by a hedge fund called Two Sigma before being spun out as a new entity known as Odeko, which I was a key part of.
As Odeko’s co-founder and VP of Business Development and Strategy, I oversaw its revenue, growth, and partnerships. That was easily one of my career highlights, and it was just an incredibly fun experience.
Sarah: What are you doing now?
Greg: Currently, I’m at Nash, a last-mile delivery aggregator and marketplace. Nash’s vision is to be the Stripe of last-mile delivery—a single integration not just for DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft, but for hundreds of last-mile fleets people have never heard of. Compared to larger platforms, those fleets can often provide better service at better rates, but the hard part is knowing how to find them.
Like Odeko, Nash is a logistics-based company, so I was already familiar with the space before I started there. As Nash’s Head of Revenue, I’m responsible for both sales and partnerships.
Sarah: What would you say are some significant challenges for people getting started in partnerships?
Greg: Organizations need to be firmly committed to partnerships to make these programs work in the first place. For example, companies like Shopify and Square focus heavily on partnerships. They can be demanding at times, but they want a robust partner ecosystem because they know that will ultimately provide the most value to their sellers. Without that level of buy-in, partnerships programs aren’t likely to succeed.
You also need a certain amount of experience to get into partnerships—this is a very broad universe, but it’s also a weirdly small world in some ways. And even after you get your first partnerships role, you’ll need to know where to go for advice, feedback, and mentorship.
It’s not like sales, where there’s always someone across the desk you can talk to or even just quietly observe. In many cases, partnerships people don’t have someone else at their company who can provide the insights they’re looking for.
Sarah: Let’s talk a bit more about buy-in. How can buy-in from major stakeholders affect a company’s partnerships program?
Greg: Imagine you’re employed at a small or mid-sized startup, and the CEO wants to be directly involved with all things partnerships—after all, it’s their business and their reputation on the line. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a certain level of sexiness around partnerships these days, especially when they involve big deals with known large entities.
Surprisingly, I think buy-in can actually work in both directions. Obviously, having a CEO who cares about partnerships can be helpful. No matter how hard they work, partnerships leaders may find it difficult to get the same level of buy-in that a CEO will automatically have. That said, your CEO might be excited about partnerships without fully understanding how they work.
Because of that, you’ll need to set realistic expectations for how much time it takes to build partnerships and what progress looks like in this field. In sales, you can measure progress by tracking milestones like calls and emails. Partnerships involve a lot more talking before anything gets done, and it’s wise to communicate that to your CEO as soon as possible.
Sarah: Last question: What advice would you give your younger self?
Greg: Ask for help more often—both internally in your organization and externally from other people in the partnerships industry. Yes, every situation is unique, but I’d be shocked if I couldn’t find someone who’s dealt with the same basic challenges I faced. There are places where partnerships people can get advice and mentorship, but you still need to take initiative by looking for that support.
Start Your Partnerships Career With Confidence
Greg is just one of many partnerships pros who had trouble finding guidance in the early stages of their careers. While other professionals can get started by talking to people at their companies, that isn’t always possible for people in the partnerships field. It can also be incredibly hard to understand the strategic internal and external complexities, and without guidance and mentors on hand it often feels like an impossible task.
Fortunately, you can get your strategy on point with Firneo’s Mastering Partnerships Strategy. In 4 weeks, you’ll learn how to diagnose and solve some of the biggest challenges in partnerships, and connect with industry mentors and experts.
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