Interview With an Expert: Greg Wasserman
Greg Wasserman has worked in partnerships and sales positions at many different companies. Find out everything he’s learned about partnerships along the way.
While Greg Wasserman always knew he was interested in marketing and sales, he never considered entering the partnerships industry. But that’s exactly where he ended up, and like countless other partnerships professionals, he had to figure out the rules of this industry as he went along.
Over the years, Greg has worked in partnerships and sales positions at many different companies, including some of the biggest names in the media world. Read on to follow his journey from an assistant buyer for a department store chain to a seasoned, knowledgeable partnerships professional, and find out what he’s learned along the way.
Sarah: First things first: tell me where you came from and how you got into partnerships.
Greg: I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, but I moved out to LA to study marketing and never left. I started my career as an assistant buyer of mattresses at Robinsons-May/Meier & Frank. It was a learning experience, but ultimately not for me.
In 2006, my girlfriend at the time said, “oh, my coworker just turned down this job at Yahoo; you should go interview for it.” I got the job.
Sarah: What did you do at Yahoo?
Greg: I started in inside sales, managed a team, and worked my way up to a sales manager position. We brought on Hulu and Sling TV among many other clients, but over the five-and-a-half years I was there, Yahoo went through five CEOs. I was like, “I’m over this,” and decided to call it quits. A few months later I joined some other former employees at a startup called Eventful.
Over the next few years, I worked for a number of different companies in sales roles both domestically and abroad, and although it was exciting, I ended up burnt out and needed a break.
I took some time off, and realized I was over the repetitive sales grind. I’d heard about partnerships and seemed much more dynamic and interesting, so I accepted a position with Freebird, a ridesharing rewards platform.
Sarah: How did working at Freebird kickstart the partnerships side of your career?
Greg: At Freebird, my goal was to find advertising partners to reward riders, and it was an extremely refreshing and interesting new role for me. Instead of selling things, we were getting companies like Nike to partner with Uber to reward people for using Uber’s service while getting some marketing exposure in return.
It’s a brand equity play—or in other words, a marketing partnership.
Thanks to my ad experience, it ended up being a natural fit. However, I quickly realized we needed to develop our partner strategy if we wanted to maximize its value. While advertisers loved the concept, we weren’t scaled where we needed to be. I went to the founders and explained that I thought we could do a lot more with the program, and developed a strategy to find the new users we’d need to take our partnerships ecosystem to the next level.
Sarah: How did it go?
Greg: My first idea was to partner with credit card companies, since users needed to connect their accounts to get rewards from Freebird. Along the same lines, once users had money in their account, they needed to transfer it to a bank.
In the end, the narrative was pretty straightforward: it was as simple as going to banks and credit card companies and saying, “how about offering our app to your customers?” We already had a templatized process to bring them in, so we could answer all their questions and make saying “yes” easy.
Once we developed the ecosystem, we started calling up companies and figuring out who could offer Freebird rides to their users. Ultimately, I was able to drive more new users at a lower cost than our marketing team was doing, and that’s the moment I fell in love with the power of partnerships.
Partnerships are an extension of us: life is about time and relationships, and so are partnerships. At Freebird, I leveraged connections, created equity for three parties, and found new marketing opportunities for us and our partners.
Sarah: What was next in your partnerships career?
Greg: In January 2021, I joined a business called Maple Media as its director of global sales, business development, and partnerships. We had 200 apps in our portfolio, ranging from games, to productivity apps, to podcast apps, and they brought me on to figure out how to use them to unlock new revenue streams.
Unfortunately, like so many partnerships situations, I was a lone wolf at Maple Media. They told me up front, “you have no support and marketing won’t help you on any of this; just get it done.”
That’s why we ended up parting ways, and I learned a critical partnerships lesson from the experience that is as true today as it’s ever been: if you don’t have internal buy-in and you can craft effective narratives to foster it, it’s never going to happen.
Sarah: Based on your experiences, what advice would you give new partnerships professionals about achieving buy-in?
Greg: Plenty. Let’s say your leadership is only looking at revenue without understanding that partnerships are inherently long-term. If they’re holding you to strict KPIs and saying, “why don’t we have revenue?,” try to clarify that business partnerships aren’t meant to be quick wins. They also need to know that partnerships are unlikely to generate revenue if they aren’t giving you the resources to develop them. Still, in some cases, you have to either accept what leadership is telling you or cut your losses.
Sarah: One last thing: what guidance can you offer people who are new to partnerships roles?
Greg: Don’t be afraid to ask for help—find other people you can learn from.
I wish I had encountered a group of partnership people to bounce ideas off of, but I didn’t know where to look. But you know what? They’re out there! Go connect!
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