Strategic partnerships for subscription apps: 6 tips for successful collaborations

Case studies to help you drive growth, build credibility, and deliver more value.

Strategic partnerships for subscription apps: 6 tips for growth and credibility
Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen

PublishedLast updated

The right partnerships can help subscription apps expand their reach and credibility, while enhancing the value they offer to their users.

Take boat navigation app, Wavve Boating. About 25% of its direct user acquisition comes from partnerships and founder Adam Allore knows that a lot of the people that come through organic heard about the app first through partnerships. While not every app will have the same kinds of partnership opportunities as Wavve Boating, this is nonetheless an area neglected by many app businesses.

When we talk about strategic partnerships, we’re referring to collaborations between your app and other entities (which could be businesses, influencers, platforms, or even non-profit organizations) with the aim of achieving mutually beneficial goals. In some cases, the exchange is simple and transactional: you reach new users, they receive some monetary incentive. Other times, the exchange is more nuanced and complex.

But in all cases, these partnerships should be strategically planned and executed to maximize what both parties get out of the collaborative and ensure you’re not wasting your time.

The ingredients of effective strategic partnerships

Strategic partnerships often encompass one or more of the following:

  1. Complementary strengths: Partnerships are often formed between entities with complementary skills or assets. For example, a fitness app might partner with a health food brand to offer exclusive content or discounts, leveraging the strengths of both.
  2. Shared objectives: Both parties in a strategic partnership should have aligned goals, such as user base expansion, revenue growth, or enhanced customer engagement.
  3. Mutual benefits: Each party gains from the partnership. This could be in the form of increased visibility, access to new markets, shared resources, or enhanced credibility.
  4. Long-term value creation: Unlike short-term collaborations or marketing campaigns, strategic partnerships are often long-term and focused on sustained growth and value creation.
  5. Innovation and expansion: Partnerships can lead to innovative solutions and services, helping subscription apps to diversify their offerings and expand into new markets or demographics.
  6. Cross-promotion: This is particularly beneficial for marketing and user acquisition. Partners can cross-promote each other’s services to their respective user bases.
  7. Resource sharing: This could involve sharing technology, expertise, marketing resources, or even data to achieve common goals more efficiently.

Apps that make the most of partnerships have a competitive advantage as it’s an area in which many don’t know where and how to get started. In this blog, we’re going to learn from established app businesses like Wavve Boating and Ladder, who have all leveraged strategic partnerships in innovative ways.

Tip 1: Find initial traction with micro-influencers

For many subscriptions apps at an early stage, influencer partnerships can be a powerful catalyst for growth, as well as provide an early user-base for finding and testing product-market fit. Influencers don’t need millions of followers to be valuable partners. In fact, micro-influencers with the right target audience can prove far more valuable. 

A great example of this is Greg Stewart, the CEO of strength-training app Ladder, who we interviewed on our the Sub Club podcast. Ladder partners with fitness coaches to make it easier for users to program and maintain a consistent strength-training program. After launching at the peak of Covid, Ladder faced a unique challenge: how to meet the needs of their consumer when they couldn’t access a gym. 

Ladder incentivized Instagram influencers by offering a revenue share in the very early stages of the app. The influencers they chose had a loyal, relevant following.

“We didn’t need a huge following to tell the right story to get people into the app. The best way to use influencers is to find the most relevant people that can drive that super high-intent user.”

Greg Stewart

By partnering with fitness coaches that had 10-50k followers, Ladder had a direct line to consumers who were already loyal to these coaches and hyper-relevant to Ladder’s app. In doing so, they gained valuable insights into evolving fitness needs, ideal price points, and app experience, which guided early iterations.

This approach helped take Ladder from 0 to $1 million in ARR.

Think about: Who are the micro-influencers in your niche? And how could you possibly incentivize them in a partnership?

Tip 2: Leverage public relations (PR) to find strategic partnerships

PR is sometimes overlooked by startups because it lacks the flash and immediacy of social media when trying to reach consumers. However, PR can be a powerful tool to help the right strategic partners find you. 

Adam Allore is the founder and CEO of Wavve Boating, an app that provides a better, more collaborative marine navigation experience. Adam realized early on that the marine space wasn’t particularly inundated with mobile solutions. He found that many online and print magazines focused on technology that hadn’t really changed in the last several decades. 

When reaching out to journalists, Adam focused on making their lives easier by developing a compelling narrative around the app and providing pre-written and engaging articles. 

Some would still want to do an interview and actually create their own content,” said Allore. “But that was one of those strategies that was helpful for building credibility.” 

Following the initial PR push, Wavve was approached by Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP), a major personal watercraft manufacturer, about an integration. Beyond the integration, this early partnership offered credibility for the business and opened the door for key partnerships in the future. 

📚 Further reading: PR ideas for subscription apps.

Tip 3: Be non-greedy and flexible through negotiations 

Another key takeaway from Wavve’s initial partnership with BRP was how to handle the negotiation process as an early-stage startup. Adam recommends keeping four things in mind:

  1. de-risk
  2. don’t be greedy
  3. recognize the value
  4. and build a relationship. 

Keep in mind that partnering with startups is a risk. Throughout negotiations, mitigate as much risk as possible, be extremely responsive, over deliver when possible, and prove that you consistently follow through on commitments.

It can be difficult with a small team to accommodate larger partners through the negotiation process, but it’s worth the extra effort. Remember that early partnerships offer benefits beyond direct revenue, including credibility, market presence, and access to resources. 

Tip 4: Use partnerships to increase the value of premium subscription tiers

Using partnerships alongside your premium subscription tiers is a great way to increase the value you’re delivering and increase the amount of revenue you generate per user.

Ryan Watson is the Director of Growth Marketing at onX, a GPS map app for hunting, hiking, and off-roading. He uses strategic partnerships to benefit the highest tier subscribers on the onX app. For example, elite members get access to special deals and discounts on everything from camo to hunting research and dog training. 

Another similar example is surfing app Surfline. Surfline’s Paul Ganev tells us that they work with brands to figure out if there’s an offering that makes sense to put behind or in front of the paywall. In front of the paywall means showing ads to free users, monetizing those users. Behind the paywall means that premium subscribers are shown native offers — e.g. early access to a surf park that’s opened near by. Paul adds that so long as these offers don’t look like ads, they’re usually well received.

Usually what we put behind the paywall is very well received. We’re not going in there and bombarding them with ads. The brand wins because we’re monetizing in a native way, which performs way better than if we just put a banner ad somewhere, and the consumer wins because they’re getting some kind of incremental value that they didn’t have before.

When working with influencers and content creators, you’ll need to create and share links that they’ll use to send users to your app. Apple and Google offer promo codes, but they lack the flexibility you need to operate any kind of affiliate partner program at scale.

This is a challenge faced by Emmanuel Crouvisier, founder of CardPointers, an app that makes it easy to optimize credit card rewards. He works with content creators in an affiliate / revenue-share scheme and found that using Stripe for links and coupons was instrumental in boosting his revenue.

“Stripe really empowers me as a business owner,” Crouvisier explains on the Sub Club podcast. He tapped into Stripe’s versatility to offer customized discounts and set up unique free trial links. This approach was instrumental in providing better incentives to users and ensuring a smooth onboarding experience. By using special partnership links that offer discounts on Card Pointers Pro, Crouvisier addressed the common attribution problem in affiliate marketing. Users are more motivated to use these links as they lead to direct savings.

Using Stripe saves them money too: transactions are processed through Stripe save the extra fees typically paid to Apple, aiding in keeping the business within Apple’s Small Business Program.

In practice, Stripe allows you to maintain more control over your promotional strategies and collaborations. The ability to tailor specific offers and track their success through unique UTMs in Stripe’s ecosystem provides a clear advantage over more rigid platforms. This flexibility is crucial for subscription apps looking to optimize their affiliate programs and forge more productive and profitable partnerships.

📚 Further reading:

Tip 6: Treat your tooling providers as strategic partners

Most companies use anywhere between 10 to 100+ tools in their day-to-day operations. If you’re not treating your tooling providers as strategic, long-term partners, you could be wasting time and money focused on the wrong things. 

Vince Mayfield is the co-founder and CEO of TalkingParents, an app that helps divorced or separated parents manage communication and share responsibilities. When it comes to choosing the right tooling providers, Vince says they learned from mistakes. 

For example, the TalkingParents app includes an audio translation service through AssemblyAI. However, they initially partnered with a different tool that they chose based on cost savings. However, as TalkingParents scaled, their previous audio translation tool wasn’t able to scale with them, causing disconnections on the app. 

“The lesson is to make sure that you understand clearly what the unit economics are and how it will affect your cost of goods sold,” Mayfield said. “Working with another start-up sounds cool, but if they can’t scale when you’re scaling, you’ve got a problem. We had to go back and reengineer.”

RevenueCat was the first tool TalkingParents used to manage their subscriptions. Initially, they tried to build out a subscription manager themselves, which turned out to be a nightmare of constant updates. RevenueCat solved a significant pain point and was able to scale as they grew. Vince’s main piece of advice for software engineers is to not try to build it yourself, but rather find the best-in-class partner.

Explore and experiment with strategic partnerships

When done right, strategic partnerships can build credibility, drive growth, and create more value for your users. Remember to get creative, don’t be greedy, and focus on building long-term relationships with your partners. 

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