Start-ups and suppliers

Sometime or another, every start-up needs to engage suppliers: Lawyers, accountants, PR companies, design agencies, consultants – everyone needs them.


I have to admit that I’ve found selecting and managing supply partners to be a real challenge over the years.


When you get it right, expert partners can add huge value to your company by contributing ideas and solutions you had never dreamed of.


But when you get it wrong, relationships can dissolve into a mess of unfinished, often unusable work and skyrocketing bills you can’t afford to pay.


The selection and management of suppliers sounds like a dry topic but it’s not. It’s an art. I’m working hard to perfect this art, and here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way.


In preparing this blog, I read a bunch of other posts on the topic. The advice offered by almost every business expert is: Look for a supplier who’s reliable (which you discern by the list of big brand name clients) and who’s stable (they’ve been in business a long time).


This makes sense if you’re working for a big corporation and your number one objective is to hang on to your job if things go pear-shaped.


But this approach won’t obtain the best results if you’re a start-up and your primary objective is to do something awesome and ground-breaking.


Here are two examples of how we recently selected suppliers:


The design agency


We’re preparing for a big overhaul of our brand and design in preparation for Posse’s US launch next March.


To find a design agency to work with, I started by asking a bunch of friends who work in the creative industries for references. I checked out about 12 agencies online and then met with four.


We ended up selecting an upcoming local agency called Universal Favourite for a few reasons:

  • Firstly, we love their work and they have a good mix of ground-breaking creative style and digital experience.
  • The amount of effort they’d applied to the pitching process so we knew they were hungry for the project.
  • They were at a similar stage to us in their business – small, passionate and keen to make a name for themselves.

They were highly recommended by people I trust (very important); their office is within three minutes’ walk of ours and we had good chemistry.


Their culture is similar to ours and they’re the kind of people we’d like to hang out with.


The accountant


I recently had to find a new accountant, and the criteria here were a bit different. I chose David Kenny at Hall Chadwick because:

  • He came highly recommended from Matt at Freelancer and Pip at The Loop (more important for an accountant).
  • He knew a lot about the start-up world, including how to structure an employee share plan, structuring fundraising documents and the like.
  • He understood another key part of the start-up world – we can’t afford to pay much at this stage. And I liked and trusted him as a person.

So, these are some of the considerations I bear in mind when choosing a supplier.


The next challenge is how best to manage a supplier – this is where the real art happens.


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