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How To Do Business Development At Startups

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If you are at a pre-money, pre-product and/or pre-revenue company, your real title is “General Business Athlete.”

By Robyn Ward (VP Business Development, Glossi)

I have been working in Business Development at startups for nearly 15 years. Launching and growing companies is my passion. I have been the first employee at four companies, and the first business hire at two other companies. Recently, I shared my learnings at Los Angeles startup hub Coloft as part of their new academyinitiative.

The workshop was entitled “Business Development for Startups” and below are some of the core concepts that I addressed:

#1 – The Role Of Business Development At A Startup

I meet countless business undergrads and even MBAs who enthusiastically tell me they want to “do business development for an early stage venture”.

When I ask them what they think the job entails, the first thing out of their mouth is “partnerships.”

WRONG.

If you are at a pre-money, pre-product and/or pre-revenue company, your real title is “General Business Athlete.” Until your company reaches the stage that partnerships make sense, your time will be consumed doing the following.

  • Owning the industry and competitive landscape
  • Business model development/refinement, revenue model discovery and go-to-market strategy
  • Sales (garnering early product feedback) and marketing
  • Ecosystem development – building relationships that will pay off when your company starts to scale

Money Tip: Buy the book Business Model Generation. It’s an invaluable guide that walk through the 9 building blocks of business and helps you “systematically understand, design and differentiate your business model.”

#2 – Networking / Building Social Capital

Successful BusDev’rs don’t just show up, they participate – both online and off.

Online: Join the conversation (this means much more than simply liking and retweeting VIPs in your ecosystem) on Quora, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. and comment on blog posts and articles. Also, if you don’t have a blog, get one. It is the best way to build both the brand of you and the brand of your startup.

Offline: Volunteer to help with events, get on panels, host events at your office and/or organize a dinner group of key folks in your industry.

Building social capital means that you are making connections, not just contacts. Find a commonality between you and any person you meet. Takes notes in your phone and then immediately transport them into your CRM so you can revisit that commonality with every outreach. Stay in touch with your contacts to keep them warm. This includes sending them notes upon company news (theirs and yours), holidays, and planned trips to their city.

Also, remember this core tenet to effective networking: “People often forget conversations, but they remember how you made them feel and/or how your looked.” Whether it’s your sense of humor or the fact that you are always the gal in the bright colored top, find your BD look and feel and consistently run with it.

#3 – Don’t Be A Business Development Douchebag

The quickest way to business development douchebaggery is to be a name dropper. Nobody likes it, don’t do it! Of course, if it is a real contact that is relevant to the conversation, or is an introduction you can actually make, then by all means “drop it likes it’s hot.”

Business development douchebags are also folks that schedule a call with you and then excessively overuse business jargon (leverage, core competencies, synergies, etc) without offering up a single idea for how you might partner.

Do your homework! Come to the call with some understanding of my business and how we might work together.

#4 – Size DOES Matter

Being successful at business development means you are a master of getting a LOT done with very LITTLE resources.

When your startup is ready for you to go out and start crushing partnerships, targeting and prioritizing the right type of deal for the stage of your company is crucial. Beware of the big guys! They take an enormous time to close, suck up a great deal of development resources and always require lots of attention post-close. Also, don’t get caught up with too many small guys.

Doing a few small, strategic deals with companies you know, or are part of your Angel or VC’s portfolio, are a great way to cut the company’s teeth. But opening up conversations with masses of small players takes a great deal of time, energy and effort. Make sure “the juice is worth the squeeze.” Your time is best spent on medium size deals. They move the needle without making huge demands on your limited resources.

To review my deck from the workshop in its entirety, visit my blog.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Robyn Ward (@rmwardis VP of Business Development at Glossi, a new self-publishing platform that enables anyone to create and share their own digital magazines across devices in minutes. Prior to Glossi, she was Head of Business Development at Betterworks. Prior to BetterWorks, she was VP of Business Development at DocStoc.