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As an early stage startup, engaging in biz dev conversations with large established (Global 2000) companies is like buying lottery tickets. It’s largely a waste of resources, but there’s a slim chance to hit it big.
I don’t buy lottery tickets.
But you can’t ignore things like Yahoo’s search-white-labeling deal with Google in the early 2000s, firefox’s distribution via Google homepage, being a launch partner app in Facebook’s F8 ecosystem, or being featured in an Apple Ad. These can be company-making events.
If you find yourself in BD conversations, the best piece of advice I’ve heard came from Yaron of Outbrain. To paraphrase:
You need to recognize that the person sitting across from you at the table represents their company but will not necessarily act in their company’s best interests. Don’t get distracted by crafting the perfect proposal for the BD target company. Instead, (once you know you’re talking to a decision maker) focus on the person across the table. Be brash enough to ask how that person is bonused. Be creative enough to strike a deal that makes that person look like a rockstar to his/her boss instead of designing the perfect deal for the partnering corporation.
Big BD deals get signed between people, not companies.
Getting Started in Biz Dev in a New Industry
I was recently hired (on a paid trial basis) by Lovely, a consumer facing apartment search application, that I absolutely love.
My role is defined under the general umbrella of business development, but basically over the past two weeks I have been focused on generating new supply (apartment listings) and findings ways to monetize (revenue).
I could write several blog posts about how to land a non-technical gig at a startup, but since it seems everyone has already done that, I’ll summarize:
- craft a story and platform: turn your resume into one clear story or tagline that summarizes you, and then support that with twitter, blog, linkedin, angellist, etc.
- find an entry point: to jump into tech, you’re probably not going to land a hot startup gig without some experience in tech. the year+ I spent at Citrusbyte was immensely valuable. find your Citrusbyte and work there first, to learn the industry and concepts.
- find your company, or three: spraying resumes around will never work. find a couple companies you are legitimately crazy about, and throw yourself at them. do whatever it takes (free trials, product/biz ideas, attend conferences they are at).
- get an intro: finagle a way into a company by using your network, your network’s network, your network’s network’s network, or create a new network by reaching out to any and everyone at the company and their investors (use twitter, linkedin, meetups, etc.)
Anyhow, finding yourself in charge of biz dev in a new industry can be daunting. The key is to be prepared and be relentless.
Be Prepared (Research): before ever starting into the apartment industry, I talked to everyone I knew about real estate, looked up every company I heard of and followed them on twitter, looked up related startups on angellist, went down the rabbit hole on quora, and signed up for every meetup on the topic in SF.
Be Relentless (Hustle): day 1 and 2 involved, at a minimum, shooting emails out to every property management group in SF, every national property manager, every other internet listing service, and every related individual I could find. when that didn’t work, phone calls followed. when that didn’t work, I made office pop-ins. at one point, I discovered a conference and flew there on a few hours notice and shook every hand I could find. when I made a meaningful connection, I followed up, went deeper, learned more, and got intros from that.
It may sound like a shotgun approach, but really you are building a base. Most importantly, a base of knowledge, because there is no substitute for having an understanding of the industry ecosystem that comes from having walked in it. But also, a base of contacts, so that you can reach out to them for advice and introductions.
I should say also, that the only real contacts are the ones you legitimately become friends with - so engage sincerely and openly.
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, but I’ve loved every minute of it.
Most Valuable Business Skill
What skills are necessary for business success?
Great Idea? Check, dime a dozen
Capital? Check, if you can’t raise money right now something is wrong
Vision, Plan, Execution, Team? Check Check Check and Check.
Even with all of these elements working perfectly together, it means nothing if you can’t get your product/service in the hands of your customers.
Why do so many entrepreneurs over look planning their advertising? No, people will no just magically find you and want to give you their money. It takes a unified branding effort, compelling copy, clear vision, and the ability to get thousands of eyeballs on your product.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the ability to market a product is the most important business skill one can have. Rather than designing the perfect business card or figuring out the perfect witty name for your LLC, spend your time planning actionable steps to get your product in front of your target customers.
Marketing is a complex beast. It is part science and a large part art. I am no expert in the field, but it is a passion I have recently discovered. My latest business has forced me to take a real world crash course in marketing.
Over the course of this blog I plan on making many posts detailing specific examples on how to improve your marketing efforts. I may even share some marketing plans I have written for my businesses…
Nobody knows anything...
“Nobody knows anything” is the most famous line from the book Adventures in the Screen Trade by screenwriter William Goldman.
That’s because it’s the truth.
Goldman isn’t saying (contrary to popular belief) that Hollywood is filled (exclusively) with idiots. He means that prior to a movie’s release, no one has any real idea how well a film will do.
Smart people in Hollywood seek writers, producers, and directors who have a proven knack for being right more often than wrong. Because that’s the best you can hope for.
The same is true for anything designed to entertain, educate, delight, motivate or move people. The best you can hope for is take your best guess and do your best work.
(text via Copyblogger, read more here: http://bit.ly/iz6V9X
Business Design Specialist (IDEO)
This role requires a unique blend of real-world experience and theory, entrepreneurial zeal and boardroom polish. You will work as a member of IDEO’s interdisciplinary teams to create market leading offerings for clients.
At IDEO we “think to build”. We do strategy that makes your hands bleed. This means understanding context, developing insight, exploring and defining opportunities, setting strategy, creating tangible design expressions, communicating vision, and helping our clients go to market. All of this is done in a human-centric way.
What are the early symptoms that a startup is going to fail?
- No demonstrated user need. For example, consider 3D movies and TV. If you ask people why they sometimes prefer stage to screen, nobody ever says, “Oh, movies are only 2D.” 3D tech has novelty value, but even a little research would show its pushers that most people are perfectly happy to go back to 2D movies after experiencing 3D, and that many actively avoid 3D. That wasn’t the case when sound or color or fancier special effects were added.
- Fear of testing hypotheses. As a founder, I can say it: most startups launch in a cloud of hype and bullshit. That hype is really useful: Startups are difficult and painful; you have to be really excited to do it. But the hype is also dangerous: It lets people assume they just can’t fail. If a startup team doesn’t seek contact with reality early and often, they will have a bunch of surprises in store. It hurts to find out your ideas are dumb, so you have to really want to know the truth more than you want to feel comfortable.
- No love for the audience. If you are going to spent years studying and serving people, I think you have to love them. YouTube’s first designer, who happens to be an old friend, would grab a video camera, hop on his motorcycle, and go to users’ houses to see them in their natural element. He’s a natural democratizer of technology, and wants people to get really involved in what he’s making.
- No love for the domain. I would never work at a sports startup, because I don’t care much about sports, and never will. If I’m going to do my best work, I really need to love what I’m going to spend all day thinking about.
- No love for the team. Hostility between roles? Hostility between founders? Management that doesn’t really care for the employees? That company is probably doomed.
- A desire for perfection. Perfection kills. The things that your early adopters care about? Those should be awesome. Everything else? Fuck it. A team that has a hard time being pragmatic will spend a lot of their time and money on shit that doesn’t matter. And that will keep them from getting the product out early enough to get useful feedback.
- Not thinking about revenue. A lot of people want to make a product, not abusiness. What’s the difference? The latter makes enough money to pay the bills. I get it: products are exciting; commerce is banal and a little grubby. But until it’s a solid business, it’s not sustainable. Building shit without thinking about money? Really fun. But startups like that are just playing dress-up at $1m a year.
- Caring too much about what other people think. Some people are really worried about what the competition thinks. Or what their friends will think. Or what’s cool in Silicon Valley. Or even what their investors think. When instead they should be caring about what their users think, and whether they’re staying true to their own vision.
- Being in it for the wrong reasons. Is the company being built to flip? Are the people in it to get rich? Is the fun part showboating for the press and the digerati? Are they doing it just to build something they think people should want? Are they high on a Big Idea? God help them.
- A high Dunning-Kruger quotient. The heart of the Dunning–Kruger effect is that clueless people can’t tell that they’re clueless. Teams that know that they don’t know much: generally awesome. Teams that think they know it all? Very dangerous.
- Lack of faith in what the company wants to realize. If you do not believe 100% in what you want to achieve, you will never be successful.
- Quarrels between the founders at the early days of the company. If people with a common goal are unable to reach an agreement… it’s usually the first sign that the business will fall apart.
- If you have a team of people who are looking for problems … rather than opportunities. You can not pay attention to them, to suggest solutions. Everyone knows all the best and are in their comfort zone. You can forget about success.
- You can’t sell your product or it’s difficult to sell your product. Many startups enter the market with a product without checking whether if there is a need. If you have big problems with selling it, it’s a matter of time as the startup gets into even more trouble.
- The investor is against you. The fact that the investor gives money does not mean that he wants your company to fare well. For many reasons, mainly personal, the investor may want to get rid of the shares in your company.
“8. CREATIVITY LOVES CONSTRAINTS "This is one of my favorites. People think of creativity as this sort of unbridled thing, but engineers thrive on constraints. They love to think their way out of that little box: 'We know you said it was impossible, but we're going to do this, this, and that to get us there.'”—
What Marissa brings to Yahoo. On the more “seriouser” side of maybe making both Flickr and Yahoo “awesomer” as seen in my two earlier postings ;).