This is Part 1 of a four-part series about what you need to know about the entire value chain of doing business development and partnerships at a startup company. The posts are skewed for product integrations on third-party websites.
Working in business development and partnerships at a startup company is not easy. There are a few pieces in the value chain that you need to know about to be successful. I’ve broken it down into four posts and six general pieces.
The first post will be about (1) identifying targets and (2) connecting with the proper people at the companies you want to work with. The second post will be about (3) pitching the company. The third post will be about (4) closing the deal. The fourth post will be about (5) launching partnerships and (6) managing relationships.
Some people call this making a hit-list or building a pipeline. What I like to do is first figure out where our offering fits in on third-party websites. This could be in the checkout process (Dwolla), on the side of online video content (Media/And), right after a photo upload (Aviary), or somewhere else completely. Once you solve this step then it is time to identify the industries or verticals your company needs to be in.
When I was at Media/And it was studios (WB, Universal, MGM, etc.), networks (ABC, FOX, CW, etc.), sports (Turner, Tennis Channel, NFL, etc). At Aviary, early on we broke it down by social networks, blogging platforms, website builders, photo sharing apps, dating websites, etc. At Dwolla we look at it in 5 quadrants: eCommerce, Gaming, Marketplaces, Nonprofits, and Retail. Once you have done this, it is time to identify the actual companies in those verticals.
The next step is to actually figure out what companies to put on your hit-list. I use a few different methods to identifying them (news, friend referrals, etc). However, the best way is to use Crunchbase and AngelList to analyze which medium and small companies should be on my list. I put the industry/vertical into the search toolbar and then get 100+ leads of companies I may have never heard of. I go to each company’s website, try to do a quick glance to see if it’s a good fit, and then track it. To best track all of this I use a spreadsheet on Google Docs.
Connecting with Companies
Once you have mapped out the verticals and companies, it is time to get in front of them. You may have some connections and contacts already existing at some of these companies. Get in touch with these people first. If you are close to them, you can test the pitch on them before going to anyone you don’t already know.
Getting in touch with people you don’t know is a learned art. Getting a warm introduction is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you know someone who knows them (and knows them well), and they can vouch for you, then you have a high chance of being able to get in front of them. What I like to do in this scenario is use LinkedIn. I search the company’s names to figure out who the right person would be for me to speak with. Depending on what I am trying to do it could be the business person (although they will typically slow you down :D), the product lead, an engineer, the CFO, or someone else. LinkedIn let’s you see which mutual connections you have with any profile. If the person I want to connect with has multiple mutual connections, then I am in a good position. I look through these people and if I am close with one of them, I add their name to a column in my spreadsheet for my pipeline (the column is typically called Mutual Connection and added like this- “Sally Johnson knows Bob Smith at FB”).
I do this over and over, company after company until I have someone at each place who I can connect with. If I don’t have a mutual connection to the right individual at a company, I will try to get in touch with someone else at the company who may be able to refer me to the right person. If both of these things don’t work out I will resort to a short blind reach out.
Now that I have my list of companies where I either have a mutual connection or one’s I need to blindly reach out to, it’s time to actually get in front of them. If I’m asking for the intro- I typically keep the email short. The subject is usually something like “Intro to X at Y?” (i.e. Intro to Jon at FB?). I then just say that I saw that they were connected on LinkedIn and I want to chat with Company X about what we are working on (I try to be specific) and was wondering if they are close enough to them to make an intro. Nothing too long or crazy in my ask. If they are close, they typically make the introduction.
For the blind reach out, the subject I use goes something like “Reach Out- Company X/Company Y” (i.e. Reach Out- Dwolla/Apple). Then I limit myself to five sentences about why they should talk to me. Most people forget that the blind reach out is not for them to say yes or close a deal, but just to get them to respond to you. Give them enough to be intrigued and to want to find out more.
Tomorrow I will post part two of the four-part series, which discusses the pitching part of the process.
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