Alex's Tech Thoughts

Skillshare Hybrid Class: Intro I- BD and Partnerships At Startups

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I’ve been teaching Skillshare classes since November 2011. I think it is awesome. For me, it’s part knowledge-share, part networking. I have kept in touch with many of the people who have taken the class, and many of them have gone on to get jobs in BD at startups or start their own company.

One of the biggest things I have been asked regarding my Skillshare class is if I can come to teach in a different city. Well, I can’t, but instead, I am teaching an online hybrid Skillshare class in April. I have put the class up (here) and if you register you can get a new and improved Intro I to business development and partnerships at startups. I really hone in on the best of Intro I and break it down to the necessities.

There are 4 units, each with 4 sub-units:

1. Business Development Introduction

  • 1.1 What Is Business Development?
  • 1.2 Types Of Business Development (B2C, B2B, B2B2C)
  • 1.3 Networking
  • 1.4 Digital Identity

2. Partnerships Introduction

  • 2.1 Understanding Other Companies
  • 2.2 Four Golden Rules Of Partnerships
  • 2.3 Prove It
  • 2.4 Partner Feedback Feeding into BD

3. Rejection, Tools, And More

  • 3.1 Rejection
  • 3.2 Finding A Champion In A Company
  • 3.3 Following Up, Reaching Out, Corresponding, Favors
  • 3.4 Tools I Like

4. Pipeline, Pitching, and Closing

  • 4.1 Building A Pipeline
  • 4.2 Getting In Front Of Someone You Don’t Know
  • 4.3 Pitching
  • 4.4 Closing

At the end of the class, you’ll be tasked with building a 30, 60, 90-day plan of how to be successful in the first 90 days of your new BD role. It can be hypothetical or practical. I’ll also make time for any class taker (can’t bring myself to call them students) if they want to connect via email/skype/sit down while in NYC for a visit/etc.

If you are interested in taking the class: sign up here.

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Best BD Post I Have Read In A Long Time

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Elad Gil, former Twitter VP, wrote a hell of a post about hiring great BD people. It is worth the read. Besides the focus on hiring, as a BD person, it is a great article that helps you reflect on what you are good at and what you need to work on to be a better employee.

As I read it I definitely identified with some of the good and bad qualities. This post is one I will keep handy to help me improve.

You can find the post here.

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Managing Biz Dev Pipeline

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I’ve tried everything to manage my biz dev pipeline. I use Highrise to track emails, Google Drive to track companies (spreadsheet) and write up summaries (docs), and Trello to track feature requests. There is no one solution for all.

I’ve been wondering how other teams track and manage their pipelines. Can anyone chime in here and share in the comments what they use and how they use it?

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3 Reasons Not To Do A Deal

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There are a ton of reasons to do a deal. Maybe you’ll make money. Perhaps you’ll grow your userbase. It could be that you’ll increase your exposure. Or possibly improve your product. But for all the reasons why you should do a deal, no one talks about the reasons why you shouldn’t.

Here are three reasons why you should say no to a deal:

You don’t get along with the other side
This reason is fairly obvious but needs to be stated. This is not to say you hate the other side, but you don’t necessarily work well with them. Maybe they don’t respect you, maybe you don’t respect them. Either way, working with people you don’t get along with is a recipe for disaster. Before going too far- kill the deal if you anticipate a long-term headache.

They want too much customization
I’ve often experienced this. A company wants to work with you, but only if you do X, Y, and Z  for them. And Y is going to take you a few months and you’ll have to delay that really important feature or product release to re-prioritize for this big company. Unless you’re going to make enough money to justify it, kill the deal. Focus on building the scalable product, rather than the one-off for a big co. Big companies aren’t used to hearing no from startups, so you never know, they may chase you even further, offering more money or compromising and using your existing product. Unless that happens, kill this deal.

Short term win, but long term lose
There are some deals that seem like they are going to be awesome. Some may live up to the hype, others are short sighted and are long-term losses. Here is an example: a big company is going to integrate your offering that will improve their product. Maybe by a lot, maybe by a little. You close the deal and everyone is happy. Now when the big company attempts to integrate your offering, they screw the pooch and the integration is off. Maybe they put your offering behind a drop down. Maybe it’s something else. But the bottom line is NO ONE IS USING YOUR PRODUCT. Now, maybe this is about your product and you need to fix that, but at the end of the day it is on you. You closed this awesome deal but long term it turns out to be a lemon. If you are working on a deal and it gets to the actual integration/promotion part and the other company is going to do it wrong: walk away. Kill the deal. I’ve done this (walked away at this stage) a few times and while it can be painful, I’m confident it was for the best. I would have been spinning my wheels for months and it would have been a huge time-sink.

On the flip side, there have been times when I’ve done the deal before in the above scenario, and know that it ended up being a colossal waste of time. I had no one to blame but myself. You live and you learn.

All in all, these are three solid reasons why you would kill a deal. I’m an advocate of working on good things and only terminating deals if they will be detrimental to you or your business. Proceed with caution.

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If Only Your Product Did This…

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In Business Development and Partnerships you will hear a similar feedback every day: “If only your product did this….we’d integrate/partner/etc.” This leads a lot of companies to pull themselves in five directions at once, and lack of focus is one of the biggest reasons companies fail. This also turns you from a startup into a custom development shop. The worst thing you can do is go from being a startup to a custom development shop while still thinking you are a startup.

However, there are two reasons why you would spend time and effort to build something into your product that someone is asking for.

Many companies have asked for the same thing
I have written before about talking to as many prospective partners as you can before you build a product. This guarantees that you will have a market for something before you build it. If you talk to 100-200 prospective partners, building the right product will end up with 10-30 launch partners. “If only your product did this…” becomes something that your product should do because there are tons of people/companies that want it.

A big company has asked for it (and there is a contract)
This is when things get tricky. You really want to work with that big fish but they’ll only work with you if you build the thing that they want. Oh, and that thing is going to take you a month or two to ship. I remember working at a previous company, we had a lot of people asking us to build custom things. Our CEO smartly decided that at that point we weren’t going to do that. We were going to build a product for everyone and only once we hit a certain level would we even consider building specific things for companies. It worked out well and eventually those bigger companies used the product we built as it was because it became the standard in the space.

The only exception to building for a big company is if it wouldn’t take a month or two to build (any more than a week’s project can be very detrimental), and if they’ve put in writing that once you build it, they will integrate/partner. Only then, would I recommend building what they want.

Remember: In startup-land, a wasted month or two can derail your entire company. Stay focused, ship great products, and build for the masses.

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Unexpected Integrations

One of the best things about having a robust API is the unexpected integrations that can happen.

Because you have an API (whether free or paid) partners can test, integrate- you might not know about it until your numbers start going up. Many times, I’ve seen partners testing/playing with an API and they are using their individual personal accounts- so it doesn’t show up as that company in the statistics.

Unexpected integrations make the partnership role an exciting one. However there are some downsides to it. The most obvious is that when you don’t know who is using your API, you have difficulty giving accurate projections to your team.

The way to combat this is to do two things:

1) Never depend on the unexpected integration to unexpectedly hit. By definition it is unexpected so depending on it is a surefire way to get canned. When the unexpected integration does drop - you will still be busting your butt to get deals done and this will just be gravy.

2) Get good analytics. Request name, email, and company for each person who uses your API. This way you can see who is testing, what sort of volume they are doing, and how to get in touch with them.

Otherwise, unexpected integrations rock.

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Balancing What You Can Do Now and What You Can Do In The Future

When working in business development you need to strike a balance between what you can do now and what you may have to put on hold for now. You need to spend time working on what your company is technologically able to do as well as work on developing where you want your company to go.

This is not an easy task. There is a strong desire to spend more of your time on the exciting, upcoming, and new opportunities. This can lead to ignoring all the great things you can do right now with your product. You need to consciously remind yourself about immediate opportunities to help your company grow.

Bottom line: Make sure to have your eye on the prize (the end game- the future) but don’t forgot about the here and now.

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Capturing Inbound

Whenever releasing a new product or launching your company for the first time, one of the most important things you need to do is have a mechanism of capturing inbound.

This could be a form people need to fill out, an email they can reach you on, or something else.

I’ve seen products launch without methods of capturing inbound, and it is hard for you to determine how successful your launch was if no one can get in touch with you, give you feedback, etc.

Bottom line: Make sure you set up at least one method of capturing inbound interest when you launch. This is one thing that you should not leave out on any release (and push off a launch if you don’t have).

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Cold Reach-Outs: Less Is More

This past week I worked with Brian Kil, a NYC intern for Dwolla, on having more success with cold reach-outs.

Dwolla just released a new tool called MassPay and we are identifying companies to reach out to. We worked on a general template. It was short, sweet, and to the point. After sending it out to a few companies and getting responses, Brian said something to the effect of, “Wow, I guess less is really more.”

This reminded me that in the case of reaching out to someone you don’t know, you need to remember that the goal of the call or email is for the individual to give you the time of day. If your expectation is that they will buy whatever you are selling— you need to dream on. They don’t know you. They don’t care.

When reaching out, your goal is to get them to give you more time to properly pitch/sell them. The cold reach-out isn’t the sell, it’s the tease to get to the sell. Keeping your email short and intriguing will get them to ask for more.

Bottom line: Next time you are thinking about blindly reaching out to someone, remember that less is more. Your only goal is to get them to respond. Take the process one step at a time.

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Losing The Deal, Developing The Relationship

There are times in the partnerships cycle where your offering doesn’t make sense for the other side. Maybe you don’t have exactly what they are looking for. Maybe the problem you are solving isn’t a major problem for them. Maybe something else.

I have experienced this many times. Early on in my career I tried to push a deal on a company. Not only did I lose the deal (because it wasn’t right for them), I ended up losing out on developing the relationship (for when we would be right for them).

Now I try to understand if what I am offering is helpful, valuable, useful for the other side. I ask, I listen, I try to help. If what we have does not make sense for them at the moment, I want to understand what they would need to want to work with us. If enough people ask for the same thing, it becomes a higher priority to build.

Bottom line: Be long term smart. While being unable to close a deal in the short term is not ideal (because, quite frankly, you need to perform), developing the relationship for the long-term is the right way to go (so that when you do have the right offering you will still be right there with them).

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What I Am Looking For Right Now

This blog is normally for thoughts I have about technology, startups, and business development. But every once in awhile I venture out to write something different. This is one of those times. I’m putting out a PSA of what I am looking for right now. Readers of this blog might be able to help.

I’m currently working on a project (at Dwolla, obviously) and I’m looking for companies that accept payments online. Any website that has a payment/checkout/donation aspect to its site. It could be anything from an ecommerce and gaming to nonprofits, marketplaces, and accounting tools. The entire idea here is for savings. If you accept payments and like to save money then you are someone I’d want to talk to.

I can’t go into too much more detail here but if you or someone you know fits the bill (it could be a small, medium, or big website) please feel free to email me or intro at AlexT@dwolla.com. This should only be for launched products/companies, not pre-product.

While on this topic, I think that it is good to ask for things you need/want in life. People can’t read your mind and it’s best to be direct as good things come for those who ask.

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Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 4

This article originally appeared in VentureBeat.

This is Part 4 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. Check out Part 3 to learn what you need to close a dealYou can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Boom! Deal closed. They signed the contract or began integration of your offering. Don’t take out the champagne just yet. You are not out of the woods (and probably will never be if you have a worthwhile business to steal).

Launching the partnership and managing the relationship may not be the most talked about part of the cycle but it is probably the most important.

Launching A Partnership

There are a few ways you can go about launching partnerships. If you are releasing new features, and have a few third-party integrations for the launch then it is worthwhile embargoing the announcement to a few outlets. Sometimes bigger outlets lead (WSJ, NYT, BW, Forbes, Fortune, CNN, Fast Company, Wired, etc) and get the post out a few minutes before. Other times you don’t have a major outlet leading but you have all the awesome people at Venturebeat, TC, Business Insider, Mashable, The Next Web, Pandodaily, Betabeat, The Verge, GigaOM, RRW, etc., release it at the same time.

I recommend going the embargoed route if you have multiple launch partners, this way you can give different stories to each outlet. Readers don’t like reading and press doesn’t like writing the same thing over and over. When I was at Aviary, we would write up stories on a whiteboard and then match up the appropriate outlets based on readership. I learned this from press-extraordinaire and Aviary co-founder, Michael Galpert.

If you don’t have a major feature announcement and only have one big partner coming on board, then it is worthwhile giving it as an exclusive to one major outlet. If you don’t have a major feature announcement and the partner isn’t a big one (which isn’t a bad thing, just a fact), then you should write a blog post, include them in the next blast out to your users, and share it on FB and Twitter. You should always promote integrations of your product, by helping expose partners to your user-base.

We’ve Launched, Now What?

Hopefully you’ve had a successful launch and the partner is very happy with the outcome. Now it’s time to make sure they continue to stay happy. Make sure your partner support is astounding! Listen to their feedback. If you have something worthwhile there will probably be a competitor vying for the same deal.

If your partner is talking to you and giving you feedback, listen! Take their feedback, comments, etc., and turn it into an improved solution for them. This will help you keep their business for the long run. Why would they switch to your competitor when they know you will listen and help them with any problem? They wouldn’t.

Don’t be afraid to give your partner some feedback on the integration. However, tread carefully. If their integration looks a bit off (i.e. they added an edit button with your photo editor but hid it under a drop-down), then try to show them the light as to how the integration can be improved.

Wrap Up

In these past four posts, I’ve written about identifying and connecting with companiespitching and closing, and now launching and managing. These tips will definitely come in handy if you are getting started in the partnerships world. There is a lot more to learn and as I learn I will try my best to share any additional insights with you. Now go out there and close some deals.

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Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 3

This article originally appeared in VentureBeat.

This is Part 3 of a four-part series about things you should 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. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Before I begin discussing closing, I would recommend that no matter what I write below, the best way to learn how to really close deals is to work under someone who has done it many times and can teach you the craft. You can be a natural born pitchman/woman, but there is no such thing as a natural born closer. If you are a junior employee and have the opportunity to jump to the majors and run the show or work under a founder or a VP of BD/Partnerships to learn the fundamentals- work under the seasoned pro.

Now, here is what you need to know about closing:

Understanding Why Someone Would Want To Work With You

If you want to work with Company X, you’d better bring something to the table. I’ve written a post before about The Four Golden Rules Of Partnerships. This is really where they apply. Either you are going to make Company X money, save Company X money, grow Company X’s userbase, or improve Company X’s product. These are the only four major reasons why Company X would want to work with you.

What Are They Focused On?

After you identify what it is you offer Company X (it may be only one, two, three, or all four of the golden rules), then you need to know where the company is on their roadmap (i.e. what are they focused on?). There are three stages in business: product development, scaling, and monetization. If you want to work with Company X and your partnership would help monetization efforts, when they are just focused on product building, it probably wouldn’t be a good fit at this moment. If you can help with scaling when they are focused on making money, then you probably won’t partner.

Let’s take Tumblr as an example. Presently, Tumblr is in monetization phase. They have scaled unlike many others and are looking to monetize and turn themselves into a business. If you came to Tumblr with a user acquisition or product improvement partnership (unless the product integration made them money) they would most likely not be interested in partnering at this time.

How Much Can You Help Them?

After you have identified what you have to offer and understand where the company is in their roadmap, the next big question you need to think about is how deeply you can affect the other side. Take a company like AOL. If you want to work with AOL, and you offer a way to grow their userbase, the question is, “well, how many new users will you bring?” If that number is five users, then you definitely don’t have anything to talk about. But if that number is 50,000 new users a day then maybe that’s interesting enough for them to explore further.

Have You Done It With Anyone Else Before?

After all is said and done, the big question is, “Can you prove it?” You can talk a good talk, but all the company really cares about is if you will be able to do what you say you are capable of. If so, can you prove it with use cases or examples of other companies you have worked with to make a much stronger case.

Timing And Motivators For Partnerships

One of the major elements for product integrations is how timing is everything. Sometimes your timing may be off at first connection, but keeping in touch with the other side could lead to something in 3-6 months. One closing trick I have come to see successful a few times over I’ve dubbed the “Launch Partner Strategy.” This is best used for launching new features.

Instead of just pushing out a new feature, you try and wrap a few companies actually involved with the launch (and subsequently integrating your product offering). This only works if you can pre-sell these companies on what is in the hopper (not an easy task to get someone to commit to integrating something before it is ready). But if done well, it can turn your medium-sized announcement into a mushroom cloud type of ripple effect. Having great examples to point to from the get-go can make all the difference.

As I said in the beginning, closing deals is not an easy task and there is no such thing as a  born closer. Learning the ropes from an expert, experienced deal-closing veteran is the only way to do it. Be wary of being the guy/girl in charge of closing deals for a company, without the proper experience. Quit that job, go to work for a closing machine and then become the closing machine yourself.

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Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 2

This is Part 2 of a four-part series about things you should 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. Part 1 can be found here.

While all the phases of the partnership cycle are equally important, a lot of emphasis is put on pitching. This is because if you don’t do a good job at getting the other side excited about what you are offering, then you are probably SOL.

Doing Research and Understanding Other Companies
When getting ready for your call or meeting with a company there a few things you can do ahead of time to prepare yourself for success. Any research should be done before to holistically understand the company; it shouldn’t only be memorization of a fact sheet (although you should also know that). To understand another company holistically there are a few things you can do. You can read their blog, read any press they have had in the past few months, if they aren’t public- you can talk to their investors, if they are public- you should talk to any of their partners, etc. If you can do the proper research then you’ll be able to position your offering to touch upon what they find important or are focused on.

The Actual Pitch
My pitching style has changed in the past two years. I used to come in with a proper pitch deck and go through the entire deck, slide by slide. Anytime the conversation would drift to something else, I would try to steer it back to the deck. I had moderate success with my pitches. I’m not sure what it was, but eventually I decided to ditch the proper deck and instead go with a different strategy.

My current pitching strategy starts off by asking two questions to the company I am actually pitching. It’s nothing too personal, but the fact of the matter is, when I go into pitch a company, I am actually missing some crucial information about the company. Namely, (1) what are they focused on now and (2) what is important to them. Once I find this out, I will know whether my offering is relevant for them or not. This is probably the most important part of the pitch and shouldn’t be overlooked. Since changing my strategy, and getting answers to those two crucial questions, my success has been much higher.

After getting these answers I will instantly know whether what I am working on (and offering them) will actually be worthwhile in their eyes. If it still is, then I go into the pitch (and if not, then either end the meeting or just give them a short overview and then end the meeting). Instead of using the deck, I like to give the other side an overview and just demo the product. There is nothing better than jumping into the demo. At Dwolla, that means sending them money to their email address (ranging from 1 to 10 cents). It’s hard to complain about a demo when you end up with some extra money :D

A big part of the pitch is being able to tell a good story. Sometimes you have something exciting right now (or imminently releasing) for them and other times you are trying to figure out what that killer offering will be. Whichever it is, craft a good story, and make a good case on why they would want to partner with you.

To really put together a good story, and a compelling case for anyone to want to partner with you, you’ll need to understand how to close deals. Which is why pitching and closing go hand and hand. Tomorrow I will post Part 3 of the four-part series, which goes through how to actually close deals.

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