Alex's Tech Thoughts

The 3 Biggest Mistakes BD People Make When Pitching

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There are a million things you can do wrong when pitching a person, company, or organization. These 3, I believe, are the biggest no-nos.

Mistake #1: You make your pitch via email

We all do it early on in our careers. We are sending an email to someone (sometimes to someone we don’t know) and write a wall of text expecting them to read an email that would take 5-10 minutes to process and then respond to us with interest. It is the classic rookie mistake. The mistake being that the initial email to someone, whether you know them or not, should be short and should pique their interest to find out more. The goal is to grab their attention in five sentences of less, not to close a deal via email.

Mistake #2: You don’t ask for next steps in a meeting

One of the biggest mistakes BD people make when pitching is to not ask for or lay out next steps at the end of a meeting. If you go through an awesome presentation but you don’t seal the deal (or at least lay out the plans to seal the deal), well I hate to tell you, but you just wasted your last hour. Make sure you ALWAYS end a meeting with all the next steps (even if that means the person you were pitching needs to go back to their team to talk). After you get back from your meeting (usually next day), make sure to send these next steps via email to solidify them. If you don’t do this, the deal will, almost always, fall by the wayside.

Mistake #3: Assume you know what the other side cares about

This mistake is the ultimate BD/Partnership blunder. Every BD person does this at some point in their career. You head into the meeting with someone you want to work with and make a ton of assumptions (the worst being you know what they care about). This is why at every meeting I go to, I make sure that one of the first questions I ask is, “What do you folks care about right now?” (or, “What’s important to you?”) Another good question to ask is “What are you working on?” as usually whatever a company is working on at that moment is not public information and there is no way to know the answer unless you ask.

While these three mistakes might be the biggest, they are by no means the only mistakes BD people make. By, at least, identifying these you may be able to avoid them and be on your way to closing more deals.

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Pitching In Front Of Teammates

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Pitching in front of teammates can sometimes be more awkward than pitching in front of strangers. I’ve been there. I’m not 100% sure what it is. It could be that after good and bad pitches you have to spend time with them. This especially feels awkward when a pitch doesn’t go as planned.

To make pitching in front of teammates less awkward, I like the idea of asking teammates, pre-pitch, for feedback afterwards. This way, you don’t just feel judged but actually try to get them to tell you one or two things you can improve next time. You may still feel awkward, but at least you will have good communication with your teammates.

How do you go about pitching in front of teammates? Any thoughts?

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Internal Presentations and Meetings

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It may not seem like it, but internal presentations and meetings are as important, if not more important, than those outside your company. Selling internally is crucial and if you don’t come with your A-game your ideas might not be heard or at worst deemed not valuable and eventually let go from the company.

Communication is probably the most important thing in a professional career. If you are doing a great job but can’t express what you are accomplishing or your new idea on how to grow X metric it will, 9 times out of 10, go unnoticed. Not being able to communicate internally (as well as externally) can hinder your career big time.

So what can you do?

Take internal meetings seriously. Come with research and ideas. Be prepared. Talk! (but don’t talk for the sake of talking, add value!). The worst thing you can do is just show up to meetings and hope to wing it.

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Article Of The Week I

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If you didn’t read my 500th post, I mentioned I would start adding an extra post each week. The post would be on Friday and consist of my favorite article in the past 7 days.

Soooo… here we go.

This week’s article of the week is courtesy of Elad Gil, formerly at Twitter. Elad is always spot on with his writing and this post is no different. It’s titled "The Danger of Pitching VCs Too Early" and well worth the few minute read.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

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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.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

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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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Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 1

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.

Identifying Targets
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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The Three C’s For Press

I haven’t been slinging the press rock for some time now but someone recently asked me how they could make their press pitch more effective. I responded by saying that your pitch should be well crafted, concise and compelling. The three c’s.

This is actually the case whether you know the journalist or not. 

Having a well-crafted pitch/story is obvious. You need to be able to string together a story. What is the news you are trying to get the reporter to write about?

Keeping it concise should be pretty self-explanatory. The writer is probably inundated with pitches and if you want there to be a high chance of your email being read, you’d better keep it short.

Lastly, making it compelling is the key to any good pitch. Why is what you are pitching important? What is unique about it?

If you can take that well-crafted story, make it compelling, and keep it short, you have a shot at getting covered. 

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When Getting A Yes Is Actually Worse Than A No

I had a post last week about what you should do when someone says no. In the comments section someone mentioned that there are times when getting a yes is actually worse than a no. 

The comment:

Completely agreed on the insight about hearing no when trying to partner. A bit of pure sales experience at some point in someone’s career is important to learn that ‘no’ could just mean ‘not necessarily for me at this time’, and learning how to maneuver those situations.

One random point would be how to deal with a “yes” in looking for partnerships. I can’t count the times that in a meeting someone said ‘yes’, but actually completing the deal took a tremendous amount more effort (bureacracy / approvals, etc.). Just as you shouldn’t get too discouraged by a no, that initial yes should also not make you think you’re already the king. 

- ranjanxroy

I totally agree. Getting an initial yes is a great feeling, but if you don’t take the proper steps to get the partnership live then it is actually worse than getting a no. 

Once a company says yes, I like to map out the proper next steps to the promised land.

It usually comes down to three things:

What do we need to do?

What do they need to do?

What is the timeframe for both sides?

If you can map this out right after getting a yes, than you should be good to go.

What To Do When Someone Says No

There will be times in your life when you will get a no.

I’ve experienced getting a no in many situations and have learned a bit about dealing with it. The main two situations are when applying for a job or when trying to partner/work with someone.

Getting a no when applying for a job:

There is very little you can do when you get a no from someone when applying for a job. You need to take this in stride and just realize that you only need one person/company to say yes.

Or you can follow Avi Lichstein’s method and go out and prove that you are worth getting a yes. After Avi got rejected from Square, he went out and closed a series of merchants and proved to Square that he should be part of their organization. They gave him a position in their Square U program. You can read more about his story here.

Getting a no when trying to partner with someone:

No means no. But that doesn’t mean never talk to me again. When someone tells you that they don’t want to partner/integrate/buy whatever it is you are offering you need to respect that. What I do is thank the other side for taking the time and only re-engage if I have a completely new offering that will be more complementary to them. There is no harm in that. If they aren’t interested in the new offering, I come back with a newer offering. Granted this might take months, if not years, in time.

In which other scenarios do you get a no? How do you deal with it?

Startup Press: Dos and Don’ts

Here is a little help guide in press best practices.

Dos:

- Do give your press contact a day or two to write the article. When covering the beat, it is easy to miss something to write about if not given enough time to put together a respectable piece on whatever it is you’re announcing. If you are afraid to give it to them with enough time because you think they will “break” the embargo then you are not close enough to them to ask for an embargo.

- Do give your press contact a clear story. You should be able to summarize it in one sentence. You will get bonus points (and be able to control the message more) if after you talk with the press, you send them an unpublished blog post that they can lift information from. This helps remove any barriers of press people covering you (ie they can tell you they forgot any details).

- Do thank your press contact for covering you after they write the article. Try to help them out by sending them cool and interesting stories that come your way. They will be appreciative and want to continue to cover you down the road.

Don’t:

- Don’t give the same exact story to 10 different outlets. If you can’t spin the story for different audiences, then you should probably go the route of offering one big outlet an exclusive.

- Don’t try to sell the idea of your company’s existence as news. Unless you are a previously successful entrepreneur who just starting a company, you need to actually be launching your product to get coverage.

- Don’t blindly email the same exact story to every tech reporter. It is not hard to tell that you didn’t do the legwork to craft an original email that is relevant to that specific reporter because of what they cover and their overall readership demographic. They are also mostly in the same circles, so they might even chat about it.

Protip: each tech outlet usually shares a chat group (often in skype) and they talk to each other about things that come in. All the time. Try not to email multiple folks at the same outlet if you don’t know them. They will find it mildly annoying.

Any other great Dos and Don’ts?

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Using Materials When Pitching

There are a few schools of thought around using materials when pitching. Some like to have a short deck that they use to guide them when discussing their offering with a prospective partner. Others have long extensive presentations that they use. A third don’t use anything and just talk to the other side. 

I am in the third category. I like to have a back and forth conversation with the other side. I try to understand their business and their needs. I tell them what we are working on and how we are thinking about things. I demo what we have on my laptop of mobile phone. I feel as though my approach is non-salesy and really gets the other side comfortable with solving any of their company needs together. Sometimes we have the solution, other times we don’t.

If a company wants more information to share internally I share a take-away canned deck that they can circulate. 

What materials (if any) do you use when pitching?

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Going To Investors Too Soon

Sometimes early stage companies approach investors for money too soon.

I’ve recently seen a few first time founders do just that. Obviously they are all having issues raising funding.

The best practice in the early stage is to do one of the following two things:

1) Go to investors and tell them what you are working on. Don’t ask them for money- just ask for feedback on your thesis that you have an interesting/fund-able business.

2) Don’t go to investors. Ever. Let them come to you, only once you have built a product that has users and/or is making money.

I think it is important to straddle both practices. I think going to investors too early with an ask for money is never a good idea. But I think having a good relationship with prospective investors that you like and respect, coupled with never asking them for money (they will ask to fund you if they like you and your business)- will lead to a successful outcome.

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Refreshing Your Pitch

Every once in awhile you need to refresh your pitch.

This usually happens when you have some new products coming up on the horizon. In your pitch and with any materials you use (pitch deck, take away deck, etc.) you need to reflect both the existing and the arriving company offerings.

When dealing with upcoming products and offerings I recommend explaining what your thought process behind building it was and ask the prospective partner if this is something they would want for themselves.

For materials you always need to be updating and refreshing upcoming products. With every meeting you will receive more and more feedback. That feedback will continue to drive changes in the offering which will in turn continue to drive change in the pitch.

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