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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BD Best Practices Pitching Closing
Leaving A Startup On Good Terms

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I received an email from someone asking me to touch upon this subject. The startup space is small and close-knit. Which is why leaving startups isn’t an easy subject to discuss publicly.

I don’t have much experience leaving startups to join other startups, but I do have some helpful advice about leaving on good terms.

1) Give enough time to transition in the best way possible. Standard time is two weeks. If you had a lot on your plate two weeks may not be enough. Help via phone or email until everything necessary is passed along.

2) If you are leaving a team high and dry, help them by assisting in finding your replacement. It’s a small gesture, but it can make the transition process much easier.

3) No matter what reasons you have for leaving, never bad-mouth the company privately or publicly. Wish them the best. Startups are hard, They don’t need an ex-employee running around saying bad things about them.

4) For a certain amount of time after, people are going to reach out to you about your former company. It may be about deals, it may be something else. Make sure you always pass those things on to the appropriate people. You obviously don’t have to, but if you want to maintain a good relationship with the team and help the company/individual asking to get connected to them, you should make the introduction.

5) Stay friends with the people there. You never know where you or they will be in five years.

These aren’t sure-fire ways to leave on good terms, but they are definitely a good start.

Any other suggestions for people looking to leave a startup on good terms?

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Introductions Via Email: Best Practices

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Introductions in the startup space are very important. If you abuse them you will be looked upon poorly, whereas if you do it right you can will be looked upon quite favorably.

There are right and wrong ways to go about introductions. You need to be very careful about how you approach.

There are two types of introductions:

1) Asking someone to introduce you to someone they know
2) Asking someone to take an introduction with someone you know

Both are important. Both need approval from each side before the introduction can actually be made.

I repeat: ASK BOTH SIDES BEFORE YOU MAKE THE INTRODUCTION.
The only situation when you do not need to ask a side is when you work with said person everyday and know they are okay with the introduction.

In introduction #1 make it as easy as possible for them to ask the other side. This means you should give the person you are asking the context of what you need and why talking/connecting with their contact will help. You should make your email forward-able or add a piece of info on the bottom that they can copy and paste into the “ask” email.

In intro #2 make sure you give all the relevant information to make a decision if they’d like to take you up on it. This means who you want to introduce them to, why you want to, and how the person you are introducing to them would be helpful to them/how the person taking the introduction can help them. Lay it all out.

Once both sides know the introduction is coming, it’s time to send the introduction email. The introduction email should be short and sweet. Both sides know it is coming so no need to spend time going into detail. It should look something like, “John, meet Jennifer. Jennifer, meet John. You both have the low down, so I’ll let you take it from here!” That is all.

These are some of the best practices for introductions via email. If I’m missing anything, please leave it in the comments.

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@ Mentioning People When Tweeting An Article

I have a various methods for distribution of the content I produce.

My gchat status, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Hacker News, Reddit, and more.

One thing I have learned about getting some extra distribution is that if you @ mention someone when you tweet it out, you have a high probability of having them retweet it, and subsequently more eyeballs will see your content.

That doesn’t mean you should @ mention random people with lots of followers hoping they will read it and RT. You should only @ mention people who are relevant to the piece. 

I’ve done this both successfully and unsuccessfully before.

Success has come when there were either one or two people or companies @ mentioned that were highly relevant (two cases for me were: 1. @ mentioning Dave McClure on an post about great tech writers, and 2. @ mentioning Warby Parker in my article about them for Forbes).

Failure has come when I @ mention too many people, some of them not being super relevant to my post (earlier writing days).

Bottom line: If you are a relatively unknown tech blogger, a very valuable method to gain some initial traction is @ mentioning one or two people who are either relevant or included in the piece you are posting.

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Length Of Email And The Response Rate

I am a big believer in a correlation between the length of an email sent and its response rate. I think the shorter the email the higher the probability of getting an answer within 24 hours. I know for a fact that most of my longer emails, especially when I don’t know the person (i.e. cold reach out) go unanswered. 

When I first started working I often sent long emails. I thought I had to say everything in the reach out email. Who I was, what I was asking for, what my company was, etc. I have come to realize that the reach out email is the bait to get the response. You will never close a deal on a cold reach out. You want to pique their interest to learn more about your offering. Leave them wanting more.

The best emails I send are the ones where I give just enough to get the other side interested, but I leave something to talk about on the call or meeting after they respond!

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Email best practices
What Do We Need To Be The Killer App?

You should ask your team this question. Whether you are a B2B, B2C, or a B2B2C company - you should figure out what you need to become the application that everyone wants.

B2C is an animal in of itself. But B2B and B2B2C usually depends on a third-party company. For this you need to go out and talk to every company that can potentially use your service/product/offering.

Once you talk to enough of these companies, you should have a good idea of what you would need to get them to partner up with you.

Step 1 - Go back to your team and report what you’ve learned.

Step 2- Build it into your offering

Step 3- Profit

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Continue Thread Vs. New Thread

I’ve been thinking about proper follow-up correspondence protocol for biz dev recently. While everything ends up being situational, I thought it would be worth sharing some thoughts on the benefits of continuing a thread versus starting a new thread.

I almost always continue a thread if the correspondence has been a good flow of back and forth. Once someone responds to an email, I try to stay on the thread for as long as possible. Even if it is months apart. It makes sense to go back to an existing thread if you have had a good rapport.

I sometimes start a new thread if I am looking to discuss an entirely new subject. This just allows for a fresh conversation. Another reason I would start a new thread is if the old thread is not getting any love. This happens occasionally and I try to re-ignite accordingly.

How do you deal with continuing a thread vs. starting a new one?

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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.

Being Proactive At A Startup

One of the most important pieces of an ideal startup employee is the ability to be proactive.

At a fast moving startup you will typically get a good sense of what you should be doing but execution will be up to you.

I’ve noticed that the people who succeed best in the startup environment are the ones who are self-starters. At least I like working with and for self-starters.

When you join a new startup figure out what is most important to take the company to the next level and be proactive about getting there.

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Handling Situations

A startup founder in NYC took my Skillshare class a few weeks ago. After the class he asked if he could email me with various biz dev questions as they come up. He told me that he has various mentors or helpers that help him with handling situations. I, of course, told him to hit me up anytime.

The conversation has stuck with me and the more I think about it, the more I like the way he approaches things. If you are working on a startup (especially if you are the founder), you should have various helpers as lifelines. Someone for tech help, biz help, fundraising help, design help, UX help, and more.

Do you have someone helping you with different scenarios? What would you recommend to others to do?

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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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It’s A Small World

I was debating whether to write this story, but I think there is a teachable moment here.

This past week I taught a Skillshare class that I originally titled “Advanced” Business Development and Partnerships for Startups. The class went through the top 10 most important pieces of biz dev and each student came away with templates/samples of each subject to use in every day work. In retrospect (and for future classes) it should have been called “Practical” BD/Partnerships for Startups that is a more fitting name.

In the beginning of the class I mentioned that this was the first class, an experiment, and if anyone wanted a refund they should just let me know. While I was saying it in a joking matter, I was serious that if anyone felt they wasted their money I would refund them. 

Well my story here is about two students who followed up after the class who felt that the word Advanced had been misleading (which I agreed with). The reason this is noteworthy is that I feel that one went about it the right way, whereas the other didn’t. 

Without naming names, Student #1 left constructive feedback via Skillshare’s platform (they allow this) about feeling that the class was practical basic skills in business development. I immediately responded that I was sorry that she/he felt misled and that I’d be happy to give a refund. I explained that I plan to change future classes to Practical BD, which seems like a better-suited name. I thanked Student #1 for the feedback.

The immediate response I got thanked me for responding and said that no refund was necessary because she/he appreciated the time I spent on the class. We ended up going back and forth, with me asking what she/he would want to see from a properly titled advanced class. This was a great critical feedback experience. I like this girl/guy.

Student #2 responded to my student/attendee follow-up email and was nice about it, but said she/he felt misled about the title and was asking for a refund. I responded and said as soon as I got to my computer (I was mobile at the time) I would issue the refund. I also asked what she/he would want to see in a prospective class. It’s been about 5 days and I haven’t heard back, so I won’t hold my breathe. I issued the refund and moved on.

Now you are probably thinking that I’m just venting because I had my first experience with someone asking for a refund to my class. While there may be some truth to that, I understand that is a part of teaching classes; you can’t make everyone happy. I think the main difference between the good and bad correspondence is understanding the situation.

In this situation, Student #2 approached it the wrong way. I would have offered a refund if she/he would have just said that the class title has been misleading. By asking for a refund for a 20 dollar class in business development she/he showed that he/she probably needs to take Biz Dev 101 before jumping into an advanced class. It’s a small world in the early-stage tech space with correspondence and relationships being critical pieces. Student #2 really failed in her/his approach, while I would be happy to go to bat for Student #1 in the future.

PostScrip: After I wrote this post, Student #2 emailed me asking for access to the class materials, you know the one that she/he received a refund for. Snarky response ensued- “can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Can’t tell if he/she is super confident (ie big balls) or is just plain stupid.

Shoutout to Paul BZ for the title name. 

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Best Practice Of Press Release

There are many articles about dealing with press out there, not so many around dealing with the actual release.

When your company has something to announce to the public, the best thing to do is put together a company blog post that outlines exactly how you would like the news to be viewed and consumed by the outside world.

Once you have the blog post ready it is time to start talking to various outlets (which outlet(s) depends on if it is something embargoed or exclusive). You should understand which audience you are trying to reach. Investors? Developers? Consumers? Some other demographic? Then you should match the outlet(s) with the proper demographic you are trying to reach. This article can tell you more info on that.

I’ll skip the part about getting in front of the press writers and jump to the discussion you should be having.

You should have your talking points and things you’d like to get across in the conversation. Tell your story, product release, etc. to the journalist. Explain to them why they and their readership should care. Once they have committed to covering the news, you should share with them a password protected unpublished blog post. You should do this for a few reasons:

1) They can refer to it when they are writing up their piece if they don’t catch something or you don’t have enough time to give them the entire story on the phone/in-person.

2) Journalists write many stories a day while covering their respective beat. You are making their lives easier by assisting them in covering you (taking down any barriers for them is key).

3) You can publish the post and then let them link to your company, driving traffic to you and your news.

Announcing the news via a company blog post is the best practice when releasing press. It gives the company control of how they would like the news to be covered.

Look at some of the best technology companies with new releases- usually the press refers to their blog post (see Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

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Showing Up Early To Meetings

There isn’t any special learning art about arriving to meetings. Just a few general rules. It seems like most people know them but there are some who don’t.

  • Don’t be late. Five minutes is okay if you give the other person a heads up. If you keep them waiting 15 minutes, haven’t messaged that you are running late, then you are a no-show. At this point, the other party should leave and consider the meeting cancelled.
  • Don’t be more than 10 minutes early. Being too early puts the other side in an awkward position. Especially if you are going to the office of a prospective partner.
  • The sweet spot time of showing up is under 10 minutes, but closer to 5 minutes.
  • If you need to set up tech for a demo, give yourself about 10 minutes from the time you would check in at the front desk (this is for bigger corporation meetings).

The impetus for this article was that I have noticed that some people have been arriving up to 30 minutes early for my Skillshare classes when I am not set up yet and may want to eat some dinner before. It’s not entirely bad that they are showing up early, it is better than being 30 minutes late, it just unfortunately creates an awkward scenario. 

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Best Practices Meetings Deals Skillshare
Yes, there are stupid questions

When people tell you that there are no stupid questions, they are mistaken.

In the age of the digital world, yes there are stupid questions.

And I have probably asked half of them.

That doesn’t make me stupid.

It just makes me look lazy and uninformed.

If you are interested in the tech space (or any other space for that matter), there are a million ways of finding out information. Before you take a meeting with an individual (or a company)- you should find out everything about them. You have Google, Crunchbase, Company Website, Blogs and of course, QUORA! for that.

Some questions make people look like they have no idea what they are talking about. It’s not just being clueless about a specific thing, but also not fundamentally understanding an entire industry.

I have had more than my share of stupid questions.

And have learned- it’s totally fine to say “I don’t know” or “I am not familiar with.”

What isn’t fine is asking someone a question when the answer can be easily found online.

The only non-stupid questions are opinion questions. For example, What are the best tech blogs? What networking events should I be going to in NYC? Etc.

So the next time you think of asking someone what the difference between Tumblr and Wordpress is or what does “this” company do?, just take five seconds and do a quick internet search to find the answers out for yourself.

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