This past week I caught up with a friend who happens to be a Thiel Fellow. We got to talking about how using your situation (whether it is being a Thiel Fellow, a college student, or something else) to get in front of someone is an important thing for people to learn.
We joked that no one is going to turn down an introduction to a Thiel Fellow. It’s an unbelievable vehicle to leverage.
For me, I’ve always used my “situation,” whatever that may be, to get in front of the people I wanted to. In college, I used the student angle to get meetings or introductions to people I wanted to know or talk to. When I interned at Viacom/MTV Networks, I used that situation to look up executives at CBS, Paramount, MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, and other subsidiaries to ask for meetings while I was there, to pick their brains, and make lasting connections.
The same situation at Aviary and Dwolla. Being a venture backed startup gives you the opportunity to have some legitimacy behind who you are and what you are working on. It’s a lot easier asking/getting an introduction when you are person X, from company Y that has $Z in venture funding from big investors- rather than person X, solo, looking to get connected.
So figure out what your situation is and use whatever it is to get in front of people you want to know.
Part of unspoken agreements at startup companies is that employees will be taking on multiple roles in the organization as the company grows. With limited financing and resources employees are expected to do their job, plus other functions that they might not know anything about.
If you don’t pick up the slack when needed, you may not be around for long. Startups aren’t easy and this is one of the more daunting concepts around working at a startup. You’ll definitely be pushed in uncomfortable directions and might not know how to respond.
Here are a few tips on how to tackle that new role that is being thrown at you on top of your existing responsibilities:
1) Read + Learn about the new responsibilities. If you do BD and need to learn marketing best practices pick up a book or head over to the countless marketing expert blogs (ask around to find out who is good and who is all noise) and dig in.
2) Bring in an expert. Whatever the skill set is, ask management or your investors to help conquer the beast that is the new thing you are needing to tackle. If it is paid advertising and you have no idea what is left and what is right it’s your responsibility to ask for help.
3) Know yourself and at a certain point if you have so much to do that you can’t even do your own job talk to your boss and put it all out there. You may need to hire someone to fill that role.
4) Go work at a different (bigger) company. Less potential reward, but more stability and hey if you are good, you can move up in the ranks and make a good salary/career out if it. Some people realize they are not right for the startup life at this point. It’s a hard lifestyle to maintain.
Hope this is helpful!
Internships are important. I think the most important thing internships help with is figuring out what you don’t want to do with your life. At least that’s the experience I’ve had. Startup internships, something I haven’t done, are especially helpful as you get to do many things and can figure out fairly quickly if you like this lifestyle or not.
Here are a few tips when looking for internships at startups:
1) Use Twitter and other online networks to connect with people. I see people tweeting out job opportunities daily and being on Twitter and other social entities helps you put yourself in a good position to get lucky and find an opportunity. For example: How About We is looking for a BD intern. Here is the job posting.
2) Find a company you want to work for and start doing the job before you get the job. Talk to as many people as you can find at the company or who know the current strategy of the company and figure out what you can do to add value to the team before even interviewing/getting fully in front of them. That’s one good way to impress a team and have them want to bring you on as an intern.
3) Ask every friend, family member, acquaintance, stranger, for leads. This obviously needs to be done in a strategic way, but you need to use everything and I mean everything at your disposal to land an internship. Having zero internships on your resume will bring up major red flags when you are looking for a full-time job.
It’s okay to try and get an internship by asking your network for help. It’s actually not just okay, it’s expected. It’s only people that never get anything accomplished are the ones looking at people with a “connection” to someone or something and say, “well they only got that because they knew the person.” Well of course they did. How does anyone get anything? Most people don’t hire strangers, there are too many question marks. You need to know people to get things. It’s just common sense.
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t meet the people you need to know by a) reaching out to them (now you aren’t a stranger anymore), b) getting front of them by any means necessary. Early on in my career I did some crazy stuff to get in front of people I wanted to know or be connected with (stuff you don’t share or post on your blog). But all of the stuff has paid off and I have a solid network of great people who I can depend on and who depend on me. Everyone has to start somewhere. Getting an internship and doing whatever it takes is a good place to start.
It is not always easy taking the next step in your career. Sometimes the next move is not clear. Other times going sideways can mean going up (ie former CEO of Burberry joining Apple). A lot of people struggle with career moves and how to handle them. It’s probably the thing I get asked about the most.
From my limited experience, if you are going to make a move, you always want to do it in a position of strength. This means that you are either in a good role (and for one reason or another you want to leave) or something good or big just happened. If you don’t need to move than you should wait for the terms you want to come before deciding you want to make the jump.
The other type of jump in your career is one within your organization. This could be getting a promotion or taking initiative and doing more than expected of you (which will probably lead to a promotion). I’ve gone through this when I was working at Aviary. We were a month away from a big product launch and my boss got sick so I led a lot of the pitching to line up launch partners. The launch ended up going very well and from then on I led most deals for the company.
Bottom line: Making the jump in your career is tough thing to do and there is usually no clear path. Try your best to put yourself in a position to get lucky (and have a good career) by doing the best you can at your current job. Whatever you are doing, do it at 110%.
Two weeks ago a 13 year old 8th grader from New Jersey emailed me to find a time to talk about startups. Impressed with the kid’s email, we set up a time to chat.
The kid is years ahead of his peers and I told him some things he could do to put himself in a really good position to be successful in the future.
The thing that I tried to hammer home though was the fact that he’s at a stage where he could take tons of risks and fail silently. He has absolutely zero expectations right now, no one is depending on him to put food on their table, and this is an opportune time to take the biggest risks.
This got me thinking about the amazing opportunities today’s youth have, especially while in college. For many young people (obviously not all) college is a place to party and waste time. But for a select few, college is a great opportunity to experiment and take risks (safe ones!). Starting a company has never been easier and during the four years of college is a great time to go for it.
Let me tell you, with what I now know, I wish I had my four years of college back.
"So you wanna be a rock superstar?
And live large, a big house, 5 cars, you’re in charge
Comin’ up in the world don’t trust no body
Gotta look over your shoulder constantly”
- (Rock) Superstar by Cypress Hill
At startups, the worst thing you can do is get too comfortable after a big announcement. Case in point, yesterday’s big Dwolla announcement. There is no room for complacency and your team needs to continue to work towards the next milestone, whatever that may be.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the win or you should jump to the next thing (sometimes the next thing is just continuing to make the present thing better and better). It just means you should continue to sleep with one eye open. Remember, the actual blood, sweat, and tears at startups happens behind the scenes and are not part of the splashy press announcement.
Bottom line: Don’t get too comfortable. Keep striving for better.
Expectations at startups are a funny thing. You want everyone to be optimistic about your business, you want to always keep the excitement and energy, but how much of that should be living in reality?
One of the biggest mistakes I see other BD/Partnerships people do is oversell the progress between their company and a partner. They have a good meeting or two and share it with the team without putting the proper disclaimer on it. BD deals fall apart all the time. Sometimes it is the employees’ fault, other times the priorities don’t match up and your partnership gets punted a few months out.
This can have a major negative effect on your team. Remember, the BD/Partnerships team is used to rejection, unlike your community/product/engineer/support team. So if you oversell a partnership internally, a) they will think you can’t do your job, b) they will be majorly let down, and c) subsequently overall morale will take a hit.
I’ve seen this happen majorly at companies before. One company I know was in very early on acquisition talks (not a BD deal, but similar in concept). The company was doing okay, but not well enough to justify another round they would need to raise in less than 6 months. The CEO shared the acquisition talks with the team. The team could only think and talk about this for 3 weeks until the deal fell through over pricing. Morale was hit in a big way and the company never recovered.
Similarly in BD, if you have a big deal you are working on, if you are at a point you are sharing it with the team, make sure you explain to the team that the deal is still a big question mark (even if you are positive it will happen) and that you will keep them up-to-date on the progress. Better to over-deliver. Trust me. Letting down your team is sometimes an irreversible scenario.
P.S. This is a timely post as last night Louis CK launched his new $5 show. He now accepts Dwolla. Brian Kil had been working on that deal for months, but we didn’t share it with the team because we knew it could fall apart any moment (we didn’t know 100% until this past Friday).
We have hit peak list-making in the startup world. A lot of these lists are of founders, VC’s, press people. I’ve been on lists before, it feels great to get recognition for hard work. One list I haven’t seen is one of non-founders in the NY tech scene. These are people who usually aren’t mentioned in the press but are busting their asses to make their respective companies successful.
So here we go, 30 mentionable non-founders at startups in NY tech. No slides!
Jake Furst- Director of Monetization Partnerships at Foursquare
Jake runs all monetization partnerships at 4sq and with their big push in monetization, he is a key employee there.
Eric Friedman- Director of Sales and Revenue Operations at Foursquare
Eric is another key employee at 4sq in their big monetization push. Before Eric joined 4sq, he spent time at USV during the heyday of investments in Etsy, Meetup, Kickstarter (and follow ons to Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, and more).
Ashley Arenson- Free-agent (but not for long)
You can’t really say that Ashley got Obama re-elected, but she was definitely a big piece of it. Ashley was the Director of Innovation and Integration for Obama for America. She will be snatched up pretty soon by a startup in NYC.
Mike Dudas- Sr. Director, Mobile BD at Braintree/Venmo (and PayPal)
A big reason why PayPal bought Braintree was their slick mobile partnerships with Airbnb, Uber and others using Venmo Touch. A big piece of the mobile BD team at Braintree / Venmo was Mr. Dudas. Dudas was previously working in BD for Google Wallet.
Stephanie Bagley- Director of Partnerships at RebelMouse
Stephanie is one of the go-to people in NY tech when it comes to tapping into the power of social media. Before RebelMouse she was VP/ Project Manager at Vayner Media.
Kathleen Barrett- Operations Manager at VHX
Kathleen is a Goldmaner turned startupper. She is awesome and is a big piece of what makes VHX one of the hottest companies in NY (with some recent news with their USV investment).
Eric Batscha- Business Development at Knewton
I know Eric well as he has taking over running the BD Meetup in NYC. Eric recently joined Knewton from Appnexus, and I know they are lucky to have him.
Amanda Bensol- Operations & Business Development at Karma
Amanda joined Karma when they graduated from TechStars. Amanda was previously at BOA doing tech banking. She is a rising star to watch.
Abigail Besdin- Partnerships and Business Development at Skillshare
Abigail and I go way back (we went to the same elementary school in NYC). She is a key team member at Skillshare. Before joining Skillshare, she was an account executive at Meetup.
Lindsay Kaplan- Director, Marketing at CityMaps
Lindsay is one of the funniest people in NY Tech. She is a social media mastermind and highly capable. She has worked at Chloe + Isabel, Elle, and TIME OUT.
Nam Nguyen- Head of Business Development & Strategy at Aviary
Nam and I worked together at Aviary. We used to call each other Batman and Batman (instead of Batman and Robin). Nam has grown professionally, in the past two years, leading deals like Twitter at Aviary. He is one to watch in NY tech.
Scott Britton- Free-agent (but not for long)
Scott is one of the most impressive Business Development guys in NY. Scott recently left Singleplatform (after they sold for $100M in 2012) to do a little traveling. I’m not sure when he gets back, but when he does he will be a hot commodity.
Libby Brittain- Director of Editorial Development at Branch / Potluck
Libby left Hearst Ventures to join Branch in May 2012 as one of the first hires at NY startup, Branch. While Josh and the founders get most of public praise, Libby has been a huge piece of building and growing Branch and Potluck.
Steve Cheney- Head of Business Development at GroupMe
Steve is one of those rare triple threats in the startup world with a BD, Writer, and Engineer background. Steve also spent some time at Morgan Stanley (in the TMT group), is a contributor to TechCrunch (he has a fabulous blog), and now leads BD at GroupMe.
Tanuj Parikh- VP of Growth at Mitro
Tanuj recently worked with Steve at GroupMe but left to join the team at Mitro. Tanuj is thoughtful and creative and is definitely a NY tech mentionable.
Jared Cohen- VP Operations & GC at Kickstarter
Jared, a former lawyer, is the guy focused on operations and legal at Kickstarter. I’ve only had good interactions with Jared and he is definitely a force in the NY tech scene.
Kristal Bergfield- Vice President, Business Development at StellaService
Kristal is a good friend since her days at American Express. Besides running BD at StellaService, Kristal runs an awesome BD breakfast in NYC that sells out in minutes every month.
Ben Luban- Head of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships at GrubHub Seamless
Ben runs BD and partnerships at Seamless Web, and they recently merged with GrubHub. Before that Ben worked at AOL and Google. Another awesome person behind the scenes in the NY tech scene.
Andrea Hong- Director of Content at NewsCred
Andrea recently joined NewsCred to lead their content team. I’ve known Andrea for a few years now when she was at Disney ABC Television Group and AOL and have nothing but good things to say about her and her work.
Brian Kil- Business Development and Partnership at Dwolla
Brian works with me in BD/Partnerships at Dwolla. Brian is quickly growing in his role and is even doing things I can’t do (he recently got an intro that I tried and failed to get!). Brian is still in the first few innings of his career but watch out.
Katherine Nannizzi (Friedman)- Director, Business Development at Houzz
Katherine has been in the BD/Partnerships game for a decade at companies like The Knot, Time Inc, Like.com and for the past 3 year, Houzz. She is a big piece behind why Houzz is one of the fastest growing startups in the US.
Maxine (Gisinger) Friedman- Vice President Business Development at Contently
Maxine and I met when she was leading business development and partnerships for Clickable. I put together a panel where she and Kristal spoke about a partnership done by Amex and Clickable. She is real pro in biz dev and is well liked by all.
Jared Grusd- Global Head of Corporate Development and General Counsel at Spotify
Ask anyone about Jared and they will sing his praises. Jared has a deep history doing deals in the tech world, specifically at Google and AOL and is one of the under the radar but biggest players in the tech scene.
Nihar Singhal- EVP Business Development & Strategy at SeatGeek
Nihar was one of the first employees at SeatGeek and is responsible for some of their biggest deals (Hearst, TicketFly, and other music entities). Nihar also gives back, mentoring a few companies in the scene.
Erin Tao- Head of Merchandising Operations
Erin was employee #1 at BarkBox. I got the chance to work with Erin at Aviary and she is awesome, having a do whatever-it-takes attitude that is needed at early stage startups.
Paul Murphy- SVP at Betaworks
Paul moved from Seattle (where he was the chief of staff of the office division at MSFT) to NY two years back to join Aviary (and was my boss). After I left for Dwolla, Paul joined Betaworks to be one of their senior executives. I learned more about BD/Partnerships from Paul in the 6 months we worked together then I’ve learned my entire life.
Daphne Earp- Director of Business Development at Yext
Daphne went straight from Princeton to Yext and has been there for the past 3 years. Yext is one of the fastest growing startups and Daphne is a key employee there.
Megan Towe- Strategic Partnerships at LiveIntent, Inc.
Megan’ story was immortalized in Charlie O’Donnell’s Blog post: "How to get an exciting job at an awesome startup in less than a month." That’s all you need to know to see how awesome Megan is.
Michael Hershfield- GM Monetization at Sailthru
Michael is the lawyer/corp dev/biz guy at Sailthru. Before Sailthru he ran business and legal for Howcast. Michael is another superstar in the NY tech scene.
Kate Huyett- VP of Acquisition, Retention & Revenue at How About We
Kate is another Goldman banker turned startupper. Kate leads user acquisition for How About We, one of the fastest growing dating websites on the web. She also teaches some great classes at GA and on Skillshare about user acquisition and breaking into the tech scene.
I’ve clearly left people off, please help the error of my ways by leaving some missing folks in the comments and I’ll add them!
Networking, physical and digital, is a crucial piece of Business Development and Partnerships. I have written about it many times- but I think there are two things that not everyone knows and would be helpful to share.
You Don’t Always See Immediate Results
This is very important. When you put in a lot of time into networking, there is a chance you won’t see immediate results (there are also times when you do see immediate results- and this messes people up sometimes- expecting immediate results at all times). If you don’t see immediate results, don’t get discouraged, it WILL work out. You just need to continue meeting new people and strengthening ties with existing people. I see people give up all the time, thinking that nothing came from networking, but if they would stick at it- they would eventually see results. I’ve never met a well-networked person that hasn’t gained something from having a good networking.
Finding Pockets At Events
Make sure you are attending events where you know at least one person that knows other people attending. This leads to being sucked into pockets at events. These pockets are hubs of people congregating and can led to meeting a bunch of new people. This is a good thing and what I call finding pockets at events.
You don’t always need to go to events with people that know other people, but that assumes you feel comfortable going up to strangers and starting conversations. You’ll still need to find these pockets, but it will be substantially harder.
Both of these things aren’t the biggest things by themselves but are key things to understand about networking.
It’s very hard to balance personal and professional goals at startups. I have a myriad of things I’d like to accomplish in my life. Some are personal, others professional. At times they cross over and at times they are at odds.
While I don’t have all the answers to balancing your personal and professional goals, I do have one tip.
That tip is, keep a list. Divide items by personal and professional. Try to cross things off as often as you can. Some are short term goals, others are long term. For example, at Aviary, I really wanted to meet as many people as I could in venture capital, tech press, and BD world. I wanted to leverage my situation of being at a venture-backed startup to grow my network. I definitely met a lot of people and at some point I crossed it off my list.
How do you go about balancing personal and professional goals?
There are many reason why a startup fails. Depending on the stage of the company there are a trillion scenarios where your startup just doesn’t work out. And while there is no one reason your startup will fail, I’m fairly certain hiring the wrong employees is in everyone’s top 3 reasons why it does.
And it makes sense. Hiring the wrong employee can set a company back so badly that some never recover. If you think about it- let’s say in a good scenario- you come to the realization you hired the wrong person 6 months after said hiring (because it never happens instantly). Now you need to let the person go and find a replacement. That will take another 1-3 months. Then that new person needs to be brought up to speed (and you run the risk that they might also turn out to be the wrong person). So we are talking 9 months to one year of time lost for a role.
Now think about hiring the wrong person in multiple roles and only raising enough money for 18 months. Startups need to make enough progress to justify another round of fundraising, taking the business to the next level.
So, you can see how hiring the wrong employee can really sink a company. But what can a company do to make sure they hire the right people? I think it goes without saying that they need to ask the right questions in the interviews (or courting process). On top of that, you need to hire for the here and now as well as where you want to go. This means making sure that if your company is going to be growing, you have the right personal to grow with the company.
I’m not a hiring expert, so I would love for someone who knows what they are doing to jump in the comments and give some helpful tidbits about hiring the right employees and tricks to spotting the wrong fits.
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.
Early-stage startups these days are made up of a bunch of generalists. Non-technical and technical alike, companies in their infancy need people to do many things. Most people that do “many things well” are generalists. It’s like the age-old question of whether you’d rather be really good at a bunch of different sports or the best at one sport (usually that “would you rather…” is around being the best [ENTER SPORT THAT PEOPLE MAKE FUN OF THAT IS NOT A “REAL” SPORT]).
At a certain point, generalists need to develop a specialty or they will not make it to later stages of a company. This usually happens when you see co-founders or early stage employees that don’t really have a place in the company as they grow. Sometimes they leave on their own, other times they stay for a few months or years, sort of lingering (they usually take over some sort of internal Company labs project where they do experiments around the API or try to build ways to make the product better but while thinking out of the box and not with the core team.
This post isn’t here to say whether being a generalist or a specialist is better than the other. I think everyone would love to be the best in the world at something. But that’s obviously not always possible. The post is here to say that one should be aware of the inevitable shift in your company when you go from hiring generalists to hiring specialists, so that you can plan accordingly and decide whether or not you want to tweak your skills (to be that killer person at X, who is irreplaceable) to scale with your company.
s/o to all the summer analysts out there. We know that u the new slaves.— Wu-Tang Financial (@Wu_Tang_Finance)
There are a few types of people when it applies to email. I think I’ve probably encountered most of them at this point in my career and would like to list some of them here. Understanding what type of person you are dealing with helps tremendously with correspondence and expectations.
Here are four stereotypical inbox folks-
The Fast Responder: This is the type of person who responds to every email within a 2-hour period. They don’t have the longest responses, but they are tied to their mobile phone and get back to you quickly. It’s tough to hate on this type of person because they respond to you when you email them (whether good or bad, it is better than silence). There are a few breakouts of the fast responder. One is the fast responder who knows you. Another is the fast responder even if they don’t know you. Some people are just nice and respond to everything. In both cases, the fast responders are great. The only downside is on their end: that being so “ON” probably doesn’t give them time for anything else besides work.
The Once-A-Day Responder: This individual usually responds to all emails in the morning or at night. During the day, they skim through their inbox and only respond to time-sensitive emails (i.e. changes to meetings that day, family, etc.). Depending on the individual, they can be a morning or night person. Personally, I’m a once-a-day responder. I’m a night owl and usually get to all my emails at night. I try to get them all done before going to bed, but sometimes I need the next morning to finish up.
The Organized One: This stereotype usually has crazy inbox filters with color coating and an exact strategy to be efficient with email dealings. They aren’t put into the other buckets because their strategy is a hybrid. Some filters get the fast responder, others get once-a-day, and a bunch goes into the empty abyss (inbox blow-upper). I sort of envy these people. I’ve tried to be The Organized One, but haven’t found a strategy I can stick to yet.
Inbox Blow-Upper: The last group here is aptly titled because they periodically blow up their inbox and claim inbox bankruptcy. They are the types that if you get lucky and catch them at the right moment you will get a fast responder persona. But most of the time the email gets lost in a inbox black hole. Inbox Blow-Uppers are not bad people. It’s usually not their fault. It’s usually founders of companies or executives who have so much inbound, and if they don’t have an assistant, it’s just not fair to expect them to respond to a large majority of emails. They have meetings day and night; have internal things to do (presentations, board meetings, etc.) and answering their email for a few hours is not their top priority. The best have other avenues to contact them (gchat, text messages, the PHONE!) and know if someone truly needs to get in front of them they will find a way.
So why is this important for BD? Well if you email someone who frequently blows up their inbox and starts over or responds to non-core things once a week you need to make sure you follow up periodically with a nice note, so you can get back on their radar. It’s not you, it’s them. You just happen to hit them at the wrong time (could be for a myriad of reasons) and a nice follow up and note could get everything back on track.
Did I miss any other email types? Share in the comments.
Having a good network is very important in BD. I always say that having the ability to get in front of any company and/or person (whether it be a reporter, investor, or someone else) can be the difference between success and failure in a BD role.
But what about the actual work of networking? How do you get good at growing and building your network?
The most important thing you need to know to be successful at networking is that it’s all about finding your vehicle and being able to communicate it properly.
Your vehicle is best described as what your “deal” is. Two questions really: “Who are you?” and “What do you do?”
For example, my vehicle is that I run business development and partnerships for online integrations at Dwolla. I also spend a lot of time writing on my blog here, and I contribute to Forbes every two weeks. Having this vehicle allows me to answer the networking questions.
The biggest concern I hear from people who shy away from networking, is that they don’t know or don’t feel comfortable talking about what they are doing now. Someone in finance, real estate, or accounting, says they don’t know what to tell people when they meet them. The easy answer to that is you need to troubleshoot and position your vehicle for maximum success.
If you are a lawyer with a passion for early-stage education companies and looking to break in, your vehicle is this exact story. You are currently a lawyer and very passionate about education startups. You need to read up about education startups, the companies, the latest news, and everything in between. You need your vehicle but you also need to be well read in the industry you want to break into it.
Once you configure your vehicle and read up about the space you are networking in, you are ready to go out and be successful at networking.