How Business Development Differs Between Startups and Big Companies

I have a confession: I hate the term “business development.”

Despite having spent most of my career “doing business development”, I must admit that I’ve always secretly harbored an uneasy relationship with the label of “business development” as a job title.

I mean, isn’t anyone who works for a business thereby charged with developing it?

According to my own Grand Unified Theory of business development, the goal of this ambiguously-named function is to create long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships. And yet, if you ask a Biz Dev person at a startup to describe their day-to-day role you’re likely to hear a vastly different description than someone doing business development at a more mature company. And the differences are likely to be just as vast between a startup at the seed stage and one after their Series B.

Why is that? The answer: The role of business development changes as a company grows because what is valuable in the long-term changes as the company grows. 

Here’s how the role of business development evolves as a company evolves, from an early stage startup to a mature Big Company:

The Many Faces of Value

Business development may be the creation of long-term value, but value is a subjective concept. All too often, a decision on what value to pursue via partnership deals faces the same weak screen as the Supreme Court’s view of pornography: “I know it when I see it”.

There are usually dozens of opportunities that can pull your attention away from what matters most to your business. Being able to prioritize growth opportunities requires a clearer, more objective way to think about the value that you can create for your company and potential partners. It all starts with understanding what kind of value you’re after.

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Want to Get Better at Business Development? Then Learn to Code

The learn to code movement is all the rage these days, as it increasingly becomes common knowledge that being one’s own technical cofounder is the only path to getting a product off the ground.

While I agree in Marc Andreessen’s famous quote that there will be only two types of people in the working world – “those who tell a computer what to do and those who are told what to do by a computer” – I think there is another reason for business founders to learn to code: it can make you a better business developer.

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How Big Companies Think

You probably know that inside your skull there is a brain divided into two halves, a right brain and a left brain, that collectively control the way you think, react, and behave.

Similarly, decisions at Big Companies are a team effort, the result of a shared opinion between two forces that guide a company’s thinking: the Organizational Mind and the Individual Mind.

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You Solve a Person’s Problems, Not a Company’s Problems

I had coffee with a smart entrepreneur today, and he said something that struck me. He said: “We had a great meeting with Microsoft.”

It’s a line we all utter so naturally, but when you think about it, that’s kind of a strange statement. We often tell others and ourselves that “I’m meeting with Big Company” without stopping to consider the obvious: that we do not have meetings with Big Companies.

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How I Built a Career in Business Development

I’m often asked questions like “what steps should I take to build a career in business development?” and my first instinct is to relay parts of my personal career story. It’s my feeble attempt to provide a thoughtful, structured answer for how they can do the same thing.

I’ve spent over 10 years working in all facets of partnerships, but labeling myself a “business development” guy is a relatively recent phenomenon. Here’s the story of my winding road to a career that I’ve loved.

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Wouldn’t It Be Cool If

Perhaps the 5 most dangerous words one can ask in the early stages of Business Development are “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”
Wouldn’t it be cool if we integrated our waffle toppings recommendation engine into Google Maps, so you could always find the nearest bottle of maple syrup?

All too frequently we see the results of partnerships (or attempts at forging partnerships) that are borne from this seemingly innocent question: they fail. No product or partnership can last (if it gets off the ground at all) for long without a well-defined source of value for your customers, your partners, and your own company. Pursuing on an opportunity whose value is rooted only in the sexiness of the idea is a recipe for wasted time that no startup can afford.

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Full Stack Business Development

In the language of technology, a “Full Stack Developer” is someone who understands how to code every level of a computer: from the fundamentals of server processes to backend programming to database architecture and front-end design. They’re among the most valued members of an organization, able to translate between the layers of a system. A Full Stack Developer can be your best resource whether you’re planning for top-notch performance, diagnosing a tricky situation that’s eluded your best specialists, or are just quickly hacking your way to an MVP.
Allow me to introduce the idea of a similar unicorn: the “Full Stack Business Development” person. Read More…

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