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…

Why Deals Die

Marriage is hard. Half of marriages end in divorce, so say the oft-quoted statistics, and keeping committed to a relationship over a lifetime of bumps in the road is no simple task.
Just like a marriage, the road to a successful partnership is a long, hard, and winding one that requires attention, energy, and effort to maintain. The voyage can be treacherous, so avoiding the potholes in the partnership road requires a good map, a keen awareness of the obstacles on the path, and a steadfast focus on reaching your destination.

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Choose Your Own Biz Dev Adventure

When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. Do you hike up the mountain or take the shortcut through the cave? Every page had a decision to make, and every decision had a consequence that impacted how the story played out.
In Business Development as with those books, every decision you make about how to pursue an opportunity to create long-term value will determine the fate of your journey. Do you train your sales force to sell a new product, or do you find a distribution partner to take it to market? Every decision has a consequence.

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The Value Hypothesis

Every time you propose a partnership with another company, you are making a guess as to why they’d want to work with you. According to the Grand Unified Theory of Business Development, business development is fundamentally focused on creating long term value. But whose value are you taking into consideration?
When two companies are evaluating an opportunity to work together, each is weighing the relative value of the same deal from their own unique perspective. While you approach a company with an understanding of the value that they can bring to you and your organization, they are making the same judgement what  you  can bring to  them  – and will decide accordingly on how to proceed.

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What, Exactly, Is Business Development?

“I do biz dev.”

Few times in history have more ambiguous words been spoken. Ask ten “VPs of Business Development” or similarly business card-ed folks what is business development, and you’re like to get just as many answers.

“Business development is sales,” some will say, concisely.

“Business development is partnerships,” others will say, vaguely.

“Business development is hustling,” the startup folks will say, evasively.

The assortment of varied and often contradictory responses to the basic question of “what, exactly, is business development” reminds me of the way physicists seek to explain what, exactly, is the universe. With conflicting theories on the nature of black holes and bosons, the ultimate goal for those scientists is a Grand Unified Theory, a single definition that can elegantly explain how the universe itself operates at every level.

Lacking any concise explanation of what business development is all about, I sought to unite the varied forces of business development into one comprehensive framework. And eureka, for I have found it – the Grand Unified Theory of business development:

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