When I’m asked what exactly doing business development at startup entails, I often think of that scene from Office Space in which the Bobs try to figure out exactly what everyone does. And then that one middle manager freaks out with his “I’m a people person!” rant.
BD at a startup is a lot of different tasks, functions and skill sets rolled into one, and it varies by stage of company, by sector, and most importantly by what your product actually is. But it does often come down to being a “people person.”
For instance, at a consumer internet company like GroupMe, one of the most critical aspects of doing BD is working with brands. I mean brands in the most broad sense of the term, from retail brands like Nike, entertainment brands like MTV, sports brands like Manchester United, and everything in between. Brands are important because they give your company validation, users, and eventually, money.
Think of your role in working with a brand as being an “external” product manager. That is, your job is to liase between GroupMe’s product - both current and what you know is coming down the roadmap - and a brand’s needs. When talking to a brand, you’re looking to know everything about their goals, plans, strategy, and constraints. Only when you understand all of that can you map their objectives to your product.
And you can only do that if you have a really good sense of product. You don’t necessarily need to know how to code (though that doesn’t hurt), but you do need to know everything your product is and is not capable of doing, so that you can creatively brainstorm with the brand rep. And if your product can’t do what they need or want, then it’s up to you to assess if the potential opportunity of partnering with that brand is worth investing engineering work to get something new built.