A co-founder's guide to Biz Dev

I wrote a post a few weeks back about the concept of a 10X Hustler which unexpectedly got over 10k page views. Since then I’ve seen a few other pieces about the nature of BD - I loved this one in particular by another YC alum, Chris Steiner about how Biz Dev is a clever name for dirty work. That makes me think that there’s increasing curiousity about how BD can help early stage start-ups. 

A few months back, someone on the YC email list asked the question “What tips do you have for becoming better at BD”. I tried to summarise some of the things that I’ve learned doing much of Songkick’s BD over the years, and thought I’d publish them here too. 

When we started Songkick I’d never done any BD before and had an engineering background. Since then we’ve had some successes with medium to big deals (Foursquare, Spotify, Yahoo!, YouTube etc) as well as building a self-serve API that services hundreds of other partners. Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned. This mainly focuses on BD as distribution for consumer products.

1. If BD is to be meaningful it needs as clear a vision statement as your core product. 

For us it’s becoming the circulatory system for concert data online. We want to power concerts wherever they exist - an artist’s website, a venue’s, Facebook, Google, any music service etc. This is very aligned with our core goal to get fans to more shows & become the home for concerts online.

2. Deals with companies bigger than you are driven by their strategic goals.

Whether a deal closes & gets focus hinges on whether it aligns with their strategic goals. E.g. right now any partnership that will help Yahoo! re-establish themselves as an innovative tech company will be taken more seriously than it would have been a year ago. Figuring out those strategic goals should be your first priority. If you can’t find a way to get something done that serves one of their high level strategic goals, it will go nowhere.

3. BD is about helping partners discover significant orthogonal value to their core.

You don’t want to fill holes that they’re going to fill anyway in their core (unless your goal is an early exit). Focus on orthogonalities e.g. the partnerships between Foursquare/AMEX, Firefox/Google, Apple/Twitter that create real long term value for both parties. 

4. BD is about cannibalising BD. 

Hand-holding deal after deal does not scale. You want to focus your efforts on 2 things:
- landing massive deals that define the distributed version of your service. PR the hell out of them to set visible examples of this use case, and establish yourself as the go-to partner in your space
- creating an awesome self-service version for that use-case that developers and product people will love to use. Awesome API docs etc. Then the big deals drive new inbound that services itself

We now have hundreds of partners using our API, but I’ve spent most of my energy on a handful of partnerships.

Good blog post from Hunch’s former head of BD on this: http://shaivalshah.com/cannabilize-business-development-by-populariz

5. For those big deals, there is no substitute for in person. 

I’m amazed at how often people underestimate how much this can change the balance & lead to a better integration. By showing up in person you can do real time rebuttal on any competitor’s pitch, figure out the most creative & aligned integration and demonstrate that you’re going to be a committed, engaged partner. 

6. Make sure you’re talking to the ultimate decision maker. It’s often not the person you’ll be directed to. It’s frequently the PM.

I lost an early deal for Songkick. I screwed up by only talking to their BD lead, not the product owner. I haven’t made that mistake again and it sucked. I beat myself up for a long time about that. In general the best companies deal making is heavily influenced by tech and product and mediated by BD. Focus on the product and user experience ahead of the commercial terms if possible. This means that the best BD people have great product instincts. It also means that you should push to meet the product owner as well as the BD person early in the process.

7. Work as hard after the deal as before.

Account management can be a great differentiator for your platform. Once you’ve done all the hard work to close the deal, account management maximises the value you create for your partner and yourself. This also drives future investment in the same direction, and with larger organisations a small step can grow into something much bigger over time.

8. BD & Corp dev often go hand in hand

One interesting thing about BD is that it’s a way to build a strong working relationships with key people at much bigger companies. A lot of corp dev relationships start that way. This is a good reason to be involved in major deals as a founder/CEO. Many of the offers to acquire Songkick have come from relationships that started in BD.

9. Know enough to help your BD lead, but get out of the day to day as soon as it takes off.

I could have done a better job at this. I did all our BD for the first year or two and figured out how to do it. At the time I didn’t realise that this creates a challenge when you come to hire someone to own it - it’s hard to transition and scale.

I think the best thing is to hire someone to own BD right away (maybe part-time or on trial as you test BD’s relevancy to your business) but work alongside them through all the major first deals you go after. You’ll develop a good deal-making skillset which will help with other things e.g. raising money & gather a lot of good insight into what the distributed version of your product should look like.

10. The ideal BD hire is entrepreneurial and on track to found their own company a few years from now.

I wrote a better summary of this here.

Hope this is useful.

Thanks to Tristan Walker for reading an early draft of this.



If you’re reading this, and it resonates with some of your own ambitions, then we’re hiring for someone to work on Songkick’s partnerships. We have partnerships all over the world with companies like Foursquare, MTV, SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube, and an awesome ecosystem of artists and individual developers building on top of our API. We’re just getting started, and looking for someone to take things to the next level.