Startup business development jobs – One part hustle, One part networking

Mike Cardamone was my classmate Columbia Business School and has gone on to work in startup business development jobs with successful startups like Box and AcademixDirect.  Below he shares his story about how he landed his first startup job in Silicon Valley and provides insight into what traits make a startup business development person effective.

Tell me about how you got your first startup business development job. What were the key learnings / takeaways? 

Hustling and networking were key to landing my  startup business development job after business school.  I went on a business school sponsored trip to Silicon Valley and decided then that I wanted to move out to the Bay Area and work for a start up.  I started to reach out to current students from the Bay Area and alumni currently in the Bay Area to build my network.  I also started developing a list of companies I would want to work for and began trying to find connections into them (ie. investors, friends, alumni, etc).

At some point in that process I realized that a classmate who was working in venture capital in the Bay Area before business school knew the VP of Business Development at Box and he was kind enough to make an introduction for me.  When I had a chance to meet them in person, I wanted to prove to them that I understood their business, had well thought out ideas, and show them that I was ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work.

There were two key learnings:

  1. A warm introduction from a friend or investor, or at least an alumni from within the company, is critical.
  2. Be very prepared for the interview, come with ideas and be able to speak to execution.  There is definitely a misconception within the startup world that MBA’s can think strategically but do not want to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to execute on a plan.  Squash that thought early in the interview and focus on why/how you will hustle for them.

How helpful was business school in positioning you for startup business development jobs?  What parts of your business school experience were most valuable in that first startup job hunt?  

It sounds cliche but the network is really the most helpful part of Business School, especially when trying to land a job at a startup that is not coming to campus to recruit like the big consulting and investment banking firms.  The Silicon Valley trip organized by the school and my Venture Capital class (taught by partners from RRE Ventures) were probably the most helpful experiences for my job hunt.

What makes an ideal partnerships / BD person?  Are there certain inherent traits or acquired skills that will make a person successful in startup business development jobs?

I think an ideal BD person, especially for a startup, needs to bring a versatile skill set that includes strategic thinking, the ability to identify and source partnerships, some legal acumen and attention to detail to execute on the deal and manage it effectively once it is done.

The larger the company you work at, the more focused your role will be in the process but at a startup you are often asked to see partnership deals from beginning to end.  Inherently, BD people need to be out going, self motivated, inquisitive, strategic and generally likeable internally and externally.  The legal side of it is often an acquired skill but is an important one, so you can be more efficient in getting deals done without having to go to legal every time.

Business development folks often have to interface closely with product and engineering teams to get partner integrations up and working.  What are some job experiences or skills that help BD folks be more effective when working with product and technical teams?  Do you have any best practices you can share?

It is crucial that BD people spend the time to understand how integrations work from a technical stand point.  I think it can be very frustrating for the tech team if the BD person working on the deal has very limited knowledge on how the API works and how to communicate with the partner to ensure a more efficient integration for all parties involved.

I would highly recommend that any BD person in a new role take people from the product team and the engineering team to lunch and ask a lot of questions.

You also have to realize that you are typically fighting for bandwidth from the product/tech teams, so making sure you understand what factors go into prioritizing projects and addressing those will help get them to spend more time on your partnerships.

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