So you want to work as a biz dev guy/gal in a startup in the Bay Area? I know how you feel. When I moved here in January of 2010, I was relentless in trying to find a BD role in a startup and along the way figured out what I thought was a good path to finding and then landing a great BD role. Over the last few months, I have had numerous conversations with folks that are actively looking for such roles around here. The conversation started to repeat itself which then lead me to write this post. Before you start reading this, please understand that there are no shortcuts with getting a job you desire. Nurturing the right relationships, growing your knowledge in a domain and most importantly being hard working with a strong ethical base will always lead you to the right places.
Before I get into my breakdown, I want you to first understand that this is all about getting what you want. This process is about finding a great company where you fit and can grow. This is not about just getting another job. This is about working with a great team around a product that you can sell in your sleep. This is the type of job where you would stop at nothing to push the product on to your friends and family while simultaneously recruiting some of them to come work with you. For these reasons, effort and time are necessary.
The first step of the process is trying to understand what the profile of this future company will look like. Remember, if you don’t know where you’re going, all roads will eventually lead you there. This is a crucial first step. It’ll help you in conversation with people who are trying to help you by saying that you’re looking to be the second or third business development team member in a B2B startup that has 20-50 employees and is profitable.
This first step is what I refer to as the Deciding Factors. There are four deciding factors that I used when looking for a BD role and they are the same four that I suggest for others as well (in no particular order):
- ‘The’ Role
- Funding Stage
1) Vertical. What are you interested in? Are you looking to be involved in the gaming industry? Advertising? Enterprise software? This initial starting point will help you eliminate the majority of companies that are hiring. There are basically two ways to go about this decision. Either it is a direct relation to your previous experience, e.g. Oracle sales guy looking to move into a small enterprise software startup. Or it can be a move into an area that you are very passionate about, e.g. you’re a musician on the side and have the chops to get into Pandora. The latter is of course tougher than the former, but the goal is to be in a role where your passion is, so it is definitely worth the pursuit.
2) Size. When I say size here, I’m referring to number of employees. Some people are only interested in startups with less than 20 employees. Whereas, others are more comfortable in a company that has a business model and is scaling it, so that may be closer to 100 or so employees. The smaller the startup, the more visible and impacting your work will be. Chances are that you will have to be significantly more creative in the types of deals you will need to do as there may not be a model for getting them done. When the size grows it becomes more important to know who your customers and relationships are and executing more within the given space. Knowing where your strengths lie here can dictate the size of the company you will want to take a look at.
3) ‘The’ Role. What kind of role are you interested in? Are you looking to run business development at a startup? Do you have some experience, but would be prefer to be the second or third team member in? It’s important to understand this as even though a company may fit into your vertical and size, they may just not be hiring for the type of role you could potentially fit in. Generally speaking there are VP level roles, manager level roles and entry level roles. This of course varies from company to company. Know your experience, know where you fit and go after it.
4) Funding Stage. This one can be optional. Depending on your personal risk tolerance, the stage of funding will have an affect on your compensation package. A team (1-5 employees) that is bootstrapped or only raised a small friends and family round, will not be able to pay you a ‘market’ salary. If this is a concern of yours, you need evaluate what stage you can fit into. There is a good chance you may want to wait until they receive Series A funding so that they can come closer to what you are looking to get paid. The funding stage can be correlated to the size of the company, but that is not the rule. Usually, angel funded and bootstrapped businesses will have less than 10 employees. Series A funded companies will tend to have 10+ employees. All funding stages past that point will usually correlate to more employees as a lot of venture capital financing is tied to building headcount. Understand though that there are plenty of companies that break this rule. Companies that grew slowly and are highly profitable with a small headcount may easily be able to pay you a market salary even though they have only eight employees.
The goal here is to walk away with a clear identification of what you are looking for. Example:
“I am looking for a manager-level business development role at a social gaming company with 20-50 employees.”
Repeat this line over and over. When talking to people about finding a new role for yourself, quickly get to the point of exactly what you are looking for. It helps to have examples, so definitely throw out some companies that are on your list. Which will bring me to part two next, finding companies that will fit into your list. Part three will focus on interview execution and standing out.
Stick around and let me know your thoughts on the process!