Takeaways: Alex Taub’s ‘Intro II Business Development & Partnership for Startups’ Skillshare class

4 Mar

Class: Alex Taub of Aviary on “Intro II Business Development”, via Skillshare at Aviary HQ

Date: February 29 2012, 20:00-21:45

If you comes from a traditional journalism background (caveat: I don’t), “business development” (BD) is a dirty word, right up there with “sales”.

And in fairness, if you come from a traditional journalism background, you’re unlikely ever to have to engage in either.

But for all those newsies making the leap from working in a newsroom to working for themselves – and yes, that includes freelancers – or in a startup environment, understanding business development (what it is, and why it’s important) is crucial.

Alex Taub, who leads business development and partnerships at Aviary, defined BD thus:

BD is about building and maintaining relationships, developing your company, and finding a point of transaction and turn them into repeat occurrences.

(For the difference(s) between BD and sales, see this post at false precision, this pithy explanation by Lincoln Murphy and this Q&A at Quora)

It’s not you, it’s me…

Taub stressed that a willingness to be persistent, and to not take rejection personally, as essential traits for anyone considering BD (either as a career or as one of the hats s/he will wear in a startup). Because:

You will get rejected. Often.


Sometimes you don’t get rejected. You get silence.

But why might you be getting rejected? Some questions to ask yourself before you go into a meeting with someone with whom you’re seeking to do business:

Will your product or service…?

  • Make the other party $
  • Save the other party $
  • Grow their user base
  • Improve their product

And crucially, can you prove and demonstrate any/all of the above?

Vapor sales

But what happens if you’re pitching a product or service that’s not quite ready yet. What then?

There’s a phrase for that: “vapor sales”.

As Taub explained it,

You don’t need to have a product yet to start selling

“Vapor selling” could apply equally to a product you’re about to launch, or to a company you’re going to be starting. And it’s essentially a form of market research, because it leads to a lot of product feedback, and is also a useful gauge of whether anyone would buy your product or support your company.

This struck me as very bizdev-meets-not-so-lean-startups, and it seems to be the kind of tactic sites like launchrock were designed to facilitate.

As Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo, noted in a recent blog post:

Instead of beta testing a product, we beta tested an idea and integrated the feedback we received from our readers early on in our product development process. This strategy far trumps the Lean Startup method of rushing a product to market. It means a lot to future customers to be in on the ground level and feel as though you’re truly building a product specifically for them and the issues that keep them up at night.

But a warning here: you don’t want your vapor sales strategy to go down the path of knowingly collecting money for a product or service that will never get off the ground. That’s just fraudulent.

And Taub argued that vapor sales as a tactic for an existing product or company should be reserved for people you know well, in a face to face context.


According to Taub, you should only offer a pilot/trial of your product or service if:

  • you really want to work with that company, and they’re out of your league
  • you’ve established in advance what the metric of success will be that will lead to a full deal

(Putting my things-I-learnt-from-FT Tilt hat on here for a second, I have to say I absolutely agree with Taub. And I would add that some people act in extremely bad faith. For instance, the head of one VERY large PR firm repeatedly asked for an extension of (the very generous) trial period we’d offered, each time offering one excuse or another for why the company couldn’t yet pay for a subscription, “but would very soon”. It was only when we finally and belatedly switched off his access that he wrote a cheque. Some people just want a free ride.)

It’s not just about closing the deal

The deal’s not done just because it’s closed: you need to ensure your new partner doesn’t stray to a competitor’s product or service.

The advice here from Taub is two-fold:

  • Make sure your partner support is astounding
  • Offer feedback to partners – help them help themselves – but tread diplomatically

Overall, a very practical, useful class. I’ll be attending Taub’s “Advanced Biz Dev” session on March 21st. Say hi if you’re there.

Notes From a Skillshare Class: Introduction to Business Development and Partnerships – Emily Meithner
Business development: the Goldilocks principle – Chris Dixon
a good BizDev person makes BizDev irrelevant‘ – Chris Dixon

Elsewhere on Ent!
Takeaways: GA’s ‘Making life easy with algorithms’ class

2 Responses to “Takeaways: Alex Taub’s ‘Intro II Business Development & Partnership for Startups’ Skillshare class”

  1. hanansolayman March 4, 2012 at 20:39 #

    I would have been with you in that class if i didn’t have a problem with paying online (paypal doesn’t have Egypt on its list and so i couldn’t pay with my Visa!). With the help of John paying for me online this time, i’m going to the first level of BD on April 4th “Intro I – Business Development & Partnerships for Startups” here:

    We would then complete the whole series! 🙂

  2. Ashley Milne-Tyte March 9, 2012 at 12:42 #

    Late response: I wish I’d gone to this class but my Skillshare emails get buried in my other inbox and I rarely check them. I must try to check more often. This all sounds horribly familiar to someone who has attempted to freelance for the past two years. Rejection and not being responded to are par for the course. I still hate both, even though you inevitably develop a thicker skin as you go on. I like the term ‘vapor sales’ too. I am struggling with how to work out if anyone really ‘needs’ what I am trying to give them, but still don’t know how to frame the question and get a useful response. Because often we do not know what we need. I certainly didn’t. I wish I could attend the class on the 4th but I’m taking a brief trip to England to see my family right at that time.

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