Startups 101: The Biz Dev-eloper Gap

by Marti Nyman

apples to orangesA biz dev guy walks into a developer dude’s office and says, “I’ve got an idea that’ll change the world and make us billionaires!”  The confident developer leans back in his chair and says, “SMOP”.

The biz dev guys looks at him cross-eyed and confused.  He believes that he may have walked into the wrong office, and proceeds to leave.

The idea dies, billions aren’t made and the world remains the same; biz dev guy and developer dude go back to boring day jobs.  This scenario happens a LOT.

Generically, people from the business side have a wealth of acumen on the market and sales side, while developers know everything it takes to code up the next best thing. This “knowledge diversity” is analogous to languages — both individuals speak different languages and only understand a few words of the others’ native tongue. As a result, when they do work together, the projects routinely fall short of expectations, sales goals are missed and in general, it’s a lost opportunity.

While there aren’t simple cure-alls to this, there are things that can be done to help improve the odds that your next venture will be more successful. There are two critical and commonly absent pieces (both sides are guilty): 1 – active listening and 2 – active questioning.

Here’s how it works:

Biz dev guys and gals

• Your most important job is to identify the unmet need, so be obsessive about this. You have the best view of the marketplace and you’re expected to dig deep, really deep, to make sure the “pain” is real and worth alleviating.

• When you present your idea to Developer Dude, deliver three things:

  1. The “pain” the customer is experiencing (the opportunity)
  2. How you’re going to alleviate it (your solution)
  3. How it’ll make money (the business model, not the billions)

• When done talking, now shift to listening-mode.

Developer dudes and dudettes

• The first half of your role is easy – listen and ask a LOT of questions – not about the code but about the problem and the potential solution. Don’t even worry if it can’t be done yet, just focus on the idea.

• The questions serve two purposes – to make sure Biz Dev guy has
thought it through and to make sure you really understand the big
picture – pain, solution and business model.

• Through your questions, you’ll start to get a feeling for whether this idea is real or not. Worry less about how many lines of code or release schedules and more on whether you’re totally on board with this idea. The more you
REALLY know what’s going on, the more creative and effective you’ll be in
developing the solution.

If, after this session, you’ve both asked LOTS of questions and listened actively, you’re off to a great start. There’s plenty of hard work still to do, in terms of requirements definition work, but your chances for a successful collaboration have improved dramatically now that you’re both speaking the same language.


  • Guest

    Funny nobody mentioned biz-dev guy should PAY developer guy. ;)

    • Jeff Pesek

      I think the article is more geared towards those situations where a long-term business (read: equity) partnership is sought, as opposed to contract employment. And if you're going to leave snarky comments, find a backbone…use your real name :)