"Somebody from McGraw-Hill reached out to me on LinkedIn," Alex says, casually rubbing his thumb against the screen of his phone. "They saw my blog and stuff and wanted to know if I wanted to do a book about tech."
Summer 2013 had just begun. I'd been working in Business Development for Dwolla reporting to Alex out of our New York office for about nine months at the time. We had just finished placing our order for a late lunch after a long day of meetings. We were mentally fatigued and enjoying a much needed break. I'm not sure whether he even believed the initial proposal in that moment.
Fade in. Fade out.
It's 13 months later, July 24, and Alex Taub has finished writing the book, Pitching and Closing: Everything You Need to Know About Business Development, with friend Ellen DaSilva, celebrating the eve of its launch with family and friends in New York City.
Having just turned 27, Alex is a well-known name in the New York tech scene. He led business development in two venture-backed startups (Aviary and Dwolla) and, most recently, co-founded SocialRank. Ellen, 25, is herself a corporate expat in the startup scene. A Brown University alumnus and former investment banker, Ellen currently manages business operations at Twitter. The two are now ready to attach another title to their respective resumes: Author.
The book isn't just a manual or a thought book. It's filled with real experiences from real people; actual successes and honest failures, complete with practical, actionable strategies to be successful on the operations side of the tech world.
I had a chance to catch up with the two co-authors at the launch to talk about the book in their own words.
The title speaks for itself but what is the book about?
Ellen DaSilva (ED): We start by talking about what business development actually is at its core - after all, it's such a buzzword these days but you hear a lot of Investment Bankers and Consultants saying "I want to do BD", but they don't actually really know what it means or what it entails. We move on to discuss best practices, the act of pitching and actually closing a deal, deal execution, and end with some "war stories" from some of the best and brightest in the industry.
The book is best described as a go-to guide for dealmaking, spotting opportunities and being a savvy professional in the tech industry.
Alex Taub (AT): Ellen is correct here. I would just add that this book is also the perfect book for someone looking to break into the startup world in a non-technical job. Startups are hot and breaking in is not easy. This book gives the reader the tools to understand what the non-technical roles available are and how to do them well.
Why would someone want to do Business Development in a startup?
AT: Business Development (BD) is one of those things that is very hard to do well. If you like challenges, building relationships and want to work at startups then it is for you.
ED: BD is all about harnessing two vehicles to create value. If the concept of 1+1=3 appeals to you, then business development will make sense for you. In short, BD is the field of creating partnerships that can generate revenue, broaden distribution audiences and channels, or enhance a product (or combinations of these). Business development is so appealing to people like Alex and me because we have a chance to work with external partners to create value, get a deep understanding of the product, have a deep insight into business strategy and get creative with how to make consumers happy.
I will caveat that "biz dev" is not finance, banking, or even internal business strategy, as many people think it is. Nonetheless, it's a fantastic entry-point into the world of tech that allows you to touch many different aspects of a company.
How did Pitching and Closing come about?
AT: Donya Dickerson, an editor from McGraw Hill reached out on LinkedIn asking if I was interested in writing a book based on my blog, Forbes posts and Skillshare class. I hadn't thought of that before and sat down with Donya. After sitting down I knew it was going to be too much for me to do it solo. I hit up Ellen, as she has been a trusted source of feedback on my Forbes blog posts for the past two years. She almost always sees the post before it goes live and gives feedback. I asked Ellen if she wanted to be my equal partner in the book. I knew it was going to be a lot of work and wanted us to both to have the equal amount of same skin in the game. She said yes and we got working on it in June 2013.
What was it like writing a unified book with a co-author?
ED: I honestly wasn't sure what to expect, although Alex and I had teamed up on things in the past so I had a hunch it would be a great partnership.
AT: During the writing process, there were weeks when one of us would had more professional work/deadlines that we couldn't avoid. During that time, the other one would pick up the slack. We complimented each other pretty well here. But this book is 100% a joint effort.
ED: I can see how working with a co-author can be tricky, but I feel lucky that Alex and I had a true, genuine partnership. We split the tasks equally and I never felt as though there was an imbalance of tasks or expectations. The writing itself was organized into small, bite-sized chunks for each of us to work on, and then we'd show it to the other for editing. In that respect, we each had a hand in every word of the book that was written. Plus with double the manpower meant we could really make it a best-in-class piece of writing.
What is the most important thing to be gleaned from the book?
AT: I think the book gives newbies a great foundation. I think it gives more seasoned professionals a good reminder of what they should and shouldn't be doing. Everyone needs a reminder here and there.
ED: Well - I think everyone is going to take away something different depending on their perspective. One of the elements of the book about which I am proudest is the fact that we pepper all of our thoughts with anecdotes and that our claims are substantiated by examples from the wild.
My favorite chapter in the book is the Four Golden Rules of Partnerships. This is Alex's big thing, and it synthesizes a lot of the basic principles and tenets of business developments into a neatly packaged set of guidelines. And that's all I'll say - read the book if you want to learn more!
Books from the tech world seem to be more mainstream now as they are being published, what makes Pitching and Closing unique? What makes it important?
ED: You mean, apart from our charm and good looks? I am a pretty voracious reader, and when I was trying to enter the business side of the tech world I noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of content out there that could help me navigate the functional nuances. I knew high-level about how these businesses were run, but lifting the veil and explaining how the nitty gritty works under the hood is something we focus on in Pitching & Closing. I think what makes the book important is its attention to detail on the minutiae of the process, and of course the "war stories" that make it come to life.
AT: Totally. I think this is going to become the go-to book for people looking to break into the tech world, specifically the early-stage startup world. There are still struggles breaking in if you are technical but non-technical is near impossible without failing a lot if you don't educate yourself.
The startup scene is relatively exclusive. Good thing or bad thing?
AT: It is good and bad. I do think it is becoming a lot less exclusive in the past few years. With that you'll have some good and bad eggs. There are definitely a lot of people who get their professional start in the world of startups, who might have previously gone into banking. Remember, before 2012/2013, the type of people who went into startups were the ones getting rejected from more traditional paths. It wasn't exclusive, it was a group of rejects and misfits. So, yea I think there will be some diamonds in the rough discoveries of people and also some bad eggs that join the startup world. Such is life.
ED: I'm not sure I'd say exclusive - it's more about having the right skills and knowing how to capitalize on those skills by identifying the right company at the right time. The truth is, if you aren't an engineer, jobs in tech are limited but aren't impossible to find. This isn't a good or bad thing but rather a market reality. It's probably good in the sense that we wouldn't want to unnecessarily flood companies with roles that aren't relevant. Pitching and Closing should hopefully give you the skills (or teach you how to teach yourself the skills) to find your first job in tech, but it's really all about who you know and how you maximize your network. (We have a chapter on that!)
Speaking of maximizing networks, how did you meet?
ED: I was put in touch with Alex some time in Winter '11 and Spring '12 by a mutual friend, Adam Levin, whom I knew from growing up and whom Alex knew from running the BD meetups in San Francisco. At the time, I was looking to find an alternative to my job in Investment Banking and Alex agreed to help. Eventually I got my job at Twitter and moved out to the West Coast, but Alex and I stayed in close contact and remained a close friend and business relationship ever since.
What is the best way to develop relationships in the tech world?
ED: Definitely read our chapter on networking! But I'll give you a sneak preview: developing a personal brand and then going out and "marketing" that brand by putting yourself out there is probably the best way to get started. Be able to converse fluidly and concisely about what exactly your interests are and know how to "sell yourself." In the book, we also go into detail about finding the right people to get to know, attending the right events and following up accordingly. Also - Twitter always helps (shameless plug).
AT: I think getting active on social networks, specifically Twitter, allow you to meet a lot of like-minded individuals. Going to startup-related events will help you meet new people. Then when you do sit down or talk to them, the goal needs to be not to get something from them but to make a friend. People want to work with friends. Your first goal when trying to develop a relationship in the tech world is to try to help them and not yourself.