Business Development with Perfect Information

Two Joes were discussing business development and competition in Internet start-ups. It was their first day back in 2016, and the Joes were catching-up over coffee at GSVlabs (

Besides given names and Irish heritage, the Joes have journeyed along similar career paths. They share decades of experience selling and marketing high technology products. They have worked with both established companies and start-ups. Both strive to stay current in the ever-changing Internet age. Neither played much soccer as a child but both learned as managers how the ball must feel, and these days both Joes are mentors at the GSVlabs Edtech Innovation accelerator in Silicon Valley.

One of the Joes learned marketing in the semiconductor industry working for AMD and then Altera, places where most of the training was of the learn-by-doing type. “Here’s the deep end, rookie. Now swim.” The other Joe’s skills come with a more polished pedigree. He rose up through the ranks at NCR and Xerox. Ever heard of Solution Selling? At those companies you couldn’t get near a customer until you had experienced months of methodical training in a company classroom.

“It’s been called an environment of near perfect information,” said Joe, “and that means just don’t show up if you haven’t done your homework.” Both Joes were in complete agreement on that one.

“Nearly everyone has a LinkedIn profile. You need to have read it. Before any meeting, you have to know who worked where, when, with whom, and on what,” Joe said.

“Better search Crunchbase too,” said the other. “Understand the timing and circumstances of the last funding round (or the next one if it’s near). The important issues for any start-up are never far removed from its cash position.”

Joe noted that, “the questions that good sellers ask today have to start from an established base of knowledge. You and I were both taught to search for client pain points. The equation for success was: pain + solution = sales. Good luck searching for pain points in today’s bizdev meeting. You had best know the score going in, and usually there’s too much pain around the table to catalogue it all.”

“If you ask me, the surfeit of pain emanates from the intense competition. No one feels secure. Competition comes from all directions and in all kinds of business models. It attacks at multiple price points, and there’s always a number of “use our service free” alternatives.”

“Yes,” said Joe. “It is a tough environment for start-ups but it’s no easier for incumbents. Every market seems to have a leader with a target on its back. Take digital imaging as an example. Where does one begin: Adobe Photoshop, Google Picasa, Apple iPhoto and iPhone, Facebook/Instagram, open source software, camera manufacturer’s proprietary software? Even printing services like Bay Photo Lab offer image management services.”

“And that’s just one market,” replied Joe. “A similar maelstrom seems to apply in every market the Internet touches. And the Internet touches everything. At General Motors, 2015 will likely be remembered as the year that cars made by Google and driven by computer received their first traffic tickets.”

“Exactly right,” said Joe, “and as competition has become the fur-ball out of Scooby-Doo, management roles have also become entangled. In bizdev, we use design thinking every day. We’re the first to see customer needs and competitor offerings. We’re the headlights on the business model canvas.”

The Joes sat thoughtfully for a while.

“There’s a new model of business development out there that you won’t find on Google maps,” said Joe.

“Well maybe The Joes should write it?” replied the other Joe.

“Now there’s an idea,” said Joe. “Let me get another cup of coffee. You up for one?”

Joe Cullinane is the founder of Strategic Artistry, a Silicon Valley strategy company. He is a business strategist with international experience in sales and marketing, business development, teaching and executive coaching.

Joe McDonough is an independent consultant focused on innovation in higher education, adult learning, and workforce training. He is an active mentor to start-ups at GSVlabs Edtech Innovation Accelerator in Silicon Valley.

Comments? Questions? Interested in Edtech Start-Ups? The Joes would love to hear from you directly. We can be reached by email at: