Harvard in Tech: Marco Mahrus, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Brex
I spoke with Marco Mahrus, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Brex, the financial operating system for the next generation of businesses.
Prior to joining Brex, Marco was a senior director on the payments team at Uber where he headed payments and risk partnerships. There, he was building fintech products for riders and drivers. Underwriting these credit cards was a meaningful challenge given the lack of data on consumers, so Marco reached out to his network for advice, including Alex Rampell, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Alex introduced him to Henrique Dubugras, co-founder of Brex, who shared incredible insights and impressed Marco with his vision and creative ideas. They kept in touch, and when the opportunity to work with Brex emerged a year later, Marco joined the team initially leading payments at Brex for the credit card business and subsequently leading business development.
Marco shared his advice for sales relationship building, effective listening, and business growth.
Look for where the value is. Being upfront about the sales outcome can push you to clearly identify and articulate the value your product or partnership brings. Instead of inventing an opportunity and or depending on relationship leverage, convey your concrete value add from the start.
Be authentic. Be transparent about your true interests and be yourself. Instead of relying on optics or stretching the facts, be upfront about the business objective. In this way, when the business ask inevitably comes, it will be grounded on value and, and as a result, it will be better received.
Invest in the relationship. Spend time together through getting a meal, getting coffee, making conversation in between sessions at conferences, or doing an activity (a trip, a hike, or an outing). While COVID certainly hampers in person interaction, it is crucial to have the in person touch point to build stronger relationships.
Adopt a long term mindset. Oftentimes, short term losses can lead to long term gains. Instead of pinching pennies or negotiating too aggressively at the start, optimize less for immediate value. Short term compromises can lay the foundation for successful long term partnerships.
Learn to grow, not just manage a business. Looking back on his time at Harvard Business School, Marco appreciated the lateral exposure to all sides of the business building process but would have spent more time sales and marketing as it relates to driving business growth. A lot of time is spent on thinking about business creation, and not enough on case studies related to growth in the early stages of a business
Relentlessfocus on your priorities. Marco was a part of Uber during a period of hypergrowth. The company expanded from 20 to 80 countries and 800 to 2500 people, and they had incredible product market fit. In companies with such phenomenal growth and product market fit, it is easy to run in 20 different directions and see positive activity in each of these investments. But this lack of focus comes at the expense of meaningful impact. Prioritization is key. With clear, structured, and strategic prioritization, you can add pressure to and create greater leverage through the best ideas.
Actively challenge your intuition. Active listening is one of the most important aspects of leadership but is often one of the most challenging things to do. People’s first instinct when hearing an idea different from their own is to react negatively and identify reasons why the other person’s thinking is wrong. Instead of jumping to conclusions based on your own intuitions, give yourself time to think laterally. Ask the other person why they think a certain way and try to understand their way of thinking, their frameworks for analysis, and their experiences and what would have to be the case for their thoughts to be valid. Ultimately, incorporating and embracing this diversity of perspective leads to better decision making and leadership.