Meet Waldo, Head of Corp Dev

Back in 2005, when I was with Union Square Ventures, we changed our brochureware homepage into a blog.  A few other VCs had been blogging before, but no one had gone as far as to make the whole front facing effort of their firm into something so interactive.  It changed the way we worked with entrepreneurs.

Last year, First Round Capital, my current firm, updated our page to make it even more interactive, pulling in shared links, Foursquare updates, and linking to our Twitter, LinkedIn, and Honestly.com pages.  By actively participating on all of these networks we were not only making ourselves as accessable as possible, but making easy for the kind of entrepreneurs we want to work with to learn more about who we were and what we were looking for.  While inbound communication goes up, we find that the more we put out there, but more the quality goes up as well.

That's why, after taking a lot of meetings lately with business development and corporate development types looking to meet with startups, I find it so surprising that the efforts of these departments within big companies are so hidden.  Mature companies use their biz dev and corp dev efforts to find innovative companies to work with and also to acquire in an effort to stay competitive, innovate, and grow.  Finding the right company to tuck into your product offering can be of tremendous strategic importance--especially if it means that your competitor didn't pick up that technology to use it against you.  Hot young companies with great technology are the transactional equivilant of the loaded gun on the table--and among companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Adobe, Salesforce, and Microsoft it is definitely a war out there.

So why wouldn't each of these companies have outward facing pages describing how to work with them--just like VCs do?  They don't have to give away anything secret.  They could just detail who the principals in their business development efforts are, how and when to approach them, and what areas they're focused on.  Is it not public knowledge that Twitter is thinking about monetization?  Didn't they just tell everyone to build tools that make using their data useful, and not to build new clients?  A great business partnership website could do a lot to drive high quality leads to the professionals you've put in charge of finding the best teams to work with.   Would it kill anyone to write a business development blog that details the best practices for successful partnerships? 

This is especially the case for larger companies whose staffs may not be the size of the Google biz dev team.  Those are the types of partners--media companies, publishers, etc. where a well written blog about a new strategy would generate a lot of high quality inbound opportunities.  You could even throw in a social proof column where the company could write who its backers are or Oauth to LinkedIn to show how closely connected it is to the principals of your partnership efforts.

Currently, the process just seems really inefficient.  Corporate development teams maintain a lot of one on one relationships with partners at VC firms.  They swing by to get portfolio updates.  They scan the news for companies doing interesting things--but they have absolutely no inbound flow except for introductions.  Those introductions are made exceedingly difficult when not everyone knows what they're looking for.  We might maintain great relationships with the top 50 companies in the space--but there are literally 100's of companies that could make great potential partners for our companies, maybe more.  How can boths sides work to make that a much more efficient process? 

We invested in AxialMarket to help make deal sourcing more efficient on the lower middle market side for acquisitions--but their focus is more on helping Summit and TA buy a growing retail chain in Tennessee than to be the next social sharing widget on HuffPo.  BeanSprout is helping on the business development side with a new marketplace, but that still doesn't solve the problem of inbound leads.  If you're a hotshot team with a product that could tip the social balance for Google in the war against Facebook, where would you go?  How would you find the right person to talk to?  Good luck clicking around Google's corporate homepage.  There aren't any links to who runs what.  I understand that you don't want your business leaders to get overwhelmed, but surely this is a solveable problem given social filters and web traffic statistics.  If companies did a better job spelling out their objectives--something they do in the media all the time--perhaps they'd be able to have a better direct relationship with innovators, reach them earlier, and not have to acquire them after a huge bidding war later on after everyone already knows about them.