Biz Dev Is Having a Moment

Though the exact definition is slippery, business development is more in demand than ever.

Mr. Pollack, in a tux.

Business development professionals still don’t have their own noun. It’s either “I do biz dev for ____” or “she’s in biz dev” or, our favorite, “they’re biz dev folks.” Maybe business… developers? Bizzy devvers? Bizzy dev bees? Hustlers-in-chief? Someone should come up with a phrase quick, because biz dev folks are increasingly visible and sought after, and more and more job listings are asking for biz dev rockstars and ninjas.

Nowhere does the business developer shine more than at the small, scrappy startup with a million users whose revenue possibilities are basically anywhere between zero and infinity. “Business Development is a mysterious title for a little discussed function or department in most larger companies. It’s also a great way for an entrepreneur or small business to have fun, create value and make money,” the marketing pundit Seth Godin wrote in 2009. “And often it’s a little guy who can be flexible enough to make things happen.”

While biz dev is still somewhat behind the scenes, some of these players are moving into the spotlight. Foursquare’s Tristan Walker is usually cited as the Platonic biz dev ideal—tenacious but not too obnoxious, energetic but not too manic, and super creative. Under his direction, Foursquare has closed deals with tiny East Village restaurants all the way up to chains like Payless and mega, global companies like American Express. Betabeat recently noticed some restaurants have their menus in Foursquare now, thanks to Battery Park startup SinglePlatform (and their EVP of biz dev, Kenny Herman). Keith Rabois is another star, of course; locally, Aviary’s Alex Taub and Foursquare’s Eric Friedman both write blogs.

Scott Pollack, who does biz dev for American Express, teaches a class on business development through Skillshare and General Assembly. He hosted one last night, he told Betabeat by phone, for newbies from all backgrounds who want to get into the biz dev game. Students include startup founders and freelancers.

“The term applies broadly across startups or big companies,” said Mr. Pollack, who is contemplating writing a book about biz dev called The Start of the Deal. “The challenge with it is one of the reasons I started this class is, I dont think there is one consistent definition out there as to what exactly business development is.”

That’s actually how he opens his class, which he started teaching partially in order to explore opportunities in the startup world. Mr. Pollack, unlike some other biz dev people we know, is the opposite of abrasive. He speaks at a normal pace and does not seem overcaffeinated. He did not try to sell us anything. And yet somehow, at the end of the conversation, we decided we should really write an article about biz dev.

“I’m trying to be the diplomat of business development,” he said. “There are a lot of
strong personalities out there. There’s certainly a sales component to any business development job and traditionally sales people have strong personalities and it’s like, close deals immediately! There’s a proactive drive and aggressiveness that definitely serves a purpose and has lots of value, but you also need a desire to truly hear out the other side.”

He says he’s definitely noticed a growing number of business development-centric events around the city. It’s pretty gender-balanced, he said, which surprised us—especially given the dearth of women on this list. Four guys and two women attended Mr. Pollack’s class last night, but it’s usually 50-50, he said, and he pointed out that Skillshare recently hired Abigail Besdin to head up brand partnerships and business development. Aol’s Andrea Hong made it into the Betabeat Most Poachable list. (Huh, that sorta nixes our “BD Bros” slideshow idea.)

In fact, Mr. Pollack attended a business development breakfast on Tuesday hosted by Kristal Bergfield, who works in formerly did business development for Amex, that was “definitely populated by a good mix of genders.” Her choice words for what it is, exactly, she does there: “Marketer. Connector. Deal maker.”

Biz Dev Is Having a Moment