Business development: How Interim talent can take startups to the next level

Business development: How Interim talent can take startups to the next level

Interim business development talent can be the answer growth-hungry startups are looking for, says Head of our Consumer, Retail, Healthcare and Professional Services Interim Practices in the US, Lori Rubin.

Think of a match made in heaven and what springs to mind? Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak? Peanut butter and jelly? Bennifer? Memes and the internet?

For sure, your first thought (unless prompted by the title of this piece) wouldn’t have been interim business development talent and startups looking to grow. But actually, this can be a dynamite combination.

Everyone knows how precarious a startup venture can be. The majority fail, and very few of those that do prosper go on to set the world on fire by attaining unicorn status.

That said, every year sees the creation of a wave of new businesses with fantastic potential. The big challenge for many is surviving the notorious Death Valley Curve, i.e. running out of capital before the company is sufficiently well established.

A strong focus on business development in terms of landing major customers and securing key partners can provide the necessary growth engine a pre-revenue startup needs to hit an inflection point, whether that be an accelerated rate of organic growth or providing prospective investors with compelling evidence that the business is viable. And a well chosen interim candidate with great business development experience can really give a startup the shot in the arm it needs to make it big.  

As it happens, I’ve recently helped several startup clients fill such Interim Business Development roles. I thought it would be illuminating to ask Interim Consultants I have spoken with for these various roles why they want to work in business development for a startup and the challenges they perceive. Very kindly, several were happy to share their thoughts.  

First, what’s the appeal of a startup? “If you are willing to take the added risk it is the best way to truly build something, including wealth,” says one I’ll call Interim A. “Working for an established company is a great career choice and provides its own advantages, however it’s much easier to climb to the top in a startup because you enter on the ground floor.”

Interim B says, “While working in a startup environment from one day to the next it’s never boring, it's always challenging. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of facing a clean slate with a goal and a strategy in mind and finding the best pieces to put in place to build the entire puzzle. At the first startup I worked with I had a tremendous mentor that drove me to find the best answer and contingencies for every scenario.”  

Interim B’s previous experience in a startup included dealing with an unexpected setback which had a potentially ruinous impact on shipping and logistics. “Without the benefit of ‘what if?’ being constantly asked, we would not have had a successful business. In a startup environment, you are constantly searching for the best solution, and must be willing to always ask ‘what if?’”

In terms of why a startup should hire an experienced Interim, Interim A says: “One of hardest things in that role is to provide legitimacy to the business. If you can hire an individual that brings a track record from previous dealings with those in the industry, it is going to be a hundred times easier to provide legitimacy to the business that individual is representing.” 

An interim assignment is a very fair way for both the employer and the employee to ensure that goals and expectations align, says Interim B. “Time is the only resource that can’t be manufactured or purchased and once it is gone, it is gone forever. An interim assignment ensures that both parties don’t waste their time on trying to make a bad fit work. There are a lot of intricacies to working for an organization that do not come to light until both parties have to experience them and an interim assignment allows both parties to explore them together before a final agreement to long term employment is reached.”

It should however be noted that some interim candidates have no wish to take on long term employment, preferring to remain independent and accept new challenges elsewhere when the agreed term of an assignment reaches its conclusion.

No two interims are exactly alike in their aspirations. In the case of Interim C, “Interim is the perfect situation for someone like me that already has a job and is highly interested in the new job but wants to be sure that the new project is a viable business.”  

Bringing in Business Development talent determined to grow your business and make it viable sounds like a smart move to me.


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