Ep. 44 Hero S2 Ep44 Kurt Davis

Decoding Business Development: Kurt Davis on Closing the Big Deals

CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS AND BIG DEALS

32 min

Ep. 44 Hero S2 Ep44 Kurt Davis

32 min

What can you do to catapult your startup over the chasm of early adopters into the land of new opportunities with trillion-dollar companies? Kurt Davis is here to tell you how to do exactly that. Kurt is a technology entrepreneur, world explorer, and expert in business development. The first 20 years of his career were spent between the San Francisco Bay Area and Asia working with technology startups in finance and business development roles. Since then, Kurt has started a business accelerator in an African refugee camp, launched a media company, and invested in companies in the southeast of the U.S. Today, Kurt is the CEO of the startup, Stealth Smiles. In today’s episode, Kurt talks about his book, Navigate to the Lighthouse: A Silicon Valley Guide to Executing Global Deals, the importance of preparation and organization when presenting a large deal, and how fostering these relationships is key to helping you ultimately close the deal.

Read transcript

"There is definitely a camaraderie that you build as you start to get to know these people, and the trick is to position yourself as a colleague to them and to realize that you're working towards something together."

Quick takes on...

How to methodically approach each business deal


"When you're a hot funded startup with a bunch of money and investors behind you...there's a tendency to think, we can do it all at any given time. And that's just not possible."


Getting the most value out of your business deals


"So many companies play a superficial service level type of business. But why not go get 50% of this market? When I look at doing these deals, I say, I am gonna go after this and do this until I hit what I think is 50 or 60% of the value of what I'm doing here. And then I'm going to ignite something else."

Meet your guest, Kurt Davis

CEO of Stealth Smiles

Spotlight S2 Ep44 Kurt Davis

Kurt Davis is an investor, an entrepreneur, and an author. The first 20 years of his career were spent between Silicon Valley and Asia, working with technology startups in finance and business development roles. Kurt is now focused on his startup Stealth Smiles (a startup marketplace for dental professionals). His book Navigate to the Lighthouse: A Silicon Valley Guide to Executing Global Deals teaches strategies for catapulting startups over the chasm of early adopters and into the land of new opportunities.

Listen to the next episode

Ep. 45 Home S2 Ep45 Tien Tzuo

Decoding Subscription Services: Tien Tzuo on Building Strong Relationships with Subscribers

BUILDING A ROBUST SUBSCRIPTION-MODEL BUSINESS

26 min

Tien Tzuo has been analyzing subscriptions since the dawn of the internet. He’s been an expert source for companies creating their own subscription models, and also the customers using the products. He is the author of "SUBSCRIBED: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company's Future - and What to Do About It". Today, Tien is the Founder and CEO at Zuora, a company that provides cloud-based software on a subscription basis that enables any company in any industry to successfully launch, manage, and transform into a subscription business. In this episode, Tien talks about how his work at SalesForce impacted the work he’s doing today with Zuora, the importance of customer relationships, and the evolution of subscription-based services and what the future of SaaS companies look like.

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Kurt Davis: There is definitely a…

[00:00:00] Kurt Davis: There is definitely a camaraderie that you build as you start to get to know these people, and the trick is to position yourself as a colleague to them and to realize that you're working towards something together. And once you do that, you don't have to overdo it, but yeah, you know, you get to know people.

[00:00:27] Dan Saks: That was Kurt Davis. Kurt is a technology entrepreneur, world explorer and expert in business development. The first 20 years of his career were spent between the San Francisco Bay Area and Asia. He was working with technology startups in finance and business development roles. He writes about his key learnings in his book, “Navigate to The Lighthouse, A Silicon Valley Guide to Executing Global Deals”.

[00:00:55] Since then, Kurt has started a business accelerator in an African refugee camp, launched a media company and invested in companies in the southeast of the United States. Today, Kurt is the CEO of the startup Stealth Smiles. In today's episode, Kurt shares the importance of preparation and complex deals. He talks about how patience and fostering relationships are the tools to help you ultimately close the deal.

[00:01:25] This is Daniel Saks, president and co-founder of AppDirect, and it's time to decode business development and the deals that will level up your startup.

[00:01:39] Welcome to Decoding Digital. A podcast for innovators looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks, and I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs and changemakers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode.

[00:02:03] Hello and welcome to Decoding Digital. This is Daniel Saks, president and co-founder of AppDirect. And I'm thrilled to be joined by Kurt Davis, author of “Navigate to the Lighthouse”, and he's here to speak to us on one of my favorite topics, business development, bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and big enterprises around the world.

[00:02:22] So Kurt, thrilled to have you.

[00:02:24] Kurt Davis: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Super excited to chat with your audience. That's kind of right up our alleyway. And yeah, hopefully I can share some things that make everybody a little bit better at their business development strategies.

[00:02:37] Dan Saks: I know you will. It's interesting because a lot of the Dakota digital viewers come from both large business backgrounds as well as innovators and startup leaders.

[00:02:47] So we always get questions around business development, around bridging cultural gaps, which are a lot of the, you know, key topics that I'm excited to touch on with you today. So before we get into the book, I would love to learn more about, how you grew up, how you ended up in Silicon Valley, and then why you landed in business development.

[00:03:06] Kurt Davis: Oh wow. How I grew up? Well, I grew up in South Carolina in Greenville and you know, was pretty good at math and sciences, and I went to a liberal arts school called Davidson College, and it was a standard liberal arts school. We studied lots of different things. Study abroad was really big at our school, so probably about half the student body studied abroad, if not more than that, and spoke other languages.

[00:03:30] And at that time I started getting really interested in Asia, in Japan, but I was also like, I did all types of like data and analytics classes and just all types of interesting things. And I, and I really just loved kind of physics and science, but I majored in economics, right? So I thought that would be the best way for me to kind of parlay that into a job.

[00:03:48] But, as I got more interested in Asian economies and at that time it was, you know, if you looked at the Asian crisis in the late nineties, I was super captivated by the rise of Asia. So I decided to go to Japan and study Japanese, and then I went out there after school and taught English.

[00:04:07] And then through some connections I was able to plan a job at GE capital in Hong Kong. So I spent some years there and we just looked at technology businesses all throughout the Asia-Pac region. So this is the early days of online games in Asia, like the massive online gaming companies and call centers out shifting.

[00:04:25] So that's kinda how I got involved. But we also had a person in San Francisco working on deals to do cross-border. This was really early 2000 investments, and most of this was real tech: semiconductors. We looked at TSMC Fabs and all these things. Software was a little bit of an outlier for GE at the time. And then I ended up leaving, went and started a mobile games company in Shanghai.

[00:04:46] And through that experience, I was able to meet kind of Silicon Valley startupy guys, right? So I met Digital Chocolate, JAMDAT and a bunch of other mobile games people. And I realized if I wanted to be doing startups, I should come to San Francisco. So like about mid 2005, 2006, I decided to go to San Francisco and that's where I ended up.

[00:05:06] And I was like, okay, you know, these are early days, sleepy days, I called them because it was in between the really when things were getting going with Y Combinator and the end of the.com boom bubble and all that stuff. So it was really kind of quiet there. People trying to figure out what to do next. And, then I landed there.

[00:05:22] I was like, well, yeah, I'll get back into investing. So I worked for Mitsui and then quickly saw that like, hey, maybe business development would be a good way to get back into the startup world, right? Because I wanted to build a company. I didn't wanna work in VC at the time, in 2005. I didn't wanna work in investments.

[00:05:37] I didn't find it to be a very attractive place to invest, to be building a career. So I was like, I wanna go build something. So I started looking around and I was able to connect into this company called Boku at the time, which was 2007. And I thought business development, kind of bridging international, primarily Asia kind of, I knew a lot about games and digital media and things like that was kind of the perfect fit for me.

[00:06:01] And so I was like, eh, let's go do business development for a while. And I actually thought I would just do two or three years of it, but I ended up staying there for seven years. That's a different discussion, but I felt like business development was the kind of forte of that company, the expertise. And we got really good at it.

[00:06:16] So good that like it was worth writing about. And that's why I wrote the book because it was a very unique experience and something that most companies don't deal with regardless of their kind of size. So yeah, that's kind of the short story. Yeah,

[00:06:31] Dan Saks: it's interesting, like literally this morning I had someone introduce me to a tech founder, a sizable company, second company.

[00:06:36] And you know, had key questions around channel partnerships and business development. One of the things that I've found is that when it comes to business development, so many outcomes fail. And that doesn't mean it's not the correct path, but you hear a lot of people who have horror stories or war stories, and therefore I found it very inspiring to be able to read your book and hear from different perspectives, not just on like, What works and why it can be great, but also the counter story of how it can be hard and how to navigate it.

[00:07:07] So one of the things that I think is so powerful about your book is the inevitable questions that come when it comes to business partnerships. And that's, you know, one, should I invest the time and resources to pursue what seem like impossible deals? And if you do wanna do that, what's the path to get there?

[00:07:24] Both strategically and tactically. I found that. You know your book has those answers and you talk about breaking down the process into three key parts, whether that be chart your course, galvanize your crew, and maneuver strategically, and then finally thinking about landing and expanding. So would love to hear your perspective kind of breaking down these different parts and go from there.

[00:07:45] Kurt Davis: Yeah. I think to kind of even distill that even more like the first part is planning. You know when you say like, do I really want to chase these deals? Or what deals do I want to chase? Like, you really have to sit down and think about it, but it's more than thinking about it, it's analysis. It's really digging into the effort that you're gonna put in forward.

[00:08:01] And then the second part is like, well, how do you go about it? Like how do you resource it? How much time do I put into it? And then what part of the team needs to invest into it, right? Because it can't be a one man band. You've gotta have product people involved. You might have to come back and say, look, we need to change up engineering.

[00:08:16] We need to scope out a whole new product. We need to put a sandbox together to let them play with. And then the last is like, how do you kind of execute? And then which ones do you execute with? And I didn't really probably cover that in the book, but you've gotta choose them and you've gotta chase them.

[00:08:30] But they need to choose you too, because for the partnership to work, it's gotta be two ways and they've gotta be all in, even if they're like a big gorilla, they gotta be into this. Like they gotta be into wanting to really do this. Cuz otherwise you're gonna spend all this time with a big company and they're just gonna be like, eh, like it wasn't really valuable for us anyways.

[00:08:46] But you're like, no, no, no, like, You need to put more in the game than I am putting in the game really to make this work. So I think those are like the three key elements. And you know, as you said, when you talk about investing and things like that, really as a business developer, you're an investor. You're investing, you're trying to figure out what percentage of your time your company, your resources you're putting into these deals, and then you're picking a certain number of them knowing as you mentioned, they're gonna fail, some will not work.

[00:09:14] And hopefully the ones that work, work with kind of exceeding returns, right? And that's what you're shooting for. So you're not trying to move the needle like sales. You're not trying to get a pipeline and move the needle 10%, 20%. You're trying to move it at least 50%, a hundred percent. Like you're really trying to really change this trajectory.

[00:09:32] Dan Saks: Yeah, it reminds me of the VC portfolio economics. It's like you might have a lot to fail, some that do okay, but your winners that might be one or two outta 10 are the ones that should carry your progress far forward. And when it comes to these development deals, I think one of the hardest things is definitely managing expectations with your team around the, let's say scorecard, that not every deal will happen fast.

[00:09:56] And that many will fail. So what are some of the pieces of advice that you'd give to smaller companies when engaging with bigger companies on the journey of a massive potential deal?

[00:10:05] Kurt Davis: Yeah, so when you're engaging with the bigger strategics, like first do your work and see if it makes sense for them.

[00:10:13] Like do the homework. And when I say the homework, you talk to people in the network, see if you can get some information. Like, yeah, they're looking for new technology. They're looking to adopt something to get a leg up. Look at their 10 queues. If they're public, you know, look at their numbers. Read what they're talking about and see if like there's geographical areas they need help in or like they're talking about expanding to a certain group of people or new audience.

[00:10:37] So really understand their business. That's really important. And then, so if you really understand it, you can talk to them about solving the problems that they're looking to solve. So that initial work is super important. And then we'll also direct you to the place of saying, yeah, this makes sense, right.

[00:10:52] Like this makes sense for you and I should be doing this and chasing you and convincing you this makes sense. But you know, I'm using the information that your company has provided. So do the work and then you know, you want to have a subset. You wanna be looking at 15 or 20 partnerships possibly to start off with.

[00:11:08] And then like anything you're trying to chip away or narrow that down based on yeah, are they receptive? How fast are they gonna move? How good a contact do you have? Like what's the feasibility of this deal's gonna get done? Does your board know their board? Does the CEO have a relationship or does something happen where this could be maybe a better opportunity or a better idea than the other company?

[00:11:31] Now you start to weigh these variables against each other. When we were doing the deal with Apple,they certainly looked at what Google was doing on carrier billing and payments across the world. And as they saw Google add more countries and more countries, they kept thinking to themselves, why aren't we doing this?

[00:11:47] Why aren't we doing this? And so as we are educating them about every new thing Google was doing, we weren't even working with Google at the time. They were like, we need to do more of this. We need to do more of this. So extracting the information from the market, and some of that wasn't public. You couldn't find it.

[00:12:03] We were pulling it from other sources, feeding it back to Apple, saying If you don't get going on this, you're gonna be way behind. And so that's like one way to like kind of play these guys. And so you also have to think about if you have a decently unique technology, you can play these guys against each other.

[00:12:19] And there's a way to do that as you get down the road. So as you filter down, you get to call it a 10, and then you start to see like which ones are really gonna move. But you keep that going all the way until two, three, or four. And then you start to really work them. And you know, you say things like, Hey, I'm about to do a deal with this company.

[00:12:38] They're gonna take 50% of my resources, so that's gonna very significantly change the deal we do with you. And if we do this deal with you, if we do this deal with them, or we do an exclusive deal with them, we actually can't work with you for six months. And so you start to put like some of these pressures on them.

[00:12:52] But you know, by then you've talked to them. You know, you built a relationship for six months, you've spent all this time trading information, educating them, and so you start to put that scarcity in it. And so you kind of like, you're giving, giving, giving, and then like, ah, I'm gonna start pulling back a little bit, knowing that you're not the only one in the game.

[00:13:10] So there's a way to play that game too. I talk about that in the book a little bit.

[00:13:17] Dan Saks: Kurt, in the planning phases, there's a lot of intel that needs to be gathered, like you said, and obviously you wanna try to learn as much to make it win-win for both parties. But how do you balance your time between going deep with one company that's gonna take a lot of legal resources and product resources versus building a pipeline of, let's say 10 and managing that pipeline accordingly?

[00:13:36] Kurt Davis: Yeah, it's like when you do the analysis, like when you start in a high level filter stage, you want to make sure you're talked to a dozen or so companies and then keep all those relationships warm. So your BD person spending, call it 5% of his or her time on that relationship. But as it gets to kind of funnel away and you chip away, yeah, these people aren't gonna work, this one's not gonna work.

[00:13:59] This one's too slow, this one's just not interested or just doesn't make sense. Then you get down to these two or three. Ideally, you know, you get one big deal a year that's really gonna change that kind of trajectory. And then, you know, by then you don't sign that contract. Or you know, maybe you do two deals, but you don't sign it until that you really have their commitment, right?

[00:14:21] So you need to kind of keep two or three in the hopper. Maybe it's three or four probably in the hopper until you get the one that's really gonna make sense for you. And that's where in the last kind of section of the book I talk about how you navigate with them. You know, Hey, we're working with all their partners.

[00:14:39] We only have so many resources and so forth and so on. And so don't throw the kitchen sink at the one deal until you're absolutely sure they're committed to it. And that's how you do that.

[00:14:52] Dan Saks: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the great things about the book is that when I started two years ago, there was no textbook for this.

[00:14:58] And oftentimes you're navigating advice through lawyers or third party partners or other people who have worked with that company, and you're left to kind of figure out your own playbook. But I have found that there's a lot of people who will make the same mistakes in negotiating with large companies.

[00:15:12] And oftentimes it's the David and Goliath story, and it's easy for you to buckle to their pressure. And that pressure can often create you to, let's say, submit to some pretty bad, wonky legal issues. Whether it's them saying that they want exclusivity or IP rights over your product, or whether it's them saying it's gonna create so much business for you, that you need to fund the development on your own.

[00:15:36] So how do you manage through some of the potential pitfalls in the negotiation strategy?

[00:15:41] Kurt Davis: Oh, Okay, so the question is, how do you manage the pitfalls in the negotiation so that you're not giving away too much of the company, so like, you know, they're not taking the ship down? I think one of the things I learned is like, there's just a few absolutes.

[00:15:56] One is you never give up IP as the person developing it. As a service provider, and this is not a work for hire contract. This is a service provider, right? So that's like kind of one, you always draw boundaries in every step of the negotiation. So pricing boundary, well this is for the base case. It's not for more volume, it's not for these other features, or you just don't define those features.

[00:16:20] You just say, this is the pricing for X. But you know in the back of your mind that there can be a Y and a z. So you make sure you always have kind of pricing boundaries. Sometimes the last for exclusivity and exclusivities are actually not bad if they're, again, have a kinda line in the sand, like six months.

[00:16:39] Right? And so sometimes it even serves you well to have an exclusivity, like you're just gonna really focus on working with this company. But after six months, like, okay. And then like the other one I think you could refer to would be like, Most favored nations clause, like we get the best deal anybody.

[00:16:53] And so sometimes big companies will be like, yeah, we wanna make sure we get the best deal out of this like anybody else gets. And then you can kind of again, play legally with that one. You can say, okay, well yeah, if you want that, that's fine, but then you have to give me something on the other side. And that's another thing we learned is if a big company asks you for something, And they won't back off of it.

[00:17:15] You can ask them for the reciprocal, bigger thing. It's like, okay, yeah, if you gimme that, like you're gonna have to give me total exclusivity against all of your countries and all of this, and then you make the most favored nations clause only on like one part, like the fee, but you don't tell them that like, oh, by the way, this wasn't included in it.

[00:17:33] Right? Always have a line in the sand, always have a boundary for every term, and keep some things off the table. So don't play all your cards even in that first contract.

[00:17:43] Dan Saks: Yeah, and I think this is the kind of stuff that isn't talked about publicly, so it's so refreshing to hear. And I think a lot of what I found is like how do you structure bound something?

[00:17:52] So if someone's gonna bring up exclusivity, if you know, okay, what do I really care about? So is it exclusivity for that region? And then they're gonna ask like, off my competitors. And then you go down into a definition of competitors. So it's almost like this like door where someone makes an ask and then it could open up 10 more questions.

[00:18:11] Mm. And you only have a limited time because the deal cycles will drag out. So you almost need to think of how is this one topic going to divulge and how do I get ahead of it? And what I think is so difficult is unless you have context that have sold into that company, every big company's gonna have something that they're manically focused on that almost doesn't make any natural sense to you.

[00:18:30] So we've had it sometimes with IP issues, sometimes it's exclusivity. Sometimes it's ownership or indemnity, but almost always a company will develop a reputation for wanting something really bad, and if you can anticipate that and give them enough of what they want in a structured way, then oftentimes you can come up with a win-win.

[00:18:52] But if you're blindsided by that ask, then you can get taken down like a road that can waste a lot of time and energy, and frankly, potentially risk the relationship as part of the deal. Mm.

[00:19:03] Kurt Davis: And I like how you phrase that structure bounds. Like that's really what it is. And, and you're also right, there's just issues with big companies like liability stuff and you're just like, wow, you wanna push all the liability on us?

[00:19:16] Like what? This doesn't make any sense, right? But you know, they're gonna be so adamant about that, that if you're good in understanding, well really what's the risk here? Sometimes even take that, but always ask for something else. Well, if you're gonna make me take all the liability, you're gonna have to give this.

[00:19:32] You're gonna have to up your fee, or you're gonna have to give me something else. You know, you get these four or five things that seem to resonate with these big companies, so,

[00:19:42] Dan Saks: For sure. And then with all the examples that you gave, in almost every big, big deal that I've been a part of, there's been phases where you think it's gonna burst or die.

[00:19:51] And in those times, oftentimes having like in-person relationships or having taken the person out for dinner and their kids' names or what sporting event they like, you can get Intel to be able to guide you and build trust and strengthen that relationship. But if you didn't have a relationship there, particularly with cross-border transactions, It can leave you thin and at risk.

[00:20:12] So I liked a lot of the stories you told in the book, but would love for you to share any kinda stories or thoughts you have on how the relationship helped to save the deal in these situations.

[00:20:20] Kurt Davis: Yeah, I think I'll oftentimes depends on the company that you're dealing with and and what their policies are, right?

[00:20:29] Like dealing with Apple and Google and Sony and all these people are very different. However, there is definitely a camaraderie that you build as you start to get to know these people, and the trick is to position yourself as a colleague to them and to realize that you're working towards something together.

[00:20:47] And once you do that, You don't have to overdo it, but yeah, like, you know, you get to know people. I talked about Kevin Grant, and Kevin Grant was very good at this. Just getting to know people and like the kids would hang out or like we're having baseball or like invite them to a barbecue and just kind of make them like, yeah, this is a little bit of life.

[00:21:05] And then over those situations, You know, how's that going? We don't have to talk about business, but like how's it going on your side? Yeah. Things are just tight. Our legal team is talking about X, Y, Z, and they'll just drop a hint to you. And that's really some of the most valuable stuff that you can foster in that environment.

[00:21:22] And that's also why we talk about team sales. You can't, as a one person, BD person, be expected to cultivate both the sales channel, the pointed back and forth, all the research, all the things, and also to maintain like a really good relationship or kind of comradery. So sometimes it's good to layer up and you know, have people who are the same age, like kind of.

[00:21:47] Tee them up and say, why don't you go hang out with them or call 'em over, or you guys live in the same neighborhood, or, that was really important for us during that time. And we would do that all the way down to the engineers where sometimes we'd have the engineers like ping the other engineer and then go out and fly planes, fly remote control planes, and they were talking about the deal on the side.

[00:22:08] Dan Saks: Yeah. And that's very powerful. One of the things I think you have a unique perspective on definitely is cross border transactions and relationships, and I. Personally done deals in probably over 30 countries, everyone being very different. But one place that's definitely unique beyond all from a cultural perspective in terms of doing businesses, Japan.

[00:22:25] Mm-hmm. And I always find it's like the third largest economy. If you can crack it, it's huge. But a lot of people fail. So would love to get your insights on Japan specifically, but then broader how to manage relationships with kind of cross border elements.

[00:22:39] Kurt Davis: Japan's always funny because it's one of these things where I always hear like Mitsuis and Sumitomos, they kind of calm and now that they have establishments in the bay and then, you know, all other parts of the US Japanese are the biggest investor in the US and the thing you often hear from VCs is like, well, if we let the Japanese in, they like, they're kind of gonna change their people or change their staff or like they won't do anything.

[00:23:04] But that's just really wrong. It's because. Most people in the Bay. I just find it very transactional and I learned to do business in Asia and that was like build relationships. And then when you do things, do things very. Kind of prominently, right? Whereas Silicon Valley is, oh, here's a pitch. I like you, or I don't like you, get out the door, or let's do it.

[00:23:24] But like if you really want to do business in Japan, you really gotta sit there and build a relationship with one of these conglomerates or big companies, and that takes a year or could take more. And they really wanna see, because they're not a startup culture, even though there's a ton of startups in Japan in the last 10 years.

[00:23:42] But the cultures of moving with these big companies, they want to know that you are committed. You are gonna be there, you're gonna stay in Japan, you're gonna provide the resources, hire a local Japanese person or little team to work on these partnerships. And so that just takes time and. The counter of the Silicon Valley argument that like the Japanese VCs or whatever don't do anything with our portfolio.

[00:24:06] The counter is the portfolio in the U.S. companies don't invest substantially in Japan to make it work. Right. So when Boku did this, the first thing I told our guys is, if you want to do this, we actually gonna have to like be there. We're gonna have to show them we have a presence that we're serious about being there, and that we're gonna have to have like one or two local team members that are consistently there.

[00:24:27] And as they saw that, as they saw that we were there, they rallied behind us. KDDI was the first one who came to the table and did the deal with us. Sony put a bunch of resources into helping us build out the platform within Japan to get that to go global. And then, you know, we even got an investment from a major payment gateway, GMO out there.

[00:24:47] Once they saw that we were really committed and Japan became 60, 70% of our business. Of course it was very unique what we were doing, you know, carrier billing. But it just happened to be a massive idea and they bought into it and they pushed it every second of the way. So I think that's like the biggest thing with Japan for me.

[00:25:06] You need to invest there as a, like you said, the third biggest economy in the world and show a presence and show you're committed, and that could take 18 months of an investment. And then you would see really substantial gains if you get the right partner.

[00:25:21] Dan Saks: One of the things that I think is great about these big deals is that they can have, to your point, like 50, 100% impact on your top line, your bottom line, your notoriety, your association with big companies.

[00:25:32] But I have found that one of the biggest challenges in simultaneously executing so many lighthouse deals is that your resources can become strayed, particularly if you're working in many different regions or countries. So I made this mistake on is kind of taking any big opportunity anywhere in the world and burning our teams out with time zones and flying to places.

[00:25:52] And there's been certain phases across our journey where we've had to actually like pause and retreat a bit and say like, Hey, look, we're not gonna focus in the Middle East because we're already really doubling down in Japan. But how do you have those conversations as a business development exec with your company, and when are you championing for taking everything on at once versus being much more methodical in the approach?

[00:26:15] Kurt Davis: Yeah, I think when you're a hot funded startup with a bunch of money and investors behind you, Especially the caliber of your investors, or even at that time, boku, there's a tendency to like, especially during the good old days, like the last 10 years before the pandemic, there's a tendency just to like, we can do it all at any given time.

[00:26:36] And that's just, it's not possible. You know, I don't even know what Uber did to get so fast, but. They did like a playbook type thing where like, here's our playbook for every city. So anybody could take the playbook, we can hire 'em, let them go. That's a little bit different than business development where there's not necessarily a playbook.

[00:26:53] Everything is a little bit bespoke or custom and you're trying to like kind of navigate these different waters cuz partnerships are as important. You can't just like hire a team and it'll just go by itself. So I do think like choosing one or two things. Even a big company, like choose one or two things that like you can really invest in that you think has substantial upside.

[00:27:19] I had an old friend who was one of my sidekicks, kind of right hand man and, and doing deals, and his thing was always like, let's not do anything else until we ring the towel on this. Like until we get everything we think we can get out of it. Because so many companies play superficial service level type of business.

[00:27:39] Like we got enough. But like, why not go get 50% of this market? So I think my short answer is when I look at doing these deals, I say, I am gonna go after this and do this until I hit like what I think is 50 or 60% of the value of what I'm doing here. And then I'm going to ignite something else. But not until then, because I think learning that process and getting everything out of it in a country or in a partnership is really important before you throw your team at something else.

[00:28:09] It's like really getting that ROI as much as you can out of that partnership before you go away. But it's also cutting your losses early if you really feel like you made a mistake. Maybe you don't need to do it than getting out quick too. So I don't know if that gets perspective.

[00:28:25] Dan Saks: One of the mistakes in the early days that I always said was my, like that biggest mistake is that we had a pipeline of a few deals, ended up with one telecom, went all in with them in their launch.

[00:28:33] We thought that the launch was gonna be massive, press the button and launched and nothing happened. So it took us like a year to realize that after we'd already done a deal for a year and delivered that it wasn't working, and then we had to start our pipeline again. So one of the things that I was said is like, just because one company can't make it work in one place doesn't mean that it doesn't work.

[00:28:54] And therefore you do need to kind of balance a portfolio. Otherwise you can get into a trap of like false negatives.

[00:29:01] Kurt Davis: Yeah. Well that's a good point. And as you know, telcos are tough and some telcos are better than other telcos. And like you said, you can't necessarily say that like, Hey, this telco didn't work, so the other telcos won't.

[00:29:14] Dan Saks: What advice would you give business development professionals in how they can manage championing their vision, both with their own executive team as well as the companies they're doing business development with?

[00:29:26] Kurt Davis: I think the question is like, A single business development person. I guess the best thing I would say is be very prepared and organized, because when you're dealing with your executives or you're dealing with your company, first of all, know what they're looking for.

[00:29:42] So what kind of people are they? Are they technology people? Are they consultants, like bankers? What are they looking for to make their decisions and be prepared with that? Brainstorming is great, ideas are great, and you can have those off the record, but when you're gonna really pitch an idea or a theory, know exactly what they're looking for and set that table of presentations and information through the analysis phase, preparation phase, getting the feedback, and maybe even dabbling in some AB tests or whatever you're doing.

[00:30:15] So I think that's to me, the most important thing because if you come in with an idea of this is the reason we should be doing this, this is the why, but not necessarily the what. Because in business development, as you know, we may not have all the what's like if you come in with a very pointed, like you're trying to shoot that bullseye, the first shot, keep the what somewhat broad.

[00:30:32] Like how would we do this together? Here's our technology suite, what are the things you need to do? I think those are my two pieces of advice would be be prepared. Know who's sitting across the table or you know who your executives are, what's gonna make them tick or make the decisions.

[00:30:48] And then come in with a consultative type of approach, understanding what can we do together rather than coming with a laser focused approach. Cause if you come too laser focused, you might get kicked out the door right off the bat.

[00:31:04] Dan Saks: That's it. That's so powerful. Well really appreciate the time to catch up on one of my favorite topics, business development.

[00:31:10] Like I said, back in the day, there was no textbook, no written stories, and I think your book really gives context not only to the process and the tactics, but also the strategy and the people behind these deals and the stories so, so inspired by the book. I think it will be really exciting for the listeners and viewers and thanks again for taking the time.

[00:31:27] Kurt Davis: Yeah, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it and you guys are fantastic, so keep up the great work.

[00:31:32] Dan Saks: Amazing.

[00:31:37] Thanks for listening to Decoding Digital. Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player. To learn more, visit decoding digital.com. Until next time.