What Does Business Development Mean at a Startup?

To reiterate what the Marketing and Communications Intern, Laney, explained in the last blog post – interning at AetherWorks does not consist of coffee-fetching and paper-sorting.

My title at AetherWorks is Venture Development Summer Associate, and this summer I’ve been devoting my time entirely to their current venture, AetherStore. My focus is on Business Development for AetherStore, but what exactly does someone do in this position?

The definition not only varies greatly depending on the size and type of startup, but it has become a catch-all phrase that seems to change depending on who you talk to. For me business development means continued, methodical innovation with the goal of growing business opportunities. I work with members of the product, marketing and engineering team to track key tasks and identify customers, manage the deal process, align roadmaps and launch strategies.

For an early stage startup like AetherStore, this is broken down into 3 main objectives:

1. Hypothesize

99% of all successful startup ideas start with an itch, or in the best-case scenario, with a problem that needs to be solved. Dropbox Founder, Drew Houston, was tired of having all his files scattered across his devices. Mark Zuckerberg wanted an easier way of connecting with other students at Harvard. This is where my work starts – identify a problem or “need” big enough that a customer is willing to pay for it, and find that customer. If the problem is not worth solving, create a new hypothesis and start testing that.  This might sound like a gross over simplification of Steven Blanks “the four steps to epiphany,” but at the end of the day what I do is a lot of customer development.

2. Analyze

Last summer working with an education-focused startup on campus, surrounded by thousands of students, I could simply walk out the door and start interviewing people about their problems and solutions. Working with a B2B product, customer development has definitely required more creativity and hard work – spending hours tracking people down on LinkedIn, cold emailing, and running around to NYC tech meetups. However, once you move past the first call, you begin to establish a working relationship with a customer.  You understand their job, their needs, and their problems. Key problems are highlighted and analysis is drawn to filter out the noise so the development team can focus on the right features and best integrations, and we can focus on the right partnerships and channels to deliver the best product experience possible.

3. Focus and Implement

Once we have collected enough information about a consumer segment and their problems, we can start to analyze the data and invalidate or validate our hypothesis, target markets, product features and partnerships. We can create validated strategies for taking AetherStore to market.  The kryptonite for any startup is a lack of focus. This hypothesis testing process ensures that the business team is always focused and doesn’t waste time building partnerships that are not adding value to our business or the consumer; and the development team doesn’t waste time building features that customers don’t want.

As AetherStore is about to release a beta we are all excited to start delivering the product to Early Adopters, and I can’t wait to see what the next half of this summer will bring!

Intern Update: Marketing and Communications

This week marks the halfway point of my internship at AetherWorks. With the end of the summer now closer than the beginning, the realities of senior year are more pressing and require me to think seriously about what I’ll do once I graduate from Brown next May.

In my last post, I mentioned wanting to work for a start-up after graduation. For several months now, that has been my go-to response to questions about my future plans—encouraged by this article I read last summer and the positive experiences of many friends working at start-ups, but unsupported by any personal experience. I’m happy to report that my five weeks of working at AetherWorks has properly validated that statement. It truly is a great working environment.

Being an intern is often associated with mundane tasks, such as coffee runs or stuffing envelopes, but that doesn’t describe my responsibilities as the Marketing and Communications intern. With the AetherStore beta release on the horizon, today’s to-do list is always different than yesterday’s. Though the variety is certainly exciting and exposes me to the complexity of running a start-up, I have most enjoyed working on some of the larger projects because they give my days more continuity and offer a real-time perspective on the process of getting a product to market.

One major project I’ve been working on is the AetherStore Early Adopters Program. A main goal of this project is to collect information from our Early Adopters to help us address specific use cases and tailor the technology for different industries. As AetherStore is still in development, the type of information we collect can significantly influence the direction we take. As a result, my involvement, from promoting the program to setting up calls, has been a great learning experience.

Moreover, my involvement in this program serves as a great tool to measure both the company’s evolution and my personal progress. The opportunity to be put on this type of project as an intern would be unheard of at most places, but with only 9 people in the office, formalities and hierarchy are noticeably absent.

As AetherStore approaches a public beta, things will be picking up quite a bit here. I’m expecting the second half of the summer to be even busier than the first, and I’m excited to see what adjustments will be made to AetherStore as more people try out the software!

Creating Our Ideal Office Space

Office view.
Location, location, location!

For the first of my posts on the operations of AetherWorks, where better to begin than our first real challenge: finding the perfect office for our company.

When we started our search in 2010, we had three options:

1)      Setting Up Within an Incubator.  The tech scene in NYC is booming and there are plenty of options here.  If we had applied and been successful, an incubator would have provided managed office space alongside a range of other services. These vary from organization to organization but often include access to mentors/advisors and strategic help with partnering and access to loans and grants. Being in an environment focused on the development and longevity of start-ups and having bundled expertise on hand was a very attractive proposition. See Dogpatch Labs as an example.

2)      Fully Managed Facilities. These facilities are fully furnished and equipped offices that are already in move-in condition. They provide dedicated support staff and are available on short or long-term leases. In addition to reducing your upfront costs, work can begin immediately in Fully Managed Facilities. This is where we were based when we started our search. See Regus as an example.

3)      Traditional/Custom Office Space. With traditional office space you must first decide on the grade of building you are willing to settle in. Grading’s are based on attributes from location strengths (public amenities, transportation etc.) through the building efficiencies (energy management, exit routing, parking etc) and can give a quick overall assessment of the quality of the building. The grading gives a clear idea of how much you will spend per square foot. If you can find a suite, room or floor that has been occupied in the past, and suits your needs, your calculations can stop there.

Alternatively you may find a raw space within a building you like that requires a build out. The landlord may offer to do this for you, with some degree of flexibility over the space, or you can opt to take care of this yourself. If building out your space, there are significant costs for contractors as well as the delay in entering the space while work is ongoing. There is also a great deal of setup involved for services that can be taken for granted in the other options. Leases are standardly 5+ years and as a young company with limited credit there can be large down payments, returned at the conclusion of the lease.  But, this does allow any company to completely tailor the space for their specific needs. See Abramson Brothers as an example.

We found the perfect raw custom office space at 501 Fifth Avenue.  It would involve a comprehensive build-out, requiring a significant amount of input from a number of our employees.  But, having long-term investment, we felt that long-term planning was the way forward.  With a clear vision of where we wanted to be, this would ensure we had the perfect space to operate from and expand into. Little did we know everything else that this would entail. In April’s blog I’ll write in detail about the build out and everything you’ll need if you ever consider going through with one!

Requirements

The only way we could successfully tackle this project was to focus on who we were, what our goals were and, what we needed to achieve those goals.  As an R&D firm, we felt we had a lot of default requirements for an office space that would not be as highly prioritized within a more standard software development company. Yes, we still had to ensure that each individual felt comfortable in their space, had the room they needed and the tools to assist them, but we also needed to consider the research in R&D. Our longevity as a company hinges on not only designing and delivering software of the highest quality, but also continuing to create intellectual property and ensuring our research cycles are efficient and rewarding.

Office Pre-Build-Out
Our office before the build-out.

There are many ideas that claim to contribute to random stimulation and creativity within your office or work space: visual stimulation through artwork and colors, having magazines and journals lying around, providing games and toys for breaks, but here, we had the chance to go a step further. We had the opportunity to create the perfect environment where all these extras would add to the creativity within our space. To this end we knew the pressure was on to build a great space for creative cooperative working and within this requirement, we had to cater for research groups that would often vary in size. We had to ensure that both large and small groups would feel motivated and comfortable enough to spend prolonged periods of creative time (occasional overnights if necessary…) dealing with hard problems – all within our space restrictions in NYC.

Furniture Build-Out
With the walls of the office up, all that’s left to do is make the space our own.

Being rather inexperienced in the world of build-outs, we had yet to discover how important it was to have designers and contractors that bought into our ethos and fully understood what we needed.  We got lucky… the second time.

The office post-build out.
The finished article. Lots of natural light and open spaces.

As I mentioned before, I’ll save the specifics of the design and construction, which inevitably went on far longer than planned and caused an incredible amount of stress, for another post.

Was it the right option?

Building out our space was a lengthy process; the duration from our initial viewing through absolute completion was nearly 18 months. But for all the phone calls, emails, drama, irritation and stress, we now have a fantastic, light, open, creative office that suits us perfectly. We do have a long term lease, and we do have to manage our own services, but having the freedom and flexibility to create our own environment was far more important to us. Everyone now has their own personal space, we have ample room for our research activities, and we also have a great environment for welcoming customers and visitors. Most importantly, if you speak to any of our employees, one of the first things they will say about working here is that we have a phenomenal space to do our thing.

We knew what AetherWorks was, we built what it needed, and now we have an office that shows people who we are. That’s a result.

We value our open spaces, and room.
With plenty of open spaces, we have ample room for creative thought.