Shopify’s “Agile Business Development” explained

This guide is based on Mixergy’s interview with Harley Finkelstein.

Most entrepreneurs feel business development is a long slog with no light at the end of the tunnel, so to make it easier, Harley Finkelstein took principles of software development and turned them into creative business development tactics. It was all done using agile business development, so we invited him to teach you how to do it.

Harley is the Chief Platform Officer at Shopify, which allows individuals and businesses to create online stores.

Here are the actionable highlights from the interview.

1. Start meetings with objectives to save time and potential partners will appreciate your candor

Harley opens phone calls by saying that his objective is to see if the other party’s user base can benefit from Shopify, and one person called him back later and said that it had been the most efficient 20-minute meeting he’d ever had.

Take Action:
As you begin each meeting or phone call, state what you hope to accomplish in the conversation and ask the other participants to share their objectives too.


2. Find similarities with potential partners so they’ll be more open to working with you

Harley read excerpts from Seth Godin’s and Gary Vaynerchuk’s forthcoming books, saw that the themes were related to the theme of Shopify’s business contest, and used that common ground to convince Godin and Vaynerchuk to serve as mentors to the contest participants.

Take Action:
When you want to partner with someone, find out what their latest projects are and see if any of them are relevant to your business.


3. Prove yourself with small deals so your partners will be more willing to enter into large deals

Harley referred Shopify merchants who needed shipping services to an international shipping company, and that initial arrangement led to a large deal between Shopify and the shipping company.

Take Action:
When you want to partner with another business, offer them a small deal, and then ask to work with them on a large deal once they see that the first one is successful.


4. Follow your partner’s schedule so they won’t feel forced into the partnership

Shopify’s business contest coincided with the release of Godin’s and Vaynerchuk’s books, but if the books had been scheduled for publication a few months later, Harley would have pushed the contest back so Godin and Vaynerchuk could promote their books to contest participants.

Take Action:
Keep a calendar of your partners’ product launches, and schedule events at times when your partners will have new products to promote.


5. Offer to compensate the people referring you customers so they’ll become loyal partners

When Harley finds that someone has referred a lot of customers to Shopify, he calls them up, offers to partner with them, and sometimes even compensates them retroactively for their past referrals.

Take Action:
Ask customers how they heard about your business, then contact the people who referred them and suggest that they become your partners so they’ll get a share of the revenue from their referrals.


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6. Alternate meetings with work sessions to accommodate different work styles and be more productive yourself

Harley holds meetings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and he uses Tuesdays and Thursdays to brainstorm and plan new deals, while his engineers work on code for several hours straight.

Take Action:
Set aside a few days a week to hold meetings with your team members or partners, and use the other days to think of new ideas or work on projects without interruption.


7. Research difficult deals yourself to be better prepared to meet for negotiations

Harley did research himself before asking Facebook’s commerce team to collaborate with him on improving Shopify’s social features because he knew it would be difficult to get a deal with Facebook.

Take Action:
Before meeting with a potential partner company that will be hard to win over, read its blog, get the names of its executives from its website, and look the executives up on LinkedIn.


8. Be open to new partnerships so you’ll have the flexibility to form partnerships you didn’t expect

Harley sent a cease-and-desist letter to a company that he thought was infringing on Shopify’s intellectual property, but he maintained an open mind about working with that company and it later became a great partner.

Take Action:
Be open to working with new people, even if you’ve had an adversarial relationship with them in the past.


9. Help people reject you comfortably so they’ll be more likely to say “yes” in the future

When Harley emails journalists about Shopify, he tells them that he understands if Shopify’s story isn’t relevant to their current reporting scope, and that has improved his relationships with journalists.

Take Action:
Whenever you approach someone to ask for a meeting or for help, mention that you know they’re busy and you understand if they can’t help you right now.


Want to make sure you get results?

Written by Sarah Brodsky, based on production notes by Jeremy Weisz