What is a Biz Guy?


I will be using the term “Biz Guy” often in this post – it is a non gender-specific term:

I, more than most, understand that sentiment regarding Biz Guys. I loathe the question “what do you do?” at social events – I fall back on being a blogger so I don’t have to say I’m a “Biz Guy.” I feel like the 3rd wheel at Startup Weekends, because i’m not ‘producing anything.’ I’ll never call myself a “product visionary” or a “big thinker,” but I sure do hate that Biz Guy is the best title I can give myself.
Among the comments of yesterday’s post, the term “Biz Guy” was thrown out in many respects, referring to anything from incompetent marketers to product visionaries (depending on who you’re asking). It’s no secret: Devs hate Biz Guys, and Biz Guys hate Devs. I mean, don’t get me wrong: we want to work with each other, but when the other’s not around, we laugh with our like-minded co-workers about how the other essentially does nothing.
I don’t want to go into when Biz Guys are and are not necessary (at least not today), but I thought I might take the time to talk about what exactly is “A Biz Guy”

He’s everything else…

The “other” box, the N/A, the etc – much like he is described, the biz guy is ‘everything else’. Depending on where you are in your startup, the biz guy performs various functions. On day one, the Biz Guy contacts the lawyer to incorporate, finds an accountant and gets a lawyer. When you’re ready to raise funds, the Biz Guy is contacting VCs left and right, in meetings and helping firms do due diligence, preparing pitch decks, writing up executive summaries, and creating growth projection charts. The Biz Guy translates code-speak into VC-speak. The Biz Guy is selling and marketing your beta, contacting journalists for the big press release. The Biz Guy can do a lot of things, some of which he’s never had to do before, because each new company has its own needs. He’s adaptable to a situation and is willing to do anything – as long as his Devs and Designers keep coding and designing. In Short, the Biz Guy’s responsibility is to make sure that a developer spends as much time developing as possible.
If you’re a Dev, every minute spent NOT developing is the fault of the Biz Guy, if you have one – and your fault for not having one if you don’t have one. This is why, statistically, startups with 4 co-founders (usually well-balanced between the three) are more likely to succeed than startups with 3, 2, or 1 – in fact, up to 4 co-founders, the more you have, the more likely you will succeed. If a Dev needs to buy new server space, the Biz Guy whips out his personal debit card just to get things going – he’ll work it out with accounting later. If the Dev guy needs lunch, the Biz Guy ordered Pizza 30 minutes ago….

So…Where do I find one?

Finding one is harder than you think, in fact. While there are many graduates from Business Schools, I think Devs can agree that it’s not about what school you come from, but what your track record is. France is finally starting to distance itself from the “Hello my Name Is___ and I’m a graduate of ____” phase, at least in the startups, but you can feel the business school graduates holding onto it – for good reason, too. It’s easy for a Dev to show off code, but it’s hard for a Biz Guy to differentiate himself from a Social Media Consultant or Web Marketer – we’re not that.
The truth is that there is no educational institution, nor corporation, that is currently producing consistently gifted startup Biz Guys – not in France, for sure. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary in some instances.

How do I spot one?

I don’t pretend to have the eagle-eye for spotting Biz Guys – it may be an exact science, but i haven’t read any text books yet. Instead, let me offer a few vital attributes that NON-Biz Guys often lack that makes weary of their ability to launch a startup alone

  1. Understanding the User: A good Biz Guy can look at a product from a user’s point-of-view and understand what their turnoffs will be about using the product, and thus how to address those turnoffs. A good Biz Guy gets inside the head of his user, even if he is not a potential user, and uses that viewpoint to make judgments that can affect product development, business model, marketing and more.
  2. Knowing ALL your competitors: While this seems like an easy task, a Good Biz guy knows the difference between a director competitor and ALL competitors. In addition to knowing offhand any direct competitors, he is aware of any indirect competitor he might have. He knows that a competitor is anyone with whom you compete for the eyes of users, knowing exactly how wide a range that can encompass.
  3. Knowing the Pressure Points: A good Biz Guy can instantly identify the pressure points in a startup, no matter how involved he is. If it is his startup, he is ready to say what they are and how he intends to address these points. He is not timid about admitting that the correct execution on these fronts are what will ultimately determine the success of his startup, and any feature, update, campaign or acquisition is negligible if it does not immediately pertain to executing well on these pressure points.
  4. Has the Street Cred’: Just like a developer shows off his code, a Biz Guy is only as good as his credentials. If he’s incorporated a startup, that’s good – If he’s raised funds, that’s great. There are lessons that can only be learned the hard way in setting up a startup, and the more experience a Biz Guy has, the less resources wasted on learning how to solve those problems.
  5. Knows his place: Finally, a good Biz Guy combines being humble with being confident well, demonstrating his confidence that he is doing what’s best today, while illustrating his constant awareness of potential impending pivots. He understands the value of every role in a startup – his own and his co-founders.
It’s easy to see what a Biz Guy should look like. When I judge the merit of a startup, no matter who chooses to speak to me, I treat them as the Biz Guy. If you do not possess these qualities, and someone else does, you either need to get your Biz Guy to come forth and speak about your startup, or you need to make it very clear that you are NOT the Biz Guy. When I meet startups that lack some or all of these qualities, I wonder how they will advance 6 months down the road.
For Devs, it’s not too difficult to interview a potential Biz Guy. Make sure they know your sector – do they know any of your direct competitors off the top of their head? That’s a good sign. When you pitch your idea, be aware that you might pitch it poorly. Be patient with them – because your vision of the product might not come across clearly. When a good Biz Guy understands the problem, solution, and product, they will be able to pitch your own product back to you within minutes, or even to the next person you talk about. Have a potential Biz Guy pitch the idea to another co-founder, or even a friend.

Make sure he’s smarter than you..

It is true that a Biz Guy can not be immediately identified as good or not, and they can certainly disappoint in results after a good first impression – they know how to sell things, so why wouldn’t they sell themselves well? A good Biz Guy will know more than you – if he doesn’t, he’s not a good Biz Guy.

16 Responses

  1. ziad salloum

    I liked the “So…Where do I find one?” because through out my experience it is extremely difficult to find one. As I said in a previous comment and will repeat it here. When a dev writes a line of code you get the result instantly however when a biz guy tells you the market need this feature (that will consume one month of your dev resources) you have to trust him no matter how much you discuss the issue with him. But if he ends up tell you crap, it will be your startup that will pay the price.
    Finding someone with good track record to work for you, means that you must have big bucks which is rarely the case of a startup.

  2. pyr

    You’ve spent too much time in France, where we have this culture of opposing biz and tech. Many successful start-ups have been built by technical founders who handled the business aspects, the only difference being that they had a strong knowledge of the economics of their field, which we tend to lack in France/Europe.
    In France we have this very strict path where if you head for a business career you don’t get involved in dirty technical tasks and if you’re an engineer, you find someone who’s got work for you to do. I think this is what we have to blend together, tech people need to address their business shortcomings to be successful. In a 3 to 8 people environment, you can’t have people who don’t grasp the whole picture, especially in b2b start-ups.
    I’m not saying some balance shouldn’t exist between the founders with people more focused on an aspect than another, but there’s definitely a way for tech founders to make their way on the entrepreneurial path alone, now do they (we) really want to ? On the top of my head there’s quite a few successful start-ups which were built by tech people with an interest for business.

    • Liam Boogar

      Solid point, Pyr. This is definitely more of an issue in France than outside. I agree that tech guys can do it on their own – under certain circumstances. I think the problem in France is that tech guys who fulfill those circumstances (like you) are not explaining to other developers that’s it not that easy, it’s not that fun, and it requires fulfilling two roles at the same time instead of just one.
      Great Comment

    • ziad salloum

      “In France we have this very strict path where if you head for a business career you don’t get involved in dirty technical tasks ”
      In fact tech guys are not well seen, and I think are under-payed. I have seen many developers pushing to become project managers instead of technical lead or architect because PM is a managerial position that is better valued.
      When you go to meet BA or VC with a team of dev only, they look at you (it happened with me) in a very suspicious way and you are mostly discarded from the start even though you made a good presentation.

    • Pierre Chapuis

      I agree that technical people are under-estimated. This recent article http://www.npr.org/2011/11/11/142227097/addressing-the-shortage-of-women-in-silicon-valley shows clearly the difference between France and the US on this point:
      “Female engineers, more often than men, end up in testing or in project management positions, which usually pay less and carry less status, so moving up the career ladder becomes more difficult.”
      In France most people in the industry would agree that that sentence is wrong. You can’t climb the career ladder of most large companies unless you’re in PM. If you have a French engineering degree, “still” being a developer after 30 is seen as failure. This is plain stupid.
      Now I don’t really agree with your last sentence. I don’t have experience in raising funds, so take that with a grain of salt, but I don’t think a good BA would discard you if you make a very good presentation and your project is fundable, even if you have a tech background.

    • ziad salloum

      The issue is not having a tech background, but in having a team solely composed of techies without any biz guy. Apparently BA do not like (trust) that kind of like-minded team. Actually you can read that in all the text books related to fund raising.
      But on the other hand, finding a Biz Guy early on is not what tech founders are eager to have, nor to afford.

    • catwell

      If your team is composed solely of people who want to code and not to touch biz-related things then I understand them perfectly: you’re developing a product but you don’t have a company yet.
      But if your team is composed of people with tech backgrounds with one/some of the willing to work on the company-related stuff (aka. “go to the Dark Side” :p), why not? In that case if I were you I would not present this/these person(s) as technical though.
      For instance, in the startup I work for, both founders come from the same engineering school, but one of them is the CEO and fulfills the role of what you call a “biz guy” (although he hates this word). I would say his tech backgrounds helps him understand better the space he’s in and the product we’re making, and it doesn’t make him a worse manager or salesperson.
      Oh, and they did raise money from business angels. But I guess they did insist on one of them willing to focus on the “soft” part of the business.

    • Liam Boogar

      completely agree – a lot of this issue is solely about identity. It’s not about entrepreneurs with technical background not being able to to business-related function – I come from a pure mathematics background, but would not call myself the mathematician of the startup, This is a question of how you wish to spend your brain power. Startups require brainpower devoted to several different aspects at the same time (hence, the more brains the better), and it is often easier to let a developer focus most of his brain power on development, with a business guy focusing most of his brain power on business stuff. Although, I’m sure Eric Ries would have something to say about each person contributing to every part of the company, but let’s assume i don’t mean to the extreme…

  3. Pierre-A. Duchateau (@paduc)

    Your last point is spot on.
    When you’re a tech founder, it’s easy to find Biz Buys that better at finance ou accountancy but way harder to find someone with startup experience. The “other guy’s” (i prefer this term to biz guy) role is to keep things in motion and going in the right direction. If you constantly have to give him things to do or if he’s idle waiting for you to finish some code, he’s slowing the whole startup down.
    Things get tough for a tech founder if he finds his product isn’t progressing fast enough. The other guy has to produce enough exciting stuff (mostly client-related) to give his tech-friend a boost from time to time. So it’s extremely important that the other guy pulls his own weight and more.
    We see a lot of “Biz guys” at networking events but most of them are not experienced enough in the startup world to really accelerate things. I think your line should be more like “I make things happen, without coding”.

  4. Alexandre Dana (@A_Deewey)

    It was a real pleasure to read you Liam, keep on !

  5. Goran Duškić

    Finaly someone explained it! Thank you!

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  7. Jim

    Brilliant!  Now I know how to explain what I am and what I do!  I have had the brand TheBizGuys for a few years now and even have a vanity plate on my car BIZGUYS
    I always get asked, what is a Biz Guy?  Now I know exactly where to send those folks to get a comprehensive, fully detailed definition of a Biz Guy.  
    Thanks for making my job of personal branding much more…let’s say credible…
    Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald

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