Entrepreneur Types: Builders, Branders, and Business Developers
By Laurie stach
September 14, 2018
In the LaunchX program that helps high school entrepreneurs gain the skills, mindset, and tools they need to thrive as founders and business owners, we encourage students to self-identify into one of 3 entrepreneurial types: Builders, Branders and Business Developers. Each of these types makes their own specific contributions to a startup, and has its own unique skill set. Let’s spend some time examining each of these roles and how to excel at them.
The Builder is your product person, the person behind your code, the one elbows-deep in the thing your company makes or does — be that a physical product, a piece of software, or a service. This is your technical co-founder. It’s the person who has their hand in every aspect of your offering and knows it inside out. While the Builder may often also be the visionary who comes up with the concept for the product, the most important thing Builders do is turn that vision into reality.
To be a Builder, you need to develop the skills needed to complete and advance the thing you make. And you have to keep those skills sharp so you don’t fall behind competitors or have trouble executing on ideas because your knowledge is outdated. Whether you’re a learn-while-you-do or a bank-knowledge-then-start-the-project type, you’ll need to be sure you can make things happen with precision when the time comes to get to work.
Creating a physical product starts in the design phase and CAD (Computer Aided Design) is your best option for that. You may have heard of Autodesk, a premium CAD program, but it’s pricey. Luckily, there are cheaper — and even some free — solutions available. Onshape, for example, is a robust, cloud-based option that’s free for educational and public projects. Other options include Sketchup and FreeCAD. This list features those and others, and lets you know which kind of design each is best suited for.
To be ready for what comes after the design phase, you’ll need good prototyping skills and tools. If you’re prototyping an app, website, animation or other virtual product, check out this list of online tools that might fit the bill. If you’re making a tangible product, you’ll need a way of getting that product from concept to reality. That could mean knowing how to 3D model and print, laser cut, weld, carve, or whatever the necessary method for working with the desired material is. Many community colleges offer classes on a variety of ways to make and build things, so I recommend checking out what’s being offered locally. You can also learn a lot from online video tutorials. Plus, there’s the option of having someone else build your prototypes for you. Shapeways, which I touched on in my Tools for Entrepreneurial Success post, is good for that. It also offers a series of helpful 3D modeling and printing tutorials.
If you’re a coder, you’ll need to learn and sharpen your coding skills in order to create top-notch virtual products. Luckily, there are many online courses and resources that can take you from basic concepts and tasks to advanced ones. Codecademy is an excellent place to learn everything from HTML to Ruby to Python, from the beginning. If you already know the basics and just need some expertise in particular areas, GitHub has ample resources for developers, including tons of open source code. It’s an excellent place to solve problems with others in your field.
The Brander is the founder who creates the story around your business, and knows how to tell it in order to attract the right customers. They’re responsible for the tone of your business, how it projects itself, the feelings it stirs up in consumers, and how well defined your company’s identity is in the marketplace. It’s on them to create a cohesive and authentic brand that helps you stand out from competitors.
Branders connect the product to the customers through design, marketing and branding. They’re in charge of the high concepts and big picture plans, along with all the smaller decisions that support them — everything from your logo to your blog to your customer emails and other communications.
It’s no easy feat to handle all of that, and a little help can go a long way. For overall branding and marketing strategy, there are tons of self-directed courses you can take online to learn the basics in a short span of time. A great place to search is Class Central, as it brings together courses from major providers like Coursera and edX all in one easily searchable place.
In terms of managing your marketing, there are ample services to choose from. Hubspot will help you with your Inbound efforts and has a ton of great insights and tutelage to offer. Quick Sprout will help you make sure your website is converting well (i.e. that your customers are sticking around and engaging with your messaging). Then there is Buffer, which not only lets you schedule your social media posts, but also puts out amazing data-rich articles on what does and doesn’t work in social media marketing.
For the design aspect, it might help to go through some tutorials like those offered by Canva. Canva is more than just a place to learn key aspects and best practices of graphic design, it’s also a rich platform to use for creating visual collateral like infographics, header images, email invites, and even book covers.
The most important thing is to make sure you’re getting quality work and that you’re bringing everything together in a connected way, so that your company is distinctive and stands out. Your brand identity is the first thing customers are exposed to, whether they realize it or not.
The Business Developer
The Business Developer is the founder who understands the exact value your business brings to the market and helps it find its niche. They hustle for partnerships and to get you in front of the customers most likely to buy your product. So they have to understand those customers intimately. They also have to make sure your finances are under control and your operations are in order. Because this is someone who is responsible for both your metrics and your relationships, it needs to be someone who is equal parts a numbers person and a people person.
Business Developers have to make a lot of decisions. Which partnerships should you go after? Does having a booth at certain conferences make sense? Should you have a Sales team at this stage? What’s the right price for your product?
These and hundreds of other considerations require strong knowledge and solid tools. More on the tools in a minute, since ultimately, even the best tools won’t do much if you don’t have the skills and understanding necessary to use them well.
The Business Developer must understand the core concepts and best strategies behind starting, running, and growing a business. A course like this one from Udemy can help with that. When it comes to pricing, check out this series from UVA and the Boston Consulting Group (where I used to work!). This Entrepreneur article can help clarify some important concepts about entering into beneficial partnerships.
As far as tools go, Intercom is one that can give you deep insights into your customers’ activity on your site, help you gather data, and even reach out automatically based on activity or inactivity. It’s also a lean all-in-one tool for actively communicating with customers via live chat, in-app messages and email. Because of its versatility as a communication tool, it could also be a boon for your Brander.
While we’re on the topic of customers, let’s not forget that great CRM and tracking tools are essential. Salesforce is the giant in the industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your startup. There are other options out there, such as Zoho CRM, which might fit your needs and budget better. For an in-depth comparison between the two, dive into this article.
Another thing that’s crucial to the Business Developer role is reliable forecasting. You’ll need to be able to make ambitious yet realistic projections about sales, product distribution, customer growth and retention, market share, and more. You’ll also need to be able to predict how a certain change — a price increase, a new product rollout, the discontinuation of an existing product — will impact your business. Before you rush into a specific app or program to help you with all that, take some time to become familiar with different forecasting models and techniques, like those outlined in this thorough article from the Harvard Business Review.
Some founders may find themselves incorporating a bit of each entrepreneurial type, either by nature or by necessity. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin and as a result fail to give enough attention and energy to any one major focus of running a business. If you are squarely in one category, it’s crucial to bring people with complementary skills into the fold with you. For example, if you’re the visionary Builder but don’t know much about branding and biz dev, then you must hire, partner with, or receive mentorship and support from talented Branders and Business Developers.
No matter which type of entrepreneur you are, your effectiveness boils down to having the knowledge, skills, and mindset needed to make smart decisions and take impactful actions to move your business forward. How good you are also depends on your willingness to keep growing and expanding what you know and do. Innovation moves fast and you can’t afford to fall behind if you want to stay competitive.