Let us introduce Connie Wu, Head of Business Development at Asana. Passionate about developing partnerships and building new businesses, Connie shares tried and true advice for enabling partner success in this Ecosystem Pioneer interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you land in Business Development / Partnerships?
I've been building partner ecosystems for many years. I started my career in strategy consulting, but within a few years I jumped into the tech startup world. I wanted to go build companies. My first role was at a very small 20-person startup, where I basically did everything but product and engineering. It was very much a combination of sales and account management. After that, I went off to do BD at PayPal, and then at DocuSign for 7+ years, and now at Asana.
For those who don’t know, what is Asana?
Asana is a leading work management platform that helps teams orchestrate work, everything from daily tasks to cross-functional strategic initiatives. With over 200 app integrations, Asana makes it easy to communicate and collaborate on projects.
What roles have you previously held? How have they helped you in your current position?
My time in Management Consulting helped me build a very strong foundation for breaking down complex problems and figuring out practical ways to solve them. Anyone who came from consulting will know that this career really sharpens analytical and communication skills. My tech experience helped build execution and risk-taking skills. All of these are essential for doing BusinessDevelopment (BD) well. That’s because BD jobs require you to break down complex deal structures, champion strategic opportunities that the company has never done before, or determine how to prioritize / sequence investments to maximize the outcome. All of these require a combination of strategic thinking and a “go get it done” attitude.
What’s your favorite part of working with partners?
My favorite part is solving customer problems together with partners. It's an iterative process and a humbling one since you do miss the mark from time to time. When that happens, you have to stay focused and be willing to go back to the drawing board. At the end of the day, addressing core customer pains does take multiple iterations and therefore a real commitment from both sides to work together.
What’s something you wish people understood about Partnerships?
For someone who’s new to BD, I would say that signing partnerships is easy but making them successful is hard. When you’re courting each other and signing the partnership, it's the honeymoon phase. The real test starts when you have to take it live and create a real business out of it. And that is very, very hard. You have to figure out how to take something from 0 to 1 and then 1 to many. Those two phases involve different skills and different people to help you execute. 0 to 1 is entrepreneurial – you’re experimenting, testing your hypothesis, going door-to-door to find beta customers or A/B testing to attract users. 1 to many involves scale and processes, repeatable playbooks and orchestrating across multiple orgs to help you build consistent growth.
"Signing partnerships is easy but making them successful is hard. The real test starts when you have to take it live and create a real business out of it."
What's one of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in your role as an Ecosystem Pioneer?
When you’re building the partner ecosystem, a fundamental part of the job is figuring out who to partner with and how to work with them. It can be challenging to prioritize sets of partners. You’ve got to be clear on your Tier 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s. To do that, you have to know your partner strategy and goals, which should all be closely aligned with your company’s core objectives.
Why is figuring out the purpose of BD at your company an important first step when determining who to partner with?
It’s really about understanding the role that BD plays in your company and how it supports company objectives. Every company thinks about BD a little differently so it’s imperative to understand what purpose it serves (or aims to serve). Typically where BD reports into often provides a hint. For example, if BD reports into the CRO, then driving revenue is going to be a core component. If BD reports into the COO, then it can be a combination of product, strategy, and revenue. In any case, it’s important to align with the C-level to define BD’s purpose in the org and how to leverage your work to support and accelerate company growth.
What advice do you have for enabling partner success?
I think about partner success in two phases. First, there is the success of today, which revolves around achieving the immediate goals we’ve set.
The second phase is what you accomplish long term. That’s very much building on the success of phase 1 and growing the relationship. Part of this requires proper investments, such as getting the right teams’ support, budgets, and building out internal systems and processes. It’s much easier said than done because you’re competing against many other high priority projects. And this is where I’ve seen things fall apart or stall because it’s hard to get these resources lined up quickly before momentum slows.
What has worked well to align teams and keep everything on track when bringing joint solutions to market? What hasn’t?
What has worked well? Getting teams to understand the big picture is the starting point. What we’re doing, why this is important, and why now. Quantifying the impact also matters. You have to help people understand what the TAM is and what the ARR opportunity looks like. Finally, you need to have strong executive sponsorship so she or he can unblock things and keep everyone on track.
What hasn't worked well is when you don't have the above lined up.
"Get teams to understand the big picture: what we’re doing, why this is important, and why now. Quantify the impact too."
What are some superpowers you’ve seen in other ecosystem leaders that make them particularly effective?
The two main superpowers I’ve seen are:
1. Thinking big and articulating what the end vision can look like
2. Laying out the path to get there
Are there any business podcasts, communities, or books you enjoy that you would recommend?
In terms of books, I just started Amy Duke's How to Decide, a book on effective decision making. She's an ex-poker player, so she's used a lot of these decision methods that she's developed to help business leaders think through making better choices. She did a session with Asana and it was really good; I highly recommend checking out her YouTube videos. In terms of communities, a couple of friends and I started a professional network for BD professionals called BD By the Bay. Come join us!
What’s a surprising fact about you that we can’t find on Google?
I did a crazy hiking trip during my time at business school where we climbed Cotopaxi. For context, Cotopaxi is a 19,347 ft. live volcano that’s a tad higher than Kilimanjaro. It’s also a bit of a technical climb, and therefore quite the adventure.