These are the people you need to build a successful startup.
I’m a connector.
If you’ve met me, you’ve likely experienced it firsthand. Once I understand a little about who you are and what you do, I want to introduce you to people who can take you and your business even further.
I do that because I know firsthand that people are the key to success as an entrepreneur. You may be an innovator, a big thinker, a genius. But you’re still just one person, and one person can only do so much.
There’s a lot of advice floating around the Internet about entrepreneurship, and much of it is focused on the individual founder and what he or she can do to succeed. But that advice ignores the most fundamental aspect of building a business: finding the right people to help you along the way.
You need people with staying power.
When you’re building something, it’s easy to focus all your energy around that process. If your entire business revolves around the technology you’re developing, you want to get it right. So you hire the right tech team. You chart out the services you will provide. You construct the systems that will underpin your organization.
And, in the case of too many entrepreneurs, you minimize the importance of sales and marketing.
In several of the companies I helped start, we struggled against competitors with inferior products but stronger market performance. While we’d invested the lion’s share of our resources in development, they’d gone all in on sales and marketing.
We had a better product. They had better brand awareness. And they were winning.
Money’s always tight when you’re building a business, and I don’t advocate building a subpar product in favor of spending more on exposure. The key is to find a balance and to invest strategically in talented, innovative sales and marketing professionals who can get your product out into the world.
You need a team that can handle growth at warp speed.
There’s a lot of talent at big companies, no doubt about it. But the kind of talent that thrives at those companies may not be the kind of talent you need in the early stages of your startup.
Case in point: At one of the companies I helped found, we hired extremely successful, extremely expensive sales reps from big names like Oracle and SAP. We thought the success they had at those big companies would translate into success at ours. But when they started, we quickly learned they were accustomed to having prospects delivered on a silver platter, courtesy of their inside sales teams. They were used to having a trove of marketing collateral to work with, a list of leads at the ready and pre-built presentations to use in meetings. We were asking them to create sales processes and systems from scratch. And that wasn’t the environment they needed to succeed.
The reality of startup life left them paralyzed, and it cost us a lot of money.
That example doesn’t mean you can’t ever hire someone with big company credentials, but early-stage growth is a delicate time in the life cycle of a startup. Your team is small, and each person on it is critical. You have to hire someone who can stand up to the challenges that will inevitably come your way.
You need people willing to give you money.
I’m not talking about having a venture capitalist in your back pocket. Companies at different stages need different kinds of money. And quite frankly, your chances of scoring VC or private equity money right out the gate are slim at best.
Instead, start with people you know. For a friend of mine, that meant tapping into friends of his father, an influential member of the community. My friend had grown up around these men, and they, in turn, thought of him as a son. They wanted him to succeed, as much as his own father did. And when my friend was fresh out of college, with no real experience to back him up, they saw the potential anyway and didn’t mind rolling the dice for the chance to see him win.
You need to be a person who wants to help, too.
Too often, I see founders take help willingly — greedily, even — but rarely offer any in return. And I get it: When you’re building a business, sometimes it feels as though you have no time or help to give.
Do it anyway.
You will always get more out of helping others than you give, so make the time. Invest in others the way someone invested in you.
The takeaway from all this? Never stop building your network. Have phone calls, coffees and lunch meetings. Go to events. And listen when people tell you there’s someone you have to meet.
You never know who’s waiting on the other end of that introduction.