When examining the who, what, where, when and why of any startup, it’s the who that will most directly impact the level of success that is achieved. Making the right connections and finding the right people will be entirely reflected in the management team, staff, advisory board, customer list and availability of capital.
While that statement may seem obvious enough, few entrepreneurs succeed in networking to such a degree that they tower above all others as they build their companies. When mentoring entrepreneurs, one of the many questions repeatedly raised is how to find partners, management team members, advisors and investors.
One of the CEOs in our portfolio is an absolute networking rock star. He knew he needed a great management team before he could attract capital, so he created a list of 10 dream team executives for each of the three critical leadership roles available in his company. He went after each one of these people with a pitch. He was trying to make a sale. Of course, he couldn’t afford them, but that didn’t matter. If he could convince them that his company offered tremendous opportunity for growth, there were numerous ways to attract and compensate the right talent to the team through equity participation. He performed the same exercise when building the board.
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Industry events provide a great example of those who understand this concept and those who don’t. If the event is just a social event and you don’t need to make more connections, then shrimp table harvesting is wholly justified. However, for the rest of us who need to add to the who, there are some pretty fundamental differences in those who leave with value and those who don’t.
Conferences and industry events offer information, an opportunity to reacquaint with old connections and make new connections. Obviously, tabling yourself with the group you came with is a wasted opportunity, as is spending the networking breaks with people you already know. Always have at least three goals for every conference of people you want to meet who could potentially help your company.
At most conferences, you receive a package on which contains a list of attendees. Get to the event early enough to get this package and squirrel away with the list and a connection to the internet. Go through the list and highlight everyone that fits the profile of what you’re seeking. Then go online and find their picture so you know what these people look like when you’re trying to find them. Take a quick peek at their biographies or LinkedIn profiles so you know who you’re talking to when you do finally meet.
These key people who are necessary to build your company might be within your own network. That would be great if that were to happen because it would make things so much easier. It is, however, more likely that the very best choices are contacts within the contact lists of your network or even further beyond. Always ask. You just don’t ever know if the person you’re talking to is connected to your perfect find.
Yes, everyone would like a nice warm introduction through a close and trusted friend, but that isn’t always possible. Don’t be afraid to cold call, but your approach should be slightly different. Instead of ‘I’m Mike, looking for a VP Sales’, it’s ‘I’m Mike, seeking feedback about my startup from people with your level of sector experience’. Out of 10 cold calls like this, you will get into the majority of meeting requests, but be genuine in your search for feedback. If this person is important to your company’s growth and they have great skills and experience, you should listen to what they have to say. You won’t get an agreement on any first meeting, but you have started a relationship that just might pay off down the road.
Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street is a great book that focuses entirely upon your ability to attract the right talent to the team which directly impacts your probability of success. But can you do it?
The attraction of top talent is a wasted effort if you’re not prepared to let them run with their area of responsibility. It takes a great deal of discipline and maturity to hand off a portion of the company to someone else and let them do the job they were brought on to do. They will do things differently than you.
Can you put away enough ego to bring on people bigger than yourself, listen to their opinion and get out of their way? Lots of entrepreneurs attract good talent to the team only to lose them when the member finds that the entrepreneur still wants to be the micromanaging king of all things. Which only leaves one question: are you the only thing stopping you from achieving financial success?
Warren Bergen is President of Alberta-based AVAC Ltd. and author of Swagger & Sweat, A Start-up Capital Boot Camp.
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