Surviving 12 Months as an Entrepreneur – Volume III
Month 3: Building a business relationship is not like a one night stand.
I am part of a secret start-up in stealth mode and our idea is so awesome it will revolutionise the way we live. I can’t tell you anymore because we don’t want anyone to ‘steal’ our idea. Stealth mode is commonly used when chasing your start up dream, however I question how much validation, insight and brand awareness one misses out by keeping it to themselves?
Knowing little about our chosen space and having not been around the start-up scene, we were concerned about our idea being ‘stolen’. We feared being beaten to market by a competitor throwing money at the problem once they had seen our potential solution. However a lack of industry experience soon turned into our strength as it forced us to ask for help. The key to getting this help was to talk to anyone that would listen and three months later our fears have proven to be unfound.
The networking and the introductions that followed allowed us to build relationships that facilitated getting goParcel off the ground. We found the more we talked about goParcel, the faster the wave of momentum we were creating grew. I believe it is this momentum and the public ‘wins’ that create a launching platform and barrier for copycats. This public awareness is a true competitive advantage compared to any head start you may have achieved assecretive start-up
I am continually analysing and trying to learn from other start-ups as they come to market. Over the last six months, I watched two start-ups take completely opposite positions. One built six months of brand awareness before launching their service through pitching competitions, press releases and doing the angel circuit, while the other built their offering quietly and launched a beta service to little fanfare.
Both start-ups had copycats follow them into the market within three months. The difference was the first start-up let everyone know they were first to market and created enough noise about their service to drown out the follower even with their significant marketing budget. While the second start-up was still in beta when its’ copycat launched hard with a great promotion about being first to market. This second start-up now finds itself in a position where it can’t find funding because it is perceived as a copycat that has missed the boat.
I now believe many start-ups underestimate the time it takes to break through the noise and gain the attention of customers, journalists, investors and industry. I have come to realise that everyone’s time is valuable; that they are busy and listening to my pitch isn’t a priority. As we launch the goParcel service this month, I look at the significant milestones that we have achieved by talking, networking and selling the goParcel story while still developing our product and ask myself is it enough to launch successfully?
These required relationships aren’t too dissimilar to a traditional professional network. The only problem for an entrepreneur is that you don’t have an employer or brand to leverage off and that you needed to have built the relationships yesterday. So where does an entrepreneur start to network?
The first thing is to realise there are many successful entrepreneurs, investors and industry professionals who are willing to help newbies, but the scene is in its infancy and very informal. The best place to start is by leveraging collaborative co-working spaces for entrepreneurs and to participate in the many start-ups events which often double as networking events; pitching competitions, hack-a-thons etc. So Google ‘2012 start-up events’, register and start a conversation at one of these events today.
One piece of advice I would give about business networks is don’t treat them like family or friends. You will find quickly there is no unconditional love in business. A business relationship is an asset that needs to be invested in and is a two way street. When you receive a referral it is important to acknowledge the referral and let them know how the meeting went. The other networking tip I have learnt is if you want your network to flourish it is as important to give referrals as it is to receive them. Also remember your business reputation will precede you and directly affect your ability to form relationships in the future.
So over the last 30 days I have learnt not to let my fears control my decision making and to ask for help. There are many people out there who want to share their knowledge, experience and relationships and wish to see others succeed. Hence it is very important that I continue to develop my business network to build on this valuable resource.
Continue to follow the trials and tribulations of these young entrepreneurs every month. Discover next month the answer to the big question, did they manage to successfully launch and find a paying customer?