I often look at the journey to startup success as similar to learning to walk as an infant. You typically don't go from pulling yourself up off the floor to master walking and then jump to running sprints within a few days. You build up muscles and coordination over years.
Founder tools are the same way. As a first-time entrepreneur, your goal is to identify and master those first-order tools. Effective networking is the equivalent to pulling your self up off the floor.
Why do you need to network when all you really need is a great product, right? Wrong!
First Round Capital partner Rob Hayes recently outlined three things that every founder needs to master to achieve success:
- Hire the right people (this should be 50% of your job)
- Always have a Northstar. (The clearly messaged vision why everyone wakes up in the morning ready to conquer the world.)
- Don't run out of money (No money = no people; no people=no company)
When you peel back these three tasks, you begin to see that all of them involve communicating effectively with others. Some call this leadership. Others may refer to a CEO/Founder as having "it". Regardless, you will need to build out those muscles to Arnold Schwarzenegger proportions.
Hiring great people is as much art than science. First, you have to identify great candidates. Next you have to interview them (as an individual and as part of a team of interviewers) to make sure they fit your culture and have the rights skills and experiences. Then you have to convince them that this gig is better than their current gig or the other gigs they are considering. As a startup, you have to do that. You can't outsource it and most importantly, the great candidates will only respond to you and your vision.
How are you going to perform those tasks if you can't get out there and socialize your plans with a vast array of potential candidates? I once hired 60 people in a little over 3 months for a newly funded Internet startup in 1999 without using a recruiter. That means we talked to over 300 people to get to the 60 we hired. Effective networking from my first 3-4 hires and me set the table for that run. I had planted those networking seeds for years prior to this specific need.
Which leads to the vision thing. A few weeks back, I wrote about the need to operate with two different brains simultaneously. One of those brains is the vision brain. Your task is to articulate clearly and with passion the mission of the company--to everyone and anyone at a moments notice. You can communicate the vision message verbally, it can be written and read in blogs and tweets, and it should be shared just as clearly and with passion by your first hires. Every opportunity in front of someone new is an opportunity to hook a future employee, partner or investor.
Which leads to the third note from Rob Hayes's blog post--never run out of money. Raising money from investors is a lot like a dating relationship. You will invariably date a number of investors while each of you evaluates their respective interest in continuing the relationship. Some investors will be candidates in year one and some will be candidates in year three. You can't just turn them on when you need them.
In order to identify, get introduced to, meet with and develop a long-term relationship with an investor--you must be able to master the networking and communication skills to bring that relationship to fruition.
Not sure how to go about building those networking muscles? Read up on networking at INC.com and any number of books. Like most new tools you need practice, so get out there and pull yourself up off that floor. You'll be walking and running in no time.