Many business owners measure the success of their company by how much profit they're bringing in. This isn't necessarily the wrong way, and a large part of business is learning how to minimize expenses while maximizing revenue, but for fledgling startups that might not yet have a large customer base, these metrics aren't ideal. Instead, a good indicator you're on the road to startup success is when you find yourself in a productive, thriving ecosystem.
A Blossoming Ecosystem
An ecosystem is partly defined by the geographic area where you've chosen to put down your company's roots, but it's also made up of the people you choose to surround yourself with. These people might be your employees, advisors, and investors, in addition to other counselors such as law or finance professionals. The attitudes and outlooks of all of these individuals contribute to your ecosystem, and for your business to thrive, their impact needs to be positive.
Good influences will help you talk through decisions and support you when you're not sure which option to pursue. They'll also help you connect with other individuals who they think might have something to offer to you and your business -- and the best team members will do so without being asked. To get the most out of your ecosystem, though, you'll also need to give back.
What can you do to help the people you work with? What are their goals and aspirations, and how are you and your business capable of helping them achieve those goals? In an unhealthy ecosystem, one organism hoards all of the resources for itself. In a healthy one, organisms cooperate to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes that are greater than what any party involved could have achieved on its own.
Once you've made sure your ecosystem is the kind that breeds successful businesses and partnerships, take these three steps to cultivate your startup's success:
1. Network to help your startup sprout essential partnerships.
With the right mindset, networking can happen in any place and at any time, sprouting relationships that are valuable for your startup's growth. Whether you're on a bus, at the airport, or getting some work done at your favorite coffee shop, be approachable and strive to make connections on a daily basis. That's not all there is to it, however. Justin Zastrow, CEO of Smart Armor, points out that "Networking and 'showing up' is only half the battle. In addition to networking, you need to learn how to meaningfully and authentically connect with people. Otherwise, your networking efforts will be wasted."
So much of business is about relationships, but the literature tends to overemphasize forming new relationships and underemphasize nurturing the ones you create. Don't let connections wither away by falling out of touch. Reach out to your contacts on a regular basis to see what you can offer or how you can help.
2. Join a startup support organization that will help you establish strong roots.
Accelerators and incubators are valuable communities that help startups and entrepreneurs build a solid foundation. These groups will help provide you with a number of key elements necessary to fertilize your startup, including mentorship, working space, networking opportunities, and even financial backing in some cases.
The Ameren Accelerator, for instance, is a partnership that combines the resources of a leading energy corporation, a lauded accelerator program, and a state university system to produce an ecosystem in which energy-focused startups can flourish. The accelerator selects five to seven companies for a 12-week program that connects them with mentors, including current and former business executives, in addition to providing funding opportunities, office space, and other perks.
Different accelerators cater to different industries, so find one that fits your startup idea and do everything you can to join the community.
3. Keep finances fertile by outsourcing.
Startup owners often feel the need to fill certain roles with full-time employees when they could save money and get a better product by outsourcing. If you're running an e-commerce website, you don't necessarily have a full team of developers on the payroll, and the same can be true for marketing or finance. An in-house CMO will end up costing a fortune, so don't be afraid to outsource this role.
Erik Huberman, one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 and founder and CEO of Hawke Media, says outsourcing positions like a CFO or CMO can save your company between 40 to 65 percent. He explains, "For less money, you can contract someone who will not only get the job done efficiently, but who will also not be looking to justify, retain, or grow his or her in-house position."
If your startup is like most, you don't have unlimited resources. Instead of blowing through your budget on one big hire, sow more than one seed by outsourcing certain positions.
Your product might not make it to market until late summer, or you might be hoping to secure a seed investment to finance your dream. No matter what stage of the startup process you're in, you can set yourself up for success each day by taking the right steps to encourage healthy growth.