Many vital people are needed to get a startup rolling, including all kinds of influencers.
An influencer could be an early investor who possesses significant brand value in the industry; an adviser who brings a lot of bench strength to help elevate a startup, both strategically and within his or her network; or a celebrity or other endorser with a large following who can, by virtue of his or her status and reach, accelerate awareness of a brand.
With key influencers on board from the get-go, a startup can hit the ground running and generate even more traction by quickly boosting its visibility in the marketplace.
Take the relationship between Airbnb and actor Ashton Kutcher, for example. Kutcher, who has invested about $100 million in tech startups through his venture capital firm over the years, partnered with Airbnb to help raise its profile among his legion of fans. The result? Forty million guests (and counting) have booked rooms at Airbnb's more than 1.5 million listings.
Connecting with the right influencers can be instrumental to a startup's success, but establishing relevant and strategic partnerships isn't always easy.
Inexperienced entrepreneurs who lack strong communication skills--or who are too busy following business protocols to seek and build relevant influencer relationships--will miss out on incredible opportunities to get more prominent eyes on their work.
Here are four common mistakes entrepreneurs often make that can tarnish their first impressions on influencers (if entrepreneurs are even fortunate enough to get in front of them):
1. Minimal research: Entrepreneurs who fail to do due diligence may hire the wrong people. Combine old-fashioned research with knowledge gleaned at industry events or from social media to figure out who is best suited to help your company and your venture. When you reach out to select influencers, it's important for them to understand why you're doing so--what do you know about them, their backgrounds, and their passions that suggests resonance? How would aligning with you bring them value? You need to know that in advance.
2. Lack of respect: Finding time is the biggest challenge in the lives of influencers, so ask a trusted adviser for recommendations on how and when to approach them. If you don't demonstrate respect when requesting their valuable time, they won't provide you with it.
3. Too much communication: There should be regular--not constant--communication between entrepreneurs and influencers. Pestering influencers comes off as annoying, intrusive, or--even worse--inconsiderate of their own work and time.
4. Transparency: Full disclosure is imperative in any entrepreneur-influencer partnership. When clarifying where your company stands, where it's headed, and how influencers can add the most value, transparency is expected. Without it, they are not apt to join forces with you or will likely step out--assuming you're fortunate enough to attract them but don't follow up or communicate.
Breaking Bad Habits
Many new entrepreneurs are unaware that they're making these mistakes (some of which are commonsense). You don't know what you don't know, which makes them hard habits to break. Asking a trusted strategic adviser to help guide the interchange and flow of information can provide much-needed insight and credibility, as well as connections to influencers.
Until that awareness kicks in, remember that it's an honor to have an influencer involved at all. Be conscious of the privilege, and act accordingly.
If multiple influencers align with you at once, make it your top priority to manage how you engage with each. Take measures to effectively control the flow of communication with each individual and among the entire group. To create strong relationships with many notable people, think proactively and stay mindful of everyone's time and resources.
If damage has already been done to your relationship with an important influencer, the best course of action is to communicate openly and transparently. Instead of making assumptions or excuses, ask plainly what you can do to rectify the situation. Consider bringing an adviser into the conversation to act as a mediator and a proxy for your management team.
The early stages of a startup are never easy, but influencers can help make the growing pains more fruitful and accelerate traction in the marketplace. Once entrepreneurs understand how to cultivate symbiotic relationships with these power players, the resulting momentum can prime their organizations for success.