13 Tips for Getting Help for Your Startup
It takes a village to raise a startup. TechStars, and other mentor-driven accelerators, understand this. Experienced entrepreneurs understand this. Investors understand this. New entrepreneurs often do not understand this; and those new entrepreneurs that do understand it often don’t know who they need in their village or how to work with them once they figure it out.
The composition of a startup’s village will depend on the individual needs and personality of the startup, but a common thread will be a network of formal and informal advisors—business advisors, technical advisors, legal advisors, personal advisors. If you’re Andy Sack, Rich Barton, Dan Shapiro or Dave Schappell, then you are an easy phone call (probably speed dial) away from a beer with the top minds in startup ecosystem. If you’re new to the tech startup world, then you need to get busy building your network with folks who can help you. Whether you’ve already found someone willing to spend time with you or are still looking, here are some tips for making the most of their help. As both an advisor and an advisee, I hope to learn something new from your comments as well.
1) Know why a particular advisor is a good fit for you. Early on, it’s tempting to want to talk to any potential advisors who will listen. Resist that urge. Have an understanding of why, specifically, you think it’s valuable to talk to this person. What is it in their current for prior experience that makes them a good fit for you. Do they have relevant expertise within your market, with your technology, with your customers, with potential strategic partners. The person you want to talk to should agree with your assessment. Remember, too, that every good advisor won’t be a good advisor for you. It has to be a good fit on both sides and if it’s not, then don’t force it; close the loop and move on.
2) Go after the correct “tier.” This is corollary to number 1), above… and may sound elitist… but get over it. You may think you want an audience with a hotshot in your space but keep in mind a couple of important things. The nearer the stratosphere an advisor is, the less time (and patience) they’ll have for you. And, if you don’t have your ducks in a pretty straight row then your one chance to make an impression may be squandered. Coupled with the effort it will take to get a warm introduction into them and the long wait to get on their calendar (could be two months or more), this is often a losing proposition. And don’t be surprised when your top-tier advisor’s assistant e-mails you the day before your long-awaited meeting to reschedule because “something has come up.” Also, top-tier folks are just not gonna have much time to spend with you, so you’d do well to think of them as connectors to other people and resources. As such, they will likely be cautious about referring entrepreneurs that they hardly know and/or aren’t confident are ready to risk their reputation on. So keep your powder dry. Work your way up. As your startup (and you) progresses you’ll naturally be ready for more and more top-tier help. It’s not a literal hierarchy and it’s not a caste system, but there are circles of trust and circles of influence; as your network expands and you gain the confidence of experienced people, then your circles will expand and will eventually overlap with higher and higher tiers. In the mean time, you may be better served working with folks closer to earth but with more time and energy to spend with you.
3) Be respectful of time. Know what you want to get out of the time an advisor spends with you. Be concise and specific. It’s easy to spend an hour chewing the fat about your new sliced bread machine, but that’s not a good use of their time or your own for that matter. Ask for 30 minutes instead of 60. Pick a coffee shop within short walking distance of your advisor’s home or office, or ask them to choose the meeting place. As the scheduled end of your meeting or phone call approaches, offer them a graceful exit.
4) Don’t be disagreeable. You don’t have to agree with what an advisor has to say about you, your startup, your product, your market, or your strategy but don’t assume that they are … Next Page »