What differentiates a successful startup founder from an unsuccessful one? There are a number of obvious reasons. The product, the team, and the track record. What about the network though?
While talent is universal, opportunity is not. No matter how good you are, you will still face limited prospects if you don't have access to the right networks. Without networking it will be increasingly difficult to scale your business, access new markets, and attract new capital.
This is what a study from Chicago University's Booth Business School showcases by outlining that "the network is an entrepreneur's best asset".
The study received responses from 350 professionals, in 40 countries. The results indicate that founders reach out to their network for fundraising (29%), talent sourcing (32%) and emotional support (34%).
The study advises entrepreneurs to diversify their network. Highlighting that "using the network means reaching out and asking people you don't know well or have only a weak online link with to help you. Asking for help is one of the most valuable skills an entrepreneur can cultivate."
Fast Company even visually represents how some star founders of Y Combinator, the world's premier startup accelerator, network in terms of boosting each other's products, building social connections and sharing advice. A testimonial from GiftRocket's founder, Kapil Kale, goes on to explain how Stripe and WePay had been "really influential" in helping them understand how the payment business worked.
The advantages of networking among startups go well beyond the sharing of advice. Austin Clements, Managing Partner of On Purpose Ventures, points that networks can be a true door opener for entrepreneurs in terms of raising funding. He mentions, "VC's have big networks and know a lot of people, they can often open up doors and help founders skip steps in finding new customers and new challenges." Therefore networking puts you on a fast track.
So where do you start? What is the first step in using your network towards the benefit of your startup?
Clements suggests that you need to identify the right contacts in your network. To find the smartest people and ask who's doing something innovative.
Once you do that, start learning from them. Find out more about their work and ways. Connect with them, get to know them better, ask questions.
Benefit from their network. Are they connected to someone you would like to meet? Such as an investor or an entrepreneur? For certain, a warm introduction from someone they already know gives you better chances to meet them, than cold emailing them.
Last but not least, always make sure to reciprocate. The best networkers are givers. Referring them to a contact of yours, offering advice or insights, or even inviting them for a coffee or lunch just to thank them. Any act of reciprocity could go a long way.
Also don't forget to keep the relationship alive. Make sure to touch base once every while, to give them a thumbs up on their work, or even see how they are doing. Preserving your network active only takes a few moments of your time, yet can be of tremendous benefit to your future self and business.
In conclusion, no matter how strongly you believe in your business, make sure to give it a powerful launch or scaling platform through the right channels. These channels can come through your existing and future network.