Over the last 7 years, I have been involved in more startups than most entrepreneurs will in their lifetime. That’s not to say that I’m an “expert” in entrepreneurship (or an expert in anything for that matter), but I certainly have had a pretty diverse set of entrepreneurial experiences for a 27 year-old. I have learned a lot of important lessons, one of which is that every entrepreneur needs to build his or her startup family.
What’s a startup family? Well, technically I just made it up, so it doesn’t really have a definition, but to me a startup family is a group of entrepreneurs you can go to at any time about any problem, no matter where you are in your career. For me, this group consists of former business partners, CEOs I have worked with as a consultant, advisors, strategic partners and more. These are the people you can go to when you are trying to raise money for your startup and need to get connected to investors, when you’ve hit a wall with the progress of your company and need some input or even when your circumstances have changed (as they often do) and you decide it’s time for you to find a new startup to work on or even a side job to help pay the bills. Your startup family will point you in the right direction.
This may just sound like “networking”, but it’s really much deeper than that. These people go above and beyond to help you out on more than one occasion, often times without any direct incentive (financially or otherwise). In return, you do the same for them, doing anything you can to help them achieve their goals, even if it means having to take important time away from your own work at a critical time in your business. While all of this can take quite a bit of time, I have found it to be the #1 asset I have accumulated during my career to date.
How to Build Your Startup Family
Especially if you’re starting from scratch, it can take years to build, but perhaps not as many years as you might think. To me there are a handful of main steps to follow to make this happen:
1) Seize the opportunity: How many entrepreneurs or startup professionals have you met in your lifetime? If you’re running a new company and are going about it the right way, chances are that number is approximately “a lot”. Each one of these is a major opportunity to build a relationship that will benefit both of you for the rest of your lives, regardless of what business opportunities exist between the two of you along the way. Most people don’t really take advantage of these opportunities, and instead only look at the relationship at face value based on how the relationship can influence what’s happening in their business today.
2) Leave a lasting impression: Chances are (especially if you’re a young entrepreneur), you’re not going to impress fellow entrepreneurs/CEOs with a list of accomplishments. You need to show very clearly that you are passionate about what you’re doing, that you have the determination needed to get it done, and above all else, that you really respect them and the time they are spending with you. Be genuine and good things will happen.
3) Nurture the relationship: This is where most people fall short. As you are continuing along your path, you need to keep track of all the relationships you have started and keep the ball rolling. Send brief updates about your progress to people you have met, and ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Show an interest in their goals, not just your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, but choose your battles. Everyone is as busy as you are (if not more so), and you want to show them you are considerate of their time.
4) Make introduction suggestions: This is a big one for me. Most people won’t ask for an introduction to someone unless they have a very specific purpose for doing so. However, if you are able to see value in two of your contacts meeting each other, suggest it to both of them. If they bite, make the intro. They won’t expect anything specific to come from meeting your contact, but especially if they end up making a life-long friend or someone who helps them on a business deal, they’ll never forget that you were the one that selflessly made that happen for them.
5) Leave things on good terms: Sometimes things just don’t work out like you thought they would. When this happens, some people can experience a certain level of frustration and potentially hurt feelings over the situation. It’s your job to go above and beyond to try and set things right and leave the relationship on good terms. It’s not always a guarantee that you can make this happen, but most people will at least appreciate your sincerity and the effort you put in to trying to make things right between you.
To close this out, I’d like to thank all of the people who continue to help me along my path as an entrepreneur. If you’re reading this and think it’s at all possible that I might consider you part of my startup family, you’re right. You have helped me in more ways than you know, so please don’t forget to ask me for help when you need it. Succeeding together is what it’s all about.
About the author
Corey Kossack is a Managing Partner at Game Change Ventures, focusing on partnering and consulting with startups in the areas of social media, consumer Internet, e-commerce and mobile technology. Corey is also a Partner at Game Change Ventures’ first Internet startup, Addoway, an online marketplace for fashion, collectibles and more that helps you buy and sell with your friends and the merchants they trust. Formerly Corey was one of the world’s largest retailers on eBay, built a $1M company from scratch at age 23, has led multiple startups and received numerous awards for his entrepreneurial achievements.