Have you decided to jump in the roller coaster of joining the startup university? Then you should start thinking about acquiring your social capital. With social capital I mean your whole network of potential customers, advisors, supporters, partners, co-founders and employees. Where networking is optional for pursuing a regular career, it is crucial for an entrepreneurial career. Startups do not usually follow an established process of announcing jobs on a job board. Knowing people personally always has an edge because the cultural fit is more important in a startup. The best opportunities emerge through personal connections.
Acquiring the required social capital is a long process (think several months to several years). You might have a fairly good starting point, but you shouldn’t try to speed things up too much in this phase. Sure you might have a great idea and you might be afraid that someone “steals” the idea, but for sure things won’t happen as fast as you think. Also becoming an entrepreneur with the wrong team you will surely fail, no matter how good the idea is.
Regarding networking it is important to not only forge the connections, but also build relationships. There are a lot of people attending networking events and forming a lot of connections, but who have no idea on how to utilize these connections. It might be a good idea to already think about the relevant categories you want to put the different connections in (e.g. advisors, investors, co-founders) as well as thinking about what kind of people you really need to meet for making your idea a success. Think also who you really enjoy working with, also regarding the investors. This also usually requires a deeper relationship than just switching business cards.
Collecting social capital will continue over the whole life cycle of the startup. It is important to recognize that the only thing you really need to find in this stage is a superb founding team that can take the startup off the ground. It is easier to join one, than to build one.
Don't do the mistake of getting stuck mingling with your peers. Search for the contacts you need, aim high and surround yourself with people who are smarter and more experienced than yourself. If you want to build a world-class team you probably need to look for people worldwide. At least if you're not lucky enough to live and work in places like the Silicon Valley.
There are a lot of people there who are interested in working with a cool idea with you, but not ready to become full time entrepreneurs. The hard thing is to find those who are truly ready to leave their jobs and commit to building something for several years. For example building a successful SaaS company usually takes 7-10 years. When trying to build up your team and measuring potential co-founders, there are two things you should consider separately. First are they ready to become entrepreneurs and work focused for at least a few years with you. In case they are a borderline case here, it probably isn't worth investing a lot of time to convince them. These people might very well end up not wanting to be entrepreneurs after all, when times get tough. The second question is the more obvious whether they are a good fit to join you.
Now it is important to realize that even if you aren't aspiring to be a co-founder, you should still consider the capabilities and fit of the startup founding team. If you're an early employee in a startup you're still assuming a lot of risk and you should aim joining a team where you provide value, you're a good fit and the team has the right skill-set to succeed.
- Networking is a life-long process which is necessary for your success. Be patient and don't settle.
- Don't focus on business card switching without any follow-up. Build strong relationships with people you enjoy spending time with.
- You don't need everything to start, just make sure you have a great founding team to join.
- Go beyond your friends. Aim high and get to know the world-class people who are as committed as you are.
In my next post I will go to more depth in what kinds of skills a startup founding team should have and how to determine what is a good fit for a team.