With a big chunk of my time devoted to accelerating Upstate NY’s startup ecosystem, I think a lot about how starting new relationships is critical to making a successful startup community.
The ease in which strangers can drop into a place like Silicon Valley and meet the right people is a dynamic that outsiders aspire to, but don’t seem to put much energy towards figuring out in second and third tier markets like ours.
So among other initiatives, I’ve been playing up the importance of building relationship capital when I’m interacting with first time entrepreneurs who are usually pretty light when it comes to the relationship network they need to build a company.
Relationship impact may not be obvious at initial interaction
Any entrepreneur who has built a serious company will have their own stories about key people they met along the way who ended up having a significant impact on their success, yet their initial interaction seemed fortuitous.
In contrast, I’m seeing a lot of first time entrepreneurs focus maniacally on pursuing relationships they perceive will lead to capital, but with too narrow a focus that puts them at risk of overlooking others who might be possible mentors, advisors and referral sources. These are the relationships that eventually lead to capital providers, customers, channel partners or other highly prized relationships vital for a startup’s success.
A person I just met might open one door, many or none but I won’t know what will unfold until a relationship deepens over time. That means planting lots of seeds, nurturing the right first time interactions into relationships – especially with people having a mix of capability and interest in advancing a dialogue.
Relationship Capital Fueled By Being Proactive & Crossing Boundaries
Figuring out who to meet has never been easier. In this transparent world with such readily accessible information about people in business, how hard is it to come with a top 10 list of people that would be good to know, or the intel on who their friends are or where they hang out?
Supplementing a targeted list of people would be organizations/groups and events populated by people likely to include the profile of those having some things in common with your interests.
Again, a bit of research is needed – just don’t fall into the common trap of thinking that the only relevant groups are those somewhere within immediate view such as your university, local area or industry.
Developing high impact relationships are well worth the time to invest in targeting, crossing boundaries to new organizations and even traveling as needed to interact with a group of like minded others to tap into new networks and forge new relationships.
You give before you get
The principle of reciprocity captures the essence of what it takes to turn a chance encounter into the first stages of what could become a productive relationship.
Think about the casual interactions you might have at a reception event. In these settings, the most successful people I know are naturally curious and usually not the ones opening up unless questioned by others. Instead they query you about your interests, often times subtly honing in on the areas where they might possibly be able to help you.
Can you uncover something in your dialogue to offer up (even if at a later time) to that successful person asking you these questions?
Once you know more about the other person, your give might be a relevant article or post you came across, a recommended place or event or best of all – an introduction to someone else or a resource that you’ve figured out would be helpful to who you’re talking with.
Planting lots of seeds and nurturing a whole bunch of recent contacts into productive relationships takes work that most people won’t do. Those who are truly connectors are organized with disciplined contact management and calendaring of follow ups.
In the TriNet world of referral generated sales, we learned to get highly systematic in building processes around keeping our reps constantly identifying and nurturing their top relationships – a foundational element of our building a referral based culture and company.
More recently, that systematic approach to relationship building is incorporated into IntroNet – an app which helps people connect others and track what happens with the introductions they make.
Any one of these relationship development tactics would produce some results in helping meet and come to know more people who could help you.
Put them together and you’ll be on your way towards achieving that next big thing, no matter what that might be.