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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Getting that first meeting in your networking rounds

I made this list as I wrote My secrets to Contact Strangers and Ask for Funding"

Heres what I did to make those initial contacts:

a) Attend networking events where you know your potential candidate is likely to be present.

b) Ask around, ask anyone. You'll be surprised when you put your mind to it, how many people you really know and how many know investors and advisors who can help.

c) Be persistent. Call or email people. Do not leave repeat voicemails for people. Try them till you get them. When you do, be courteous of whatever is keeping them busy and ask for a convenient time to call them back.

d)Follow-up diligently. Focus on the points they liked and what you are ready to change. Give them credit for ideas and they are likely to take ownership for it and support it. For example, if someone suggests that you try a new vertical, update them on progress of your calls to customers in that segment. They are likely to suggest more referrals and take you around.

I 've made it a habit to update people who helped me. I ry to send emails closer to when I believe they are likely to read it. So, if the person reads on a blackberry, send a meaningful short subject and 1 liner. If its a west coast person, write it in east coast morning so they get it as one of the first emails. Always remember them as busy people.

e) Do your homework. Today it’s easy to Google people and find their interest and background more than when I raised money in 99. You can read people's blog and know more of the real person. Then find the people you think who can help your business.

The first advisor I met was a famous, busy CEO. You'll be surprised how many CEOs read their own emails. I emailed him and he said he was too busy to meet me. I found he was speaking at a conference out of town and emailed again with the header "I'll drive you to the airport". I actually had thought through a working plan in case he agreed to it. Of course I met him at work next day. He is my inspiration to find time to help entrepreneurs today.

f) Understand the ecosystem of your business - who are the players - competitors, substitutes, who can easy move into your space, who are potential buyers, who are influential people in media, on boards of companies, current investors, famous people working in those companies etc.

Your business has the best chance of success if you are positioned well in that ecosystem. That’s one reason you see web companies offering APIs for others to build upon them and many small companies tout their large partners names.

Remember, everyone is a real person. Find them and reach them as real people. I have tracked where people spoke and followed up instead of random networking events. Many may not be as helpful or knowledgeable as you may assume, but you'll never know if you don't try.

g) I recently heard a VC mention at BarCamp Boston refering to entrepreneurs of web 1.0 companies as "scarred and having learnt capital efficiencies". He made a positive reference to such enterpreneuers. It made me realize this important point. When you meet investors, whatever you outcome, remember its a person, do not take an attitude of us vc them. It will help neither the investor nor you. I think serial enterpreneurs have experience, but its the attitude that always counts.

So, keep an open attitude , remember Colin Powel's quote " Don't carry your job too close to yourself to make it part of your identity". For enterpreneurs, its important not to get their companies so close to heart to become negative about the experience of meeting all sorts of people during the networking rounds.

h) Learn to project your contagious enthusiasim about your business details and everyone will want to talk to you.

Just remember, if you have a real solution to a real problem for a set of people who have money to pay for it, you have great potential. Every idea in the hands of different entrepreneurs makes different companies based on how they execute.

So, go about your networking with a clear plan, with respect and clear accountability for your time and you'll see yourself grow to a great entrepreneur.

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