As a startup founder, time is one of your most precious commodities. With a never ending list of to-dos that seem more directly tied to your product roadmap, sales pipeline or next fundraise, it’s easy for networking to slip to the back burner. But networking – smart networking – should always have a place on your to-do list. When you make time to build relationships with the right people, you open yourself up to new insights and opportunities that may not come your way otherwise.
In Part 1 of The 13 Kinds of People You Need in Your Network, I talked about networking with purpose and having a strategy to seek out specific types of people for your personal network. Adopting this approach ensures that you keep your network top of mind, while making you a stronger leader. Ultimately you’ll have a circle of people who will expand your horizons to learn about new trends, expose you to new and exciting opportunities, challenge your thinking and help you achieve your full potential –personally and professionally.
In Part 1, we shared the first six “must-have” types of people for your network:
- The visionary
- The realist
- The fellow entrepreneur
- The creative
- The devil’s advocate
- The cheerleader
Without further ado, here’s Part 2 with the remaining 7 on our list.
The Industry Insider
Industry insiders are always in the know about trends, announcements and news. They know the industry inside and out, and they can be invaluable resources to tap into when you’re looking for perspectives about what’s on the rise or what challenges you’ll need to overcome in the space. If they can’t personally help you, they’ll use their industry connections and know-how to point you in the right direction.
Connectors always seems to know the right people or have the right information in their back pocket. If you catch them at a conference, they’re probably “working the room” and making it look easy. Connectors typically have jam-packed schedules, and networking is usually included as a day-to-day priority. They are energized by the opportunity to meet people, create authentic relationships and learn. But more importantly, they’re experts at recognizing opportunities for collaboration or common points of interest that others may not catch. Connectors are likely more than willing to share relevant information or make a warm introduction with no expectations in return.
Mentors are trusted advisors that you deeply respect. Your mentors know you well and have context around your goals and journey thus far (often before you ventured into the startup world). Mentors will deliver direct and honest feedback, constructive criticism and suggestions for growth – all tailored to you. Often the mentor is a role model – someone who’s been down the road you’re traveling and achieved the level of success you’re pursuing.
Coaches help you grow and navigate big decisions. They come with experience, and they will also bring an objective lens. Unlike longer-term relationships you may have with your mentors, coaches come into the picture at specific times (and for shorter time periods) – likely when you’re at a crossroads, navigating a transition or need to make a decision. They will let you lay everything you’re thinking about on the table, listen intensely and ask thoughtful questions – but their greatest strength is their ability to get you to reach your own conclusions.
The Change Agent
Change agents not only accept change, but embrace it. They are adaptable by nature and view change as an exciting opportunity for reinvention or disruption. If you’re the leader of a disruptive startup, you’re likely already doing things a bit differently – and shattering the status quo or pushing comfort zones in the process. Not only do you need to be comfortable with change, but you have to find ways to make customers and investors comfortable with it too. Having a change agent in your life will help you find ways to generate buy-in among key stakeholders, while managing the natural discomfort that comes with transformation. They’ll keep you focused on the positives when you need it most – reminding you why turning what’s “normal” on its head will be worth it in the end.
The Moral Compass
Moral compasses can guide you through tough decisions. Even if you strive to do business the right way and make good decisions, it’s helpful to have the moral compass in your network. When you are focused on hundreds of moving parts for your startup and a never-ending list of decisions, sometimes it’s beneficial to bring in an outside perspective for some of the more difficult choices you need to make. The moral compass can help you engrain ethical business practices in your culture, resist the temptation of cutting corners, eliminate fluff that doesn’t belong and always help you clearly distinguish right from wrong.
The Rising Star
Rising stars are your opportunity for reverse mentorship. They are eager to learn from your experience, and will keep you in the habit of reflecting on lessons learned, career milestones and accomplishments – big and small. Usually younger or less-tenured professionals, these network contacts will bring fresh perspectives and ideas, because they see things through a different lens than you do. They will push you to see the world in new ways, and you’ll do the same for them. Finally, it’s an opportunity for you to pay it forward. You’ve had mentors there to guide you – now it’s your turn to help someone else.
A Few Final Pieces of Advice
- Some people in your network play multiple roles
You may know someone who’s both creative and a visionary. Or a change agent that’s a master of playing devil’s advocate. In more cases than not, people don’t fit perfectly into one of these categories.
- You want more than one of each type in your network
If you’re new to the startup and venture capital ecosystem, you may want to consider finding several great connectors. Or let’s say you’re starting a business in an industry that you don’t have a lot of experience in – look for several industry insiders who can give you multiple points of view to really immerse yourself in that space.
- When it comes to your network, don’t just set it and forget it
Finding all of these types of people for your network is challenging, and the work’s not over after the initial introduction. Building a relationship and establishing trust will take time and energy, and it won’t happen overnight. In addition, remember to frequently step back and re-evaluate your network. Think about who you’ve established strong connections with and where you have gaps – then prioritize on finding the right people to fill those gaps.
- Networking is a two-way street (even if it may not feel like it at first)
As a startup founder, it may feel like you’re the one needing more advice, asking for more referrals or soliciting more advice. Reciprocity will come over time, but it’s never too early to ask someone how you can help them meet their goals or learn about something they’re really interested in. Asking these types of questions early on will give you meaningful ways to build upon the relationship down the road.
A diverse and powerful network can make all the difference in your journey as a startup founder. Looking ahead at all you want to create and accomplish with your company, you need the right people to help get you there.