Recently, Founders Network conducted a webinar about Networking for Startup Success with Kevin Ramani, an ex-NASA engineer who is now the founder and coach of Ramani Ventures. He helps CEOs and startup founders reach their go-to-market fit, create a sales pipeline and scale their businesses into high performance organizations and has worked with many startups including our fnMembers.
As a mechanical engineer, Ramani worked with NASA on the Phoenix mission. This was an exciting mission where water was discovered on Mars. He also worked on the Curiosity Rover. It might seem like an unusual shift to go from working on rovers to founding a startup — but it’s not rocket science. ;-)
Networking for Investors and Customers
In 2009, Kevin founded his first startup in the food delivery space. Before companies like DoorDash and GrubHub made online food delivery omnipresent in our lives, Kevin was already there. Unfortunately, he was too ahead of his time. Kevin went door-to-door to 500 restaurants. He was refused 500 times. The world just wasn’t ready.
His second startup was in the fitness industry. He even convinced big names like Google and Apple to come aboard. It was successful, but not sustainable. Eventually, the company ran out of money and folded.
Although he failed, all of these opportunities provided him with ample learning experience about the value of networking.
In the past, he had cold-pitched every VC in Silicon Valley (over 1700 of them). It didn’t work and he got very little traction. But then he started working with ElasticSales, and everything changed. This is when he learned the power of networking to grow his startup.
From Startup to Sales… And Networking
ElasticSales was built as sales-as-a-service. It was agile and scalable. In fact, the company went from 0 to 2 million in 10 months. After that, however, they ran into scaling problems. This led them to pivot and concentrate on the sales-based CRM that they had built, which they rebranded as Close.io. Close.io was entirely bootstrapped and it grew quickly.
In that time, Kevin learned even more about the right way to go about networking. Had he applied the lessons you’ll learn here about networking for startup success, he notes that he would have been far more successful. With that being said, here’s exactly what he recommends in order to get the best possible results from your networking endeavors.
How Can Networking Make My Startup Successful?
This may be obvious, but let’s go there. As founders, we always have to be networking.
Whether we’re looking for investors, customers, new hires, partnerships or even support, building and nurturing our networks can literally make-or-break our companies.
They can help reinforce that professional trust that you have that encourages investors to invest money with you, customers to hire you, teammates to join you and more. Your network can clear the path for any objective, saving you time and money while removing some of the friction along your journey.
Warm Networking Yields Better Results
There are two distinctive ways to go about networking for startup success. First, there’s the cold networking method. This is usually events, conferences, trade shows and other meet-and-greets. Almost everyone has been to one and they’re not likely to pan out to much of anything.
Then there’s warm networking, which is going to be the focus of this article.
Warm networking is built from referrals. Someone knows someone that can benefit from your product or service.
Now, you may have the network, but already think “they don’t know the people I want to reach.” That may not necessarily be true. In order to find out, you have to ask yourself two very important questions:
- Who do you want to connect with?
- Who is your target in search of? For example, VCs want founders. VPs of Sales want sales reps.
The first step is to find the people in your network, categorize them and keep high standards for maximum value. Next, arrange to meet with them (even virtually).
Setting Up The Meeting
Kevin sent out the following note to those people in his network that he felt would best be suited to give referrals.
During the meeting, there are three key points you want to keep in mind:
- Share your story, but also make plenty of room for theirs.
- Get to know them. Show genuine interest.
- Have different-sized versions of your story (not everyone has a lot of time to listen to the whole thing!)
Before the person you’re talking to asks you, “so how can I help you?”, you want to be the first to ask the question:
What Do You Want?
Now, you can phrase this any way you like. This is the only question that matters. What do they want more of?
The fact is, everyone wants something. You have to help them to get what you want.
The important thing is that you follow through ASAP by referring people to them or otherwise helping them the way that they’ve expressed needing.
When you ask them for help, the genuine effort that you’ve put into helping them first gets triggered. It triggers reciprocity. The difference is that you work with them to brainstorm, right then and there. Too often, we get hit with the “hmm, let me think about it”. This has no doubt happened to you. You may have even done it to others. And while you genuinely may have wanted to help, it sunk to the bottom of the priority pile.
Reciprocity: It’s so important to actively brainstorm with them right there; it shows that you’re actively engaged and that you want to help.
In exchange, you’re getting their gears turning wanting to repay the effort, building trust and rapport.
In addition to this, use a good CRM to track your results: who have you reached out to and who responded? Who should you reconnect with, and when? Continuing to do this will not only help you build your network, but will also help you help them. Creating reciprocity is the best way to network with others for startup success. It’s also the best way to get the results you want while helping other people get what they want.
Try it out these networking tips to grow your startup, and see how it works for you!