The Human Element: Networking And Raising Capital In The Startup World

There are right (and wrong) reasons to start a new venture, and I've previously discussed how innovation is extraordinarily valuable, but ultimately, the value of an idea is...

Photo: Daniel S. Williams, Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Daniel S. Williams, Source: Courtesy Photo

There are right (and wrong) reasons to start a new venture, and I’ve previously discussed how innovation is extraordinarily valuable, but ultimately, the value of an idea is lost if no one takes the actions to implement them.

So, how does one actually get started with implementation, and make progress every day?


1. Start with those you know.

In developing a new venture, there is an intrinsic desire and need to seek feedback to asses market reception and tailor your offerings accordingly. To obtain this guidance, many aspiring entrepreneurs aim to connect with key industry leaders and well-known organizations.

These individuals and firms, however, often do not have much of an interest in early-stage startups and ideas, and may even dismiss an unwanted email if it didn’t come with a recommendation from one of their trusted connections. So, who should entrepreneurs (whose startups are still in early stages) go to when seeking advice?

Considering the unlikelihood of obtaining such valuable guidance from top-name VC firms and industry leaders without connections already in place, it is often best to reach out to your personal repository of contacts. Before one can even contemplate securing serious money—that is, sizeable seed rounds or beyond—having as much quality feedback as possible about your idea is invaluable.

Not all advice needs to come from domain experts—there is value in learning how to present your startup to generalists. More often than not, friendly connections are willing to provide feedback—be it via an email conversation, or over the phone. While investors are the funding gatekeepers down the road, the general opinions of friends and family can be very helpful in perfecting how you convey your company and ideas, as clearly as possible.

Seek comments on your pitch deck, ask what needs clarification, and assess overall reactions from those familiar with startups, and those who are not.

Startups require a broad range of expertise (from operations, to sales, to marketing, to finances, to manufacturing) and chances are, there are people you are overlooking who can assist in providing help in many of these functional areas.

Along the way, you may even be introduced to others who can assist. Meeting with as many contacts and mentors as possible can serve as a tool to help advance your idea further along its journey. And who knows? Sometimes the people you have forgotten about can become key in later business development and partnerships.


2. Don’t take it personally.

Clearly, it is inappropriate to Google “VCs near me” and cold call them. While you should generally have an introduction to VC firms or important contacts, there will be times when you need to take a leap of faith and reach out to an important contact with whom you may have met only briefly or in passing.

Oftentimes, these follow-ups and re-introductions will garner no replies, but they are well worth your effort. A single success can help shape real progress for your company.


Photo: © arthurhidden, YFS Magazine
Photo: © arthurhidden, YFS Magazine

Emails tend to stack up quickly. Many people can easily fall victim to being overlooked and forgotten, especially in today’s digital environment. I am sure you can relate when you’ve sent an email and waited patiently for a response that was never received.


Repeatedly facing rejection can make the task of building relationships more daunting than it should be; but don’t take it personally.


Remember: you are likely among dozens of other founders who face the same situation. 

In spite of this, continue to develop your idea and reach out to more contacts and mentors alike. It’s a discouraging scenario that will likely play out many times before it pays off, but it’s worth it. That next email or phone call could be your most valuable contact.


3. But make it personal.

When your emails go unnoticed or ignored, don’t forget that there are other alternatives.

Today is digital. But it doesn’t mean you can ignore the personal component of business. If you connected briefly with someone, picking up a phone and verbally following up is just one of these “personal” methods that can help you stand out from the crowd. Arranging a face-to-face lunch meeting is another.

These personalized methods work because engagement is a rarity when it comes to electronic messages. Adding a personal component holds more weight, not only during the initial meeting or contact, but also in subsequent follow-ups.

If your goal is important enough to you (and your startup), picking up the phone and scheduling an in-person meeting is necessary and often it will often produce better outcomes. Offer to take your new contact out for coffee or lunch so that they aren’t forced to burn work hours speaking with you. It could end up being the best few dollars you’ve ever spent.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Cynthia S. Chen is a junior at Brown University studying applied mathematics, computer science, and economics. She has conducted research at Boston College, MIT, and The University of Michigan in many areas including mathematical knot theory, cognitive science, computer vision, and bioinformatics. Cynthia founded Xperii, a software as a service company serving researchers who work with human subjects, and currently serves as its Chief Technology Officer.

Daniel S. Williams is a graduating Advanced-Standing Senior at Boston College in the Carroll School of Management majoring in Management, with a concentration in Finance. Daniel has previously worked at several firms and startups fostering client-interactions, handling taxes, banking and filing systems, as well as marketing initiatives. He has been a part of Xperii since its inception and has served advisory roles with other ventures. Connect with @XperiiApp on Twitter.


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