Nurture your network; maintain your relationships. It is the innate power of a good founder's network that will turn napkins into products and products into successful businesses.
Recently, I was honored to attend StartUp Health's Healthcare Transformer Summit, co-located with Cleveland Clinic's Medical Innovation Summit. Thirty startups from around the world represented by 45 entrepreneurs convened to spend three days reflecting on the past quarter and gearing up for the future. It is from networks like this one that I personally and professionally grow most as an entrepreneur, gathering the knowledge, stamina and motivation necessary to build a business. Here are five reasons why networks are an entrepreneur's greatest asset:
1) Other entrepreneurs make the road less lonely.
The entrepreneurial network fosters a coalescence of idiosyncrasies in whatever is left of our circadian clocks, to make each entrepreneur feel connected and in sync with one another (despite simultaneously holding the titles "Chief Executive Officer" and "Head Janitor").
The people who answer my work-related, non-emergency calls at midnight without fear or judgment are the other entrepreneurs in my network. They are an invaluable source of daily support. At our most recent meeting we had a "speed update" in which we interviewed each other and offered advice. I heard "I've been there," echoing across the room regularly. The level of support was palpable. If contemplating starting a business, I highly recommend that founders seek out networks of entrepreneurs, particularly ones in a similar industry, with whom to connect. Quickly, they will likely feel like family.
2) Collaborations are important.
As startups, we have limited resources. We are advised to maintain focus, while also being nimble enough to pivot. The necessary checklist to start and run a successful business is endless; collaboration is not only valuable, but also necessary. Collaboration can be as simple as sharing resources: the best-value-for-the-dollar accountant or a great graphic designer. And it can also go much deeper, as...
3) Your network will become your partners, customers and brain trust.
Within the Startup Health Academy there are many complementary businesses. We have domain-specific startups -- mine is in mental health, for example. We have process-oriented startups, such as Care at Hand, which empowers lay caregivers to participate in care management. We have software technology-specific startups, like itMD, which focuses on cloud-based HIPAA-compliant image sharing. And we have device companies like Basis, WalkJoy and Cerora. When we put those segments of vertical knowledge into one room, we see powerful forces align, partnerships formed and deals done.
4) They finance you.
Networks do not only consist of entrepreneurs. If you are starting a business it is likely based on a past job, personal passion or domain expertise. Where did that motivation come from? How are you learning about your market? One of my angel investors is one of my first customers. Another is my former boss. One is a friend and colleague from my banking days and another is a former professor. Your network consists of people who believe in you on a personal or professional level. The inspiration and catalyst to move past a napkin idea will likely come from your network.
5) A bigger pie beats a bigger slice.
One important lesson I took from business school was the concept of integrative bargaining. One plus one can equal more than two. How? With the following ingredients: 1) a foundation of trust, 2) an understanding the others' needs, 3) the ability to speak honestly and 4) similar and/or synergic goals -- the pie of success can multiply for everyone.
The key is to understand motivations. As an example, take a business productivity app with a founder who was motivated to solve a problem he endured himself as a business owner. His motivation is not to grow a business productivity application empire -- it was to solve a problem. Another entrepreneur -- someone in his network has another business, one that distributes apps. That founder's goal is to run a large successful business. If single app-guy teams up with empire-seeking guy, everyone is happy and the two are stronger together than alone.
Increasing the size of the pie of success begins with a trusted network. If we sincerely have each other's best interests at heart, we can make more constructive decisions. There are many existing networks -- from casual ones like Meetup Groups, to the more formal incubators like the Nike Accelerator, TechStars, or Women Innovate Mobile. There is a network for every aspiring entrepreneur -- and the power of that network may just be an entrepreneur's greatest asset.