By Elaine Horn-Ranney, PhD
CEO and Co-Founder of Tympanogen
Time is the most accessible capital new entrepreneurs have in the early stages of a startup, and the savvy ones bootstrap their time to get the most impact for their minute. Using that time to create networks of contacts to tap additional resources can magnify the impact of bootstrapping. Yet finding and meeting new people is time-consuming, and it can be frustrating to get only a perfunctory business card out of the encounter. While networking may seem straightforward, the following steps will help maximize the potential of each event.
Step 1: Articulate the startup concisely
Entrepreneurs need to be able to describe their startup in 10 words or fewer, carefully orchestrated to have immediate impact. The successful founder speaks with their listener in mind, capturing his or her attention before progressing to the next sentence. Low-stress, neutral environments—like friends, family, and local startup-focused meetups—are perfect opportunities to practice finding the right words to describe the startup, gauge the listener’s reaction, and incorporate their feedback in anticipation of more high-stakes meetings in the future.
Step 2: Adapt to the audience
Once the 10-word description is generally ready, it needs to be adapted to specific audiences. The next step is researching the types of audiences the entrepreneur needs to know (investors, customers, vendors, mentors, etc.) and understanding the vocabulary each uses. Determine the value-proposition(s) for each audience type by reading subject matter related to their point of view—this will give the entrepreneur a deeper understanding of the audiences they want to reach. Reviewing the work of the field’s thought leaders will guide the honing of the startup description to match the interests of each targeted listener. This research will also help the entrepreneur present themselves as an expert, adding credibility and confidence when speaking.
Step 3: Select events with maximum potential payoff
Now that the entrepreneur understands their different audiences, they need to identify events to reach them. Focused entrepreneurs treat networking events like market segments: they outline the people they need to meet (investors, customers, mentors, etc.) and target field-specific events to maximize the number of useful encounters. Additionally, some events are worthwhile because a specific person is attending (discovered through research in Step 2), and it is possible to arrange a meeting ahead of the event. Once at the event, asking new connections, “Who else should I meet at this event?” will help identify key people efficiently and may result in a warm introduction. Choosing events to attend based on their attendees and knowing what to accomplish at the event will economize time and help the entrepreneur propel their startup by widening their connections to more resources.
Continually polishing the startup description based on the audience and selecting specific events to attend will increase the impact of each encounter. The needs of a startup change over time, and an entrepreneur who has built a purposeful network of professionals based on predicted needs will be able to adapt and execute faster than their competitors, making the most of their earliest capital: time.
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Dr. Elaine Horn-Ranney is passionate about improving the quality of healthcare through novel devices. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Tympanogen—a startup that is simplifying surgical procedures in the ear, nose, and throat field using its innovative gel technology.