I spend most of my time making the world smaller, making sure this cool guy knows the amazing team on another continent, a shadchen for entrepreneurs, if you will. Matchmaking is an art: being able to read people’s personalities, wants, needs, hopes, dreams, even traits they themselves may not realize. The only way a match works is if there is chemistry between the parties — based on how they perceive themselves and the value of the potential relationship, not necessarily the reality of either party.
So last weekend when I spoke at a wonderful conference and met an entrepreneur who was quick to share her business model with me, my goal was to figure out who she may get some value from knowing. I was thrilled to hear her concept and excitedly shared what one of my favorite startups is doing in the same industry, offering to connect them. She then inquired if it was worth her time, and that threw me for a loop.
The question of the worthiness of a meeting arose because I described the company as a startup. In her views, she is a businessperson and startups are part of a scene, their own community that is isolated and not involved in the mainstream business world. She pictures hipsters seeking credibility through acquiring Twitter and Instagram followers and collecting names to drop instead of customers. While those types of people are part of every scene, the startups I have the honor of spending my days with are all about execution and building world-class businesses.
A characteristic of a great ecosystem is when the business community embraces and supports the startup community and they become one. How do we move the needle?
Startups — I mean “new firms” — that are seeking enterprise accounts need to be ready to present themselves in a different light to even have the opportunity for an unpaid pilot within a company that could lend their hard-earned credibility to their product or service. From their perspective, your business is unproven, possibly untested, and creates a high-risk scenario if something doesn’t work as expected. Depending on the size of the company, decisions are not likely to be made by a single person so the relationship-building process with sometimes three, six or many more contacts can be exhausting. Integration issues create more roadblocks, and the IT people are often surprisingly against new technology solutions that put their jobs at risk.
On the other hand, the world changes when corporations allow startups to pitch their solutions and then are given concrete feedback to make their presentations and products better. Allowing a startup to do a pilot test will transform their business — for good or bad. Yet without these early adopters and opportunities, entrepreneurs can exhaust their resources going in the wrong direction.
We aren’t all in this together. You as startups are the ones not going out, hunched over your computer 16 hours a day, seven days a week, as your loved ones remind you how much money you could be making at a good stable job. You are the ones risking your sanity, embracing the challenge in a way only delusional optimists can (we meet every Thursday if you want to join our club). We all applaud your commitment to the impossible dream. Congrats! But if you are able to convince a major corporation to take a chance on you, don’t screw it up. Test and retest. Under-promise and over- deliver on the product AND your service. If you can’t offer exactly what you thought you could, be honest and transparent about it and work together with the company to find solutions.
The responsibility that you chose to incur in approaching a potential corporate client is daunting, and it will affect your permanent record. Anything other than an “A” performance may have a negative effect on every other entrepreneur who knocks on that door looking for an opportunity. But if you do well, that company, and the executives’ friends at the Chamber and on the golf course will start looking for startups to bring innovation and value to their businesses, too.
Susan Amat is the founder of Venture Hive, an accelerator and incubator for technology entrepreneurs in downtown Miami. You can follow her on Twitter @susanamat.