In the world of startups, even ‘normal’ circumstances are riddled with uncertainty and unforeseen challenges that make even the best laid plans go awry – not to mention during a global pandemic. But, entrepreneurs are a breed of their own, and turn roadblocks into opportunities. We know that all too well at FIFTEEN – an agency that started with two friends who left their jobs to start a business they believed in, and kept that entrepreneurial spirit alive in everything they do to this day.
With recent events shaping uncharted obstacles in the startup scene, we’ve reached out to some of our partners to get their perspectives on how to adapt to the changes we’re seeing in three facets of entrepreneurship – fundraising, networking and talent recruitment. Along the way, we’re also adding our own two cents from FIFTEEN’s Partner + CEO, Zack Schneider.
Marnie: The changes have been both positive and negative for startups trying to engage with potential investors. On the downside, entrepreneurs couldn’t make critical connections at coffee shops anymore, so they had to get creative and tap their existing contacts to network virtually.
Conversely, both entrepreneurs and investors could double, triple or even quadruple the number of meetings they could do in a day, speeding up the fundraising process dramatically.
Marnie: We haven’t changed the advice we give to entrepreneurs: be sure you know your investor before pitching by doing your homework and adjust your message accordingly. However, some investors now want to know how your business is handling the pandemic, as well as how it will affect the business’s future. Entrepreneurs should be prepared to address this, as well as concerns that these adjustments could be a distraction rather than an opportunity.
Jack: Prior to COVID, you could stop by a coffee shop where you’d see C-level execs from local Fortune 500 companies chatting with startup founders, or investors from Toronto scouting new hires for their U.S. expansion.
Now, it’s all about using what makes these meetups so magical in a digital space – to keep connections coming in meaningful and organic ways, like with in-person events. For instance, community run newsletters, open “office” hours on social media and the guts to make a cold introduction will help entrepreneurs continue to make moves.
Clark: There's two things I tell entrepreneurs about networking: 1.) Take every meeting, and 2.) Make two introductions for everyone you meet with. Embracing serendipity is a luck multiplier. "Giving First," connecting others to those that can help them on their journey, creates a debt of reciprocity. Not only will you feel good to help someone else, it will keep you on top of their mind for longer.
Because of Buffalo's networking density, chances are you will have a 1st, 2nd or 3rd connection with someone that can help. Second, we have a vast global network of ex-pats who still love Buffalo. The combination of these two amplifies Buffalonians’ access to the global market.
Zack On Nurturing Networking Connections
Trust in relationships is the most important thing. You need to care about people, even if there isn’t something to be gained. A lot of the leads can come months, even years after that initial contact. Since we took the time to help someone and didn’t ask for anything in return, they come to us first. Somehow, someway, the good you put out there comes back to you.
Jack: I think we are all thinking outside the box [in terms of networking] and that will stay, making the process more adaptable and accessible.
Clark: As humans, our relationships improve with in-person contact – but with the way the world is moving, networking will evolve into a digital/in-person hybrid approach.
Marsha: The essence of the search process has remained the same, except it’s all done remotely. However, efficiency from a time and cost perspective has improved: meeting schedules can be condensed, and there is less travel because of video conferencing. Clients are also more open to a larger pool of candidates because of their ability to offer fully or partially remote positions.
Marsha: It’s important for startups to focus on creating a culture that keeps their team engaged. Cultures thrive when leaders know their roles in designing, implementing and continuously improving a culture remotely. All leaders should promote a culture that aligns with the organization’s strategy and is reinforced by leadership. This is key, and a new skill that many leaders must learn.
Zack On Cultivating FIFTEEN’s Culture
Our culture at FIFTEEN values employees above all else. When the pandemic first hit, the focus was keeping everyone employed and accommodating their personal needs – so this was just another instance to practice what we preach. We engage our team through daily Zoom meetings, giving leadership a chance to visually connect with everyone and keep in tune with any struggles anyone may be having. While we encourage direct feedback, we also created a confidential survey to gauge how everyone was feeling, and acted on the feedback so employees knew their voices were being heard.
If there’s just one thing entrepreneurs can take away from our experts, it’s that you don’t have to go it alone. No matter the stage of your startup, or the twists and turns you’re trying to navigate, there is support available to help you, your team and your business grow. It’s a delicate balance between confidence and humility. “I think with a lot of startups, you have to have a healthy ego to bring yourself to the ‘I’m going to do this’ stage. But, as a CEO, you can’t execute on every facet of the business,” said Zack. “Learn as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to rely on experts to help bring your ideas to fruition and take you to that next level.”
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