Networking (for a first job) Part 1 – Goal and attitude

The Goal

The goal is of networking is NOT to find a job – it is to put yourself in a position where you can get lucky and a job can find you.  So with each person you meet, you need to add to your knowledge and awareness of the “scene” and also find one or two other persons to meet.

Therefore, you need to come to networking with the right set of questions and answers at your fingertips.  The questions are overtly designed to get you the right information and connections to continue your quest, and subtly to show you as the kind of curious and involved person that your contact would love to hire if he/she had a job.

Your Attitude

 But before we cover your preparation for these questions, there is one key factor that must be established:  ATTITUDE.  Your attitude and approach to networking has to be relentlessly positive and even have a touch of BS where you don’t actually feel so positive.  You need to avoid the trap of aimlessness, unsureness, wishy-washy-ness that is probably what most recent college graduates are feeling.

This is especially hard because many of the folks with whom you will be meeting will want to provide you sympathy and support for the difficult task you are undertaking, particularly in this economic climate.

The best way to accomplish this “attitude adjustment” is to practice it like it was a role in a play, until that character becomes you and you can switch her on and off.  This may sound weird, but there is no room for timidity or uncertainty in the process.  That is not to say that you can’t have real questions that the “target” can answer – they don’t expect you to be as focused as they are, and they love being helpful.  But you can’t appear to be wasting their time by requiring them to help you find your focus.  Your focus will appear on its own as this process unfolds.

How to do a startup company analysis – Calacanis style

People have all kinds of reactions to Jason Calacanis, but none of them mild.  I happen to enjoy his cut-to-the-chase way of looking at things, and his east coast bluster.  It’s like he is challenging me as reader/listener to an argument, knowing that the results will be better for our disagreements – as opposed to the wunderkind Silicon Valley bloggers who just want to show how smart (and rich) they are and how little they care about what you think.

Anyway, I provide this introduction because I think his short company analyses based around his “Launch” conference/business are as good as it gets, and we can learn a lot from his approach and style.

Like this one for a new company called Color:  short, dirty but effective analysis

Some valuable links to help with the customer discovery process

Lots of talk about “getting out of the building” as we test all of our hypotheses about who is our customer and what does he/she want or need. The following links are a helpful way to put some meat on the bones, especially if this is the first time you have engaged in such a process. This can also help us avoid ones natural tendency to conduct an impersonal “survey” to avoid the process.  The real challenge is keeping your biases to a minimum impact – more on that later.

How to think about customer development interviews

Some tips on how to find folks to interview

How to think about what you should be learning (and thus the questions . . . )

Making the perfect investor pitch – in 3 little stories

You’ve gotten the meeting—now don’t blow it.

There’s nothing more frustrating for me than when, after listening to an entrepreneur talk about his business for 15 minutes, I still have to ask him the basic questions:
  • What do you actually do for your customer? Who are your customers/markets?

By this time, I’ve sat through either techno-talk or a disjointed conglomeration of PowerPoint slides (or worse, both), when all I really wanted the entrepreneur to do was tell me a story. Continue reading “Making the perfect investor pitch – in 3 little stories”

Why work at a startup?

I have students ask me this a lot and I sometimes have a hard time capturing the incredibly different feel between a startup and a “real” company. In the end, I think it is the ability to make decisions that actually create a difference, which this recent grad describes so well. Recommended reading, and share with your parents if they are afraid that you are passing up that once in a lifetime opportunity to rise up through the ranks at BDC.**

** Big Dumb Company

Some practical tips on financial projections

Financial projections from a startup are, essentially, a paradox. Almost everything is an assumption, and there aren’t any historical trends to project outward. Furthermore, if you could produce believable industry averages to build from, I’d assume either you’re in a relatively mature market or you’re a “me too” company—and neither is of much interest. Your goal in this delicate balancing act is to find the investor’s “Greed-spot” . . . Continue reading “Some practical tips on financial projections”

What is competitive advantage when it comes to getting investors?

When you boil it down, you really have to convince an investor of only two things: (1) the war you’re fighting is worth winning and (2) you’re the one who is going to win. I want to focus on the latter here, and will address the war itself later.

Loosely construed, your odds of winning a battle or a war are based upon your competitive position or, ideally, your competitive advantage. Unfortunately, as a startup, your competitive advantages will be generally limited—and subject to some skepticism. So play it straight in your business plan and cover some or all of the following, making sure you put your biggest strength first: Continue reading “What is competitive advantage when it comes to getting investors?”

Some tips for your customer development interviews

These are just some common sense tips to help you get started:

  1. Schedule a time for the interview in advance.  Let the person know that you only need 15-20 minutes if it is over the phone, 20 or so if in person.  If the interview goes well, you can always run over, but you don’t want to put people off from the start.
  2. Make it clear why you are doing this.  If you are a student, play that card. Explain briefly the area you are trying to learn about and why?
  3. Do not call a potential “competitor” and be deceitful about your purpose.
  4. Prepare a “line of questioning” in advance.  You don’t need to stick exactly to it, but it can serve as a good framework.
  5. Ask “open-ended” questions.  Follow-up with “why,” or “tell me more about that,” etc.
  6. Don’t guide people into the answer you hope to get.  Give them freedom to give their opinion and use their expertise.
  7. Whenever possible, do this in teams of two – one to lead the discussion and the other to take notes and to insure in the end that you have covered what you set out to learn.
  8. Write out your notes immediately after the interview – don’t let it get stale.
  9. If you are a member, post your interview notes to LeanLaunchLab right away as well.
  10. Ask if they would mind if you followed up in case there are soother questions or to share the “results” of the process in the form of your product offering or whatever.
  11. Also, ask if there is anyone else they think you should talk to that they feel would be helpful.