Calling All Connectors

Re-post from Tech Capital blog

By Jacqui Murphy

Lots of discussion/blogging/articles over the past few weeks about entrepreneurs and innovation in Canada. Here’s where we weighed in: Tim Jackson: Entrepreneurship and the upside to a downturn

The consensus appears to be that yes, we do have great entrepreneurs and great innovation in this country. I for one believe this is true and have worked with a good number of entrepreneurs who have built (with their teams of course) very successful companies.

Lately, I’ve been spending a ton of time thinking about what we as a venture capital community and the broader technology industry can do to support these entrepreneurs. When I look around at the venture capital ecosystem in Canada (and elsewhere) mostVCs are either out of cash or have very little cash left to invest (there are obviously exceptions and some VCs have raised funds in the last couple of years). I’m not sure that the majority of entrepreneurs have heard this message. When I look at the amount of time and effort that Canadian entrepreneurs invest in pitching their companies to VCs (here and elsewhere), it makes me want to scream. If we could harness this time and effort and direct it towards selling products and services to real customers, imagine how much revenue all of these companies could generate.

Looking at the funding process today, entrepreneurs pitch their companies to VCs who pitch to LPs. Wouldn’t it be great if entrepreneurs never had to pitch VCs? What if we turned the process on its head and built such great companies that entrepreneurs could choose whether or not to fund their companies with venture capital? And what if VCs had to demonstrate value beyond money for entrepreneurs to want them to invest in their companies…? And wouldn’t it be great if VCs never had to pitch LPs to raise new funds because of off the chart returns? :)

So how can we help entrepreneurs beyond providing capital?

* By helping them generate revenue more quickly *

Here’s what I’m proposing:

1. Entrepreneurs/companies:

  • Map out your industry ecosystem: a) Types of companies you sell to (e.g. carriers) b) Types of companies you would partner with in order to sell (e.g. network equipment vendors)
  • Identify the specific companies that fall into this ecosystem: a) Potential customers b) Potential partners
  • Identify the specific person/people at each of these companies that you need to get in front of in order to sell your products (great tools for this include LinkedInand Jigsaw). Figure out where these people are located. Group by geography. Plan trips to visit these regions.
  • Search on LinkedIn to identify “connectors” who can introduce you to these potential customers/partners so that you can set up initial calls and then face-to-face meetings with them.
  • Commit to building out your LinkedIn rolodex and sharing the connections you make with other entrepreneurs.

Now, these first few steps can be difficult and will take a significant amount of time. If anyone can come up with a cost effective way to help entrepreneurs work through this process, please weigh in below in the comments…

Communitech is one organization that has been supportive in finding creative ways to help entrepreneurs work through this process.

2. VCs and other supporters of entrepreneurs:

  • Spend some time building out our LinkedIn rolodexes (many of us know many more people than the ones we currently have listed in LinkedIn).
  • Highlight the market sectors where we have experience on our LinkedIn profiles.
  • Respond to entrepreneurs who reach out to us for introductions. Go for coffee to learn more about them and their businesses. Introduce them to potential customers/partners and others who can help them generate revenue more quickly.

I spoke with a group of entrepreneurs last week on this topic — “Leveraging Non-Existing Networks Into Guerrilla Revenue Generating Strategies”. Many were skeptical at the beginning of the discussion but by the end, there was a real energy in the room.

I understand why people might hesitate to open up their rolodexes and connect people.

My response:

1. I am not proposing that we destroy our reputations by spamming our rolodexes with Canadian content :)    I am proposing that we spend a bit of quality time, interacting with entrepreneurs in our sectors and connecting them with potential customers/partners when/where we feel comfortable doing so.

2. We would be connecting our contacts with entrepreneurs who have developed products and services that have real value propositions. Our contacts may well benefit from being introduced to these entrepreneurs.

3. What good are our relationships if we don’t leverage them? We become more powerful and influential by sharing and connecting.

“He who receives ideas from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me” – Thomas Jefferson (tip of the hat to Michael Masnick)

Some ideas to get started:

1. I’ve been told that there are about 300,000 expat Canadians living in Silicon Valley (yes, 300,000). Have you reached out to a Canadian expat today?

2. There’s a small but mighty group called Canada Connects on LinkedIn. Same objective as this post. Please join to help get our Canadian entrepreneurs on steroids.

I’ll be the first to admit this plan is not perfect. Constructive criticism with suggestions for improvement are absolutely appreciated.

 

For more about this post please go to the Tech Capital blog

Comments already in when first posted by Jacqui:

  1. Derek Smyth Says: 

    Jacqui,

    All good ideas. You’ve inspired me to join Canada Connects.

    ds

  2. As someone who’s dedicated himself to helping Canadian startups, I’m all over this. Just joined the Linkedin group.

  3. Amen,

    Capital is only one piece of the puzzle. Starting to layout the pieces are key.

    * Mentorship
    * Networking/Connections
    * Attention
    * Training
    * Goals and Timelines

    I’ve started to think about what it takes to leverage resources locally (my thoughtshttp://www.startupnorth.ca/2009/04/13/incubators-accelerators-and-ignition/ ). And you are 100% correct that we need to help connect entrepreneurs and build successful companies. The connections are for business development, hiring, marketing, etc. We so often fall back on a consulting mentality, i.e., if you want access to my network you should pay me to have it. This is just wrong. A percentage of something worth zero is worth zero. We need to encourage and enable young entrepreneurs.

    But this requires that they have a developed product and they need help getting to somewhere bigger.

  4. Great post Jacqui, I couldn’t agree with your comments more.

    “I am proposing that we spend a bit of quality time, interacting with entrepreneurs in our sectors and connecting them with potential customers/partners when/where we feel comfortable doing so”

    As somene that’s been on the other side of the table – every time I’ve chatted with a VC/Angel it’s been specifically looking for that. Yes money is nice, but most of the time an entrepreneur will quickly realize they aren’t ready for cash yet, and just need some insight, validation of their ideas, and some introductions.

    Your comments about opening your networks apply to more than just the VC scene – most business owners (including the ones funded by VCs) would agree that by providing a lot of value to their target customer base, they improve their customers, their industry and their position in the industry. It’s a win-win-win.

    Finally – regarding your question about identifying targets, this definitely can be automated. Social Networks + Quick & Dirty Semantic Dictionary + NAICS/SIC Code Business Listing + Sales Force API = Automated Lead Gen Solution. Just need someone to find the time to put the code together.

     

  1. Jacqui, very interesting. I think the main problem with many Canadian start-ups is the lack of sales ability/experience. If companies don’t have VC money to build out a direct sales channel, just partner. I am surprised how many times companies could have survived/flourished if instead of trying to reinvent the wheel they would’ve partnered with the right company with the channels into their customers. It’s all about SALES at the end of the day so let’s not be greedy! ;)

  1. April 14th, 2009