It is accepted as a given that resource-starved entrepreneurs typically need to network to get what they need at below-market rates. Much has been written that supports the notion that accessing social networks, and developing better networking skills, will increase the entrepreneur’s probability of success. At the same time, there is a large body of literature that suggests that the link between networking and networks, and success, is not so direct and thus the time-starved entrepreneur is left to wonder how much time he should put into networking activities (perhaps to the detriment of other internally-focused activities), when he should do it, with whom, and whether he has the necessary competence.
My research question was: Are there a small number of specific networking activities that a first-time entrepreneur must focus on in order to increase his chances of success?
This research with 644 entrepreneurs from around the world has shown that there is no networking activity or competence that, alone or even with a small number of other factors, could measurably increase the entrepreneur’s chances of success. However, if the entrepreneur can get competing managers to talk about him, this will have an impact on his reputation (but he must also pay attention to his comfort in following up contacts, assure that people get value from conversations with him, be regularly in contact with people outside his team, and regularly attend events expressly for networking purposes). Further, having the right network in place at the time of startup launch is a strong foundation for the acquisition of paying clients. Confidence has an impact on networking success (measured by how much we learn from people outside our immediate team). The entrepreneur’s comfort with networking does not have an impact on success. The act of learning from people outside of your startup has an impact on the startup’s reputation. The entrepreneur’s past startup experience helps in the acquisition of paying clients, as does the breadth of past professional experience.
Startup founders lacking these competencies and experiences should consider mitigating their weaknesses through hiring employees who can compensate or by utilizing their board of directors or advisory board.
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