One of the more exciting aspects of attending networking events as a startup is the opportunity to talk to other organisations about your ideas, especially when they show interest in your product or service. An eager exchange of business cards may follow alongside the mention of a potential trial, purchase or collaboration. The perfect opportunity to secure awareness, interest and action in one go, right?
Yet, a few months in and you may still be waiting for a response or evidence of action. Chances are you’re starting to wonder whether the organisation was ever genuinely interested in the idea at all.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon for startups. Too often, well-intended thoughts voiced at networking events or on other occasions do not substantiate into action. This is often not deliberate. Organisations do not always have time, capacity or sufficient staff to support or implement new ideas. Indeed, not all organisations employ staff specifically dedicated to fostering collaborations and sourcing new products or services. This means that the person you met at an event is likely to prioritise other key job responsibilities above the implementation (or other calls to action) of your business idea. Despite the best intentions at the event, once returned at the office, the representative reverts to business as usual.
Of course, this is not the case for every organisation and at Newcastle Startup Week we have witnessed some great examples of initial conversations leading to collaborations. However, the message remains that entrepreneurs must understand that expressions of interest are not guaranteed buy-ins. Unfortunately, we have witnessed some examples of pre-startups mistaking initial interest for genuine demand and proof of a viable business model. This then affected their projections, business plans, and future conversations with other organisations and potential investors.
There are different actions startups can take to manage expectations. Firstly, startups can set mini deadlines or ‘action points’ to determine whether organisations have capacity to dedicate time to the project. For example, they may ask an organisation to send something over by a certain timeframe. Secondly, startups can ask organisations about time and job commitments and how their call-to-action fits within these processes. To better understand organisational processes, startups can also ask whether there are any potential objections or concerns toward trialing the business or providing other forms of support.
Another action entrepreneurs can take is to ask for a letter of intent, which aims to ‘formalise’ the organisation’s intention to support the pre-startup when it is ready to launch. This method is most useful at a later stage when talks advance and entrepreneurs are looking for genuine evidence of buy-in prior to launch.
Some methods, then, will be more useful to trial at earlier stages than others. Light-hearted networks are not always the right places for scrutiny and are usually aimed at igniting potential new business relationships that may grow into collaborations or partnerships. However, to manage expectations, it is crucial that entrepreneurs are somewhat aware of the differences between initial enthusiasm, intent and practical capacity, and are able to clarify their own position when the time is right.
What do you think?
Do you have any tips or advice on how to turn potential interest into action? Please leave your comments below…