Without a strong professional network, it's virtually impossible to build a successful startup. But, which types of people should you be targeting?
The following connections can give you a considerable leg up in your venture, especially if you can nab them all.
Connectors: These people know a lot of other people. They are also consistently meeting new people and tend to connect these individuals with one another. When you are able to connect with connectors, you can easily extend your reach. You will also enjoy one-to-one introductions, which can be much more effective than blindly going to events.
Mentors: These people have already been down the path you are taking. They are successful, experienced and willing to offer guidance and advice without asking for much - if anything - in return. If there is someone in your personal or professional life for whom you have tremendous respect, reach out to them. If no one comes to mind, you may be able to find an ideal candidate using resources such as SCORE Mentors, federal counseling programs and small business development centers.
Champion: These people are similar to mentors, except they are more willing to take an active role in your success. A champion provides helpful advice based on his or her personal experience. At the same time, this person should also be willing and able to provide business-related leads. An ideal champion will talk you up and help you connect with the business community, even if it means taking a risk on you.
Rising Stars: These tend to be young people with major potential but little to no experience. By taking a long-term interest in rising stars, you can position yourself for success in the future. Maybe they will have money to invest down the line. Perhaps they will be the CEO of a company you'd like to partner with. Whether they turn into connectors or business partners, rising stars offer big-time potential. Keep a watchful eye for developing talent and try to add it to your professional network.
Peers: These are people working in similar - but noncompetitive - roles. It can be extremely valuable to share experiences and trade notes with like-minded business people who share similar experiences. These interactions can also lead to mutually beneficial opportunities. Just make sure the person works in a noncompetitive capacity.
Connecting with Investors
Even if you operate with a frugal business model, your company will still need capital to get started. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to identify people who have the willingness and financial means to support your big plans. So, how exactly can you find more investors? By meeting as many people as possible, in as many contexts as you can.
There's simply no absolute way to determine what someone can offer you or what you can offer them. Ultimately, it pays to diversify your contacts and stay open to new possibilities. Try not to turn down any opportunity to meet someone new, even if that person seems irrelevant to your plans. You never know what they might say, and - perhaps more importantly - who they might know.