Part one of this post described how to find the startup scene in your region. This follow-up post delves deeper into becoming a card-carrying member of the scene once you’ve pinned it down.
If we were talking about how to bake bread, this is what my recommended recipe would look like:
- Find a Sponsor
Pay close attention to where Pitch is on this list. Whatever you do, please don’t walk in swinging for the stands and spouting your latest idea like it’s the gospel. It isn’t.
The first thing to do when you’re breaking into a new scene, startup or otherwise, is a little due diligence. If you’re following the main players on twitter and reading local blogs, it may be easy to get a good general idea of what’s going on. But there are a lot of nuances in relationships and other factors that are hard to grasp on the interwebs.
Showing up is the most important thing at this stage. Go to the meetups, hang out at the scene’s watering hole, grab a co-working desk for a week and meet the players IRL.
For some of you this might be hard because pitching comes naturally. You’re spouting elevator pitches before anyone opens the door and you may end up with your foot in your mouth – or in worse places. The first thing people want to know when a new person shows up on the scene is, “Who is this person?” Not, “What is this person’s idea?”
Here’s what you should tell people you meet in the Observe stage:
- Your name
- Your previous experience and skills
- Your story
Most importantly, don’t talk all about you. Talk about them. Find out as much as you can about each person you meet – it will be useful later.
Keep showing up. Make real friends. If you aren’t genuinely interested in who the people are and what they’re working on – they will see right through you.
Find a Sponsor
A sponsor is someone who will take you under their wing and introduce you to the community. This isn’t a formal arrangement – it’s more of a, “Hey, can you show me around and let me know what I should be involved in?” type of conversation.
My “sponsor” in the New Orleans community was Tung Ly. I had worked with Tung for several years previously and I knew he was familiar with most of the New Orleans start-up scene. When I was going to my first Net2NO meeting, I asked Tung if we could go together. It was a great way to get introduced to everyone by someone who had already built rapport in the community.
Since I’ve gotten more involved, I”ve tried to pay it forward by bringing others into the group as they show interest.
This is a big one. I can’t stress enough how much this can increase your presence in a new community. Volunteering is a clear sign that you’re invested in the broader success of everyone around you.
After I went to Net2NO with Tung and he introduced me to a few people, he toted me along to a few other events and happy hours. Eventually he introduced me to Chris Schultz at Capdeville, right around the time Launch Pad Ignition was going on in 2011.
I mentioned to Chris that I really liked what Ignition was doing and I would be happy to help out in any way I could. He gave me his card, I sent him an e-mail, and I eventually spent 2 days volunteering at Launch Fest – doing everything from handing out programs to speaker-wrangling and more.
Those two days allowed me to build a base relationship with Chris, Peter, Barre, Katy, and the 2011 Ignition founders group. I later started co-working at Launch Pad and immediately felt like part of the family because of those relationships.
Can you believe it? It STILL might not be time to pitch. Hang on tight, it won’t be long now.
Once you’ve built base relationships and shown the community that you plan to stick around – don’t forget to remain an active member. Keep showing up, keep making new friends, bring in new people to the group. It also helps to maintain a constant pace of learning, growing, and improving your skills.
Have drinks with the boys after work. Yes, even you girls. Ladies night is fun – but happy hour with the guys will give you insight into everything they’re thinking and doing but not talking about at work.
Once you feel like you have a trusting, comfortable relationship with enough people in the scene, it’s time to start talking about your idea(s). Depending on your personality, your previous successes, your sponsor, and other factors the time it takes to reach this point could be anywhere from a few days to a few months.
To be perfectly honest, just in the last month or so have I started to feel like it would be the right time for me to pitch my own independent ideas in the New Orleans scene.
I had the base relationships to start pitching much sooner, but if I pitched something good today, it would be like taking-candy-from-a-baby-easy to get support from my mentors and friends. They know (almost) everything there is to know about me. They trust me, and I trust them.
Like a weed. Don’t stop. Grow yourself, grow your business, grow your community.
If you fail at one of those, you’ll likely fail at all of them. Stay on top of it and you’ll be on top of the world.