5 Types of Non-Financial Support Entrepreneurs Need
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Every entrepreneur wants to grow their startup. Money is the key, but it is wrong to think that money is the only thing valuable to founders. More and more, I see entrepreneurs who want more than financial support to help them grow. They want support from people who have been there and done it. People who can offer them time, conviction, enthusiasm, expertise and a network to help them reach the top.
A company never stops, it advances or retreats. We all want to move our startup forward. We want to grow it, make it incredibly successful, and then exit it. And do it again! Of course, money is incredibly important to the growth process. Whether it’s equity, seed, capital raising, or financing an acquisition, sometimes being an entrepreneur feels like a never-ending race for money. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban says “fundraising isn’t an accomplishment, it’s an obligation.” That’s true, but investing isn’t the only thing that has value for founders.
Hayley Cowburn is an inspiring young founder of a disruptive startup I recently invested in. She summed up the difference between a financial lifeline and a deeper type of support. “We had talked to many companies about investing before, but we always ran into the same problem, which was that we just didn’t like any of the people we were talking to,” Hayley said. “Generally they treated the conversation as if we were to be grateful for talking to them, and wanted terms that put all the power in their hands.”
I’m a serial entrepreneur myself and regularly chat with the 30+ founders I support at the companies I’ve invested in. I’ve identified five other forms of support that are equally important for people trying to make their business a success. . Here is my list, and some of them might surprise you.
1. Someone to boost their confidence
Becoming an entrepreneur is a process of constant personal transformation. You are accessing new skills, new understanding, new knowledge, new depth, new wisdom. The journey can feel like a series of leaps of faith. Whether it’s your first hire, your premises, an investor meeting, an acquisition or an exit, it can feel overwhelming. To take the leap, sometimes you need a nudge, in the form of someone to say, you can do it.
The founders I work with really appreciate having someone like me, who’s been there and done this, to reassure them that they can do it. Without confidence to transform and grow, no amount of money can help.
Related: The Turning Point of Getting Started: When You Need to Ask for Help
2. A place to ask all the stupid questions
New founders may worry about their lack of education, experience, or knowledge of the industry they have chosen to disrupt. They are armed with a brilliant idea, a burning desire to make it succeed, and an insatiable desire to learn how to make it work.
This mixture of inexperience and/or lack of expertise, overstepping boundaries and inordinate curiosity can actually be a blessing – as it was for me – but it can also be a curse. It can leave you feeling exposed in front of seasoned, educated investors who have supposedly seen it all. And that means you may be afraid to ask questions. The ones you think are important but may seem silly to more experienced business people.
That’s why I think founders should look for investors who can also be a bit of a mentor. Steve Jobs said that “half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones is sheer perseverance.” Likewise, I don’t invest in a founder for their ability to create a board presentation, read a balance sheet, or know the rocket fuel formula. I support their vision, their energy and their skills to get people on board. They are trying something new for which there is no existing map route to succeed.
Feeling able to ask important questions without fear that they will be dismissed as stupid is important for entrepreneurs. They want to learn how to succeed from more experienced people. They therefore rightly gravitate towards investors and mentors who will not judge curiosity and the desire to learn harshly.
Related: 5 Types of People Who Can Help With Small Business Mentoring
3. A team that shares the same enthusiasm for the company
Love of the product is one of the best indicators of a startup’s success. If customers are genuinely passionate about the product, more customers, sales and investments will surely follow.
Entrepreneur Jo Malone said, “Passion, creativity and resilience are the most crucial skills in business. If you have them, you’re ready to go.” Otherworldly enthusiasm is crucial for any founder, but he expects the same from his team and his team of investors.
When it comes to growing their business, founders want more than a financial transaction. Of course, if they can only get money from investors, so be it. But deep down, they all want a growth partner who is as passionate about their business as they are. Some investors will not only be enthusiastic, they will be more expansive than the founder. They’ll say, great idea and we can make it even bigger! With many companies I invest in, founders think tactically and short-term about their next big leap in growth. Investors, on the other hand, are thinking more strategically and long-term.
For example, where the founder is looking to reach a new stage of selling in the local market, the investor is aiming for scaling and acquisition goals globally. This, in turn, amplifies enthusiasm for the company and its future, creating an energizing optimism that founders love.
4. Connections with brilliant employees
The right hire can be life changing, as my first CFO was for me. Before offering him a position in my very ambitious startup, we met so that I boldly presented my company to him. He had a great reputation as the CEO of a large international company. I remember him telling me stories of massive, global transactions that I hadn’t imagined possible until then. It just improved my thinking and opened my eyes to huge possibilities. What a great, game-changing hire.
Of my four businesses (two of which I have already sold), I am fortunate to have access to a vast network of talented people in various fields. From fashion designers to particle physicists and digital marketers to debt financiers. And even if I don’t think I’ll lay off the biggest recruiters in the world yet, the entrepreneurs I support like to be connected to this talent network.
5. Presentations to industry leaders
Recently, I was at the headquarters of a large bank in the financial district of London. It was a huge modern skyscraper. I entered the elevator, and my host entered a secret code to take us to a private area with very limited access. We were on a special floor reserved for VIP guests, but it looked like we were flying into the clouds. I felt extremely charmed by access to this luxury space, where I met industry leaders who could transform my latest business. It seemed a long way from Blackpool, the working-class town in northern England where I grew up.
Currently I am working with a young founder from Blackpool, called William. He has just started his entrepreneurial journey to transform education. His idea is really bold, but deeply difficult. Introductions to a network of leaders, like those I met in the clouds, can make things easier. Getting access and support from people who have been there and done it helps. In this case, it’s meeting people who themselves have invented the future. They did this by disrupting an industry with a new idea, for which there was no roadmap, and sharing their success playbook.
For founders, capital is important for growth, but it’s not the only support they need. Softer help, such as giving entrepreneurs confidence, reflecting their enthusiasm and helping to broaden their growth horizon, is just as important, if not more so, in the early stages. Additionally, connecting in a meaningful way with industry leaders gives founders access to the knowledge, insights, and insights to bring their vision to life. And connecting them to top talent keeps them on track. So, when it comes to finding backers, founders would do well to look for these items as well.
Related: 10 organizations that offer support to entrepreneurs