Coming up with a business idea is a big step by itself but the biggest challenge lies in translating what may only be a concept into a real business. Despite the fact that some entrepreneurs are really good at one or two things (think Bill Gates), most entrepreneurs simply tend to be idea-machines, great leaders, and excellent at getting things done (think Steve Jobs). In other words, if you want to develop a business model that creates shareholder value, you will need a lot of help from people with diverse sets of skills and backgrounds.
Challenges of an entrepreneur
Guy Kawasaki was recently asked about the greatest challenges that entrepreneurs face. According to him, “Seven (out of ten entrepreneurs) would say raising money. If you experience great difficulty in raising money, it's not because venture capitalists are idiots and cannot comprehend your curve-jumping, paradigm shifting, revolutionary product. It's because you either have a piece of crap or you are not effectively communicating what you have. Both of these are your fault.” (Related article: How to get venture capital?)
That is where teams are important. And when I say teams, I mean not just your employees, but also your bank, law-firm, potential customers/suppliers, and anyone else you might need to jumpstart your business. In summary, once you have firmed up the idea, as an entrepreneur you will need to build a network of people who will share their skills to make your idea a real business (refine the business model, work out the kinks, and sell it to potential investors). In your garage, all ideas seem great, but only when you have several minds working on it, can you turn it into something that makes sense to the rest of the world.
How to build a network?
Assembling the right team of people that can wow the venture capitalists, sell the product (or service) to a customer who sees its value, and then every single day keep the business ready for changes in the increasingly global economy, can seem like a stupendous task. It can only be done by networking with as many people as you possibly can. (Related article: How to decide which conferences to attend?)
Over the years in my discussions with aspiring and successful entrepreneurs, I have found that it is extremely difficult for an entrepreneur to find the right people unless you are part of a group that is already screened. That is why it is important that you find other like-minded people, or if I could borrow the words of Guy Kawasaki, “Entrepreneurs who want to change the world.” When you are with people like this, you are more likely to find someone who appreciates exactly what you are talking about because either she or he has already been down that path or is walking on it as you speak. (Related article: From a startup to sustenance phase - tips for entrepreneurs)
How to get the most out of networking events?
Despite the fact that many entrepreneurs polish their presentation skills fairly quickly, schmoozing at conferences can be uncomfortable to almost everyone, particularly if you do not know anyone. That can be good news too. It is human nature to gravitate towards people you already know. While I would say that networking events are great to reconnect with old acquaintances, but when you are an entrepreneur, my advice is that you should develop a networking strategy before coming to the event. And then make sure that you can meet with these new people who will make a difference in your business. People go to conferences to meet others and at a conference, everyone is equal. So there is nothing wrong with approaching the person you want to meet, tell them the reason why you are interested in knowing them, and then exchange contact information before leaving. Finally, always send a brief note later to reinforce the message. Two months later, it will be easier for you to pick up the phone to reconnect. (Related article: How to start a business?)
What speeches and sessions should you attend?
Companies sometimes make announcements or release new products at conferences. Apart from that, rarely is anything “new” said at a conference. Most of what you will hear is probably already in the public domain. So I rarely go to a conference to listen. For me, the greatest value comes from meeting like-minded people. Attending a specific session simply allows you to connect with individuals who share your passion. When you choose to attend a session on “Investment climate in biotech sector,” you are essentially making sure that you will run into venture capitalists who want to invest in biotech companies and technologists who are working on groundbreaking technologies.
As a conference attendee, you need to plan ahead on what session you should attend to get the most out of the conference. I recommend that you research the background of the speakers on the web and find out more about the topic. If possible, jot down a couple of questions as well for each session that you can either ask during the session or use them as discussion generators with other attendees at informal networking opportunities.
Networking for entrepreneurs has to be a habit
If you think that attending a conference here and there will do the trick and put your business on the fast track, then you are destined to take forever to grow your business. Unless you make networking a part of your personality, it will be hard for you to succeed as an entrepreneur. So, while attending a networking event is a good step, you might want to think of getting out of your lab/office a bit more often.
Recommended article: How to grow high value companies?