This time of year Austin is revving up with the return of UT students and a long list of tech networking groups holding their inaugural events of the season. Enough vacation, it's time to get back to business. The topic of this evening has come to the fore based on a number of experiences I've had over the summer downtime. In an age where anonymous customers can magically be acquired via Google keywords or Facebook marketing, entrepreneurs can easily come to believe that they are making it happen on their own and aren't depending on others. In truth that is never the case. And, no, I'm not making a reference to President Obama's comments somewhat along those lines.
If you have a business where you have any interaction with your customers, particularly in an enterprise B2B setting where direct sales are involved, you are very familiar with the importance of building, nurturing and maintaining relationships with those customers. Even in more mass market B2B or consumer offerings, developing a sense of trust with your customers by giving them support that is convenient for them is a matter of creating a relationship beyond a mere monetary recurring transaction.
If you either are raising or have raised capital, you appreciate how important it is to have a door opened with a personal relationship. I don't mean a “connection” but rather someone who actually knows a potential investor, can explain your case, and can validate it by having invested himself or herself. At the story stage of most high tech ventures, everyone has a nice PPT and a hockey stick; the ones that are capable of creating and leveraging bona fide relationships are the ones that stand out and get funded. If you're the investor, you're never investing in a plan, you're investing in a team whose successful plan may be 5 pivots into the future. But that truly successful team will keep you informed at every twist and turn and cultivate you as a mentor and friend and not just as a checkbook. If they're smart, they'll put you to work in any situation where your own relationships magnify their reach.
Even if you have a proclivity toward boot strapping, you'll welcome some help finding staff and key management as your business scales, and you'll need to groom all the relationships that can lead to your potential payday via M&A or IPO. You might even discover the leverage traditional lenders can provide you, and Character is the first of the 3 C's every banker knows. For that matter, even being nice to your cleaning crew can go a long way.
Some of this may sound a bit elementary, but I have observed influential people and companies ignore these basic tenets. I've seen this summer very specific actionable promises not delivered, with no explanation given on follow-up. I don't mind being told someone has had a change of heart and is not going to perform, but I do mind Twitter's Posterous style where all contact is just closed down. That shoe will be on the other foot sooner or later. It's a very small world, especially in the technology industry, and we all need to help each other from time to time.
There's a new company called path.to that describes itself as the eHarmony for jobs. That's a pretty bold ambition, but it does in fact have a dating site concept of building a profile that connects employees and employers at a level beyond just skill sets. I rather think that is a good idea, but in my view real relationships, whether socially or in a job context, can best be developed only with some in-depth discussion over time and in a linear manner. A woman who finds on a dating site someone she likes and who begins the elaborate process of sharing histories and experiences, especially for middle-aged people who have a lot of history, doesn't like to see a profile left visible to attract the next person in line. Trying to really get to know multiple people at once is really not possible beyond a superficial level. You won't be able to remember which one you told what, and none will advance beyond an introductory phase. A relationship is much more than a vCard, and that takes some effort to build. (Please don't ask me how I might be aware of any of this.) I personally know many famous people that I have met and done business with over the decades of my career, and some of them might actually remember me and respond to a call or email. But I'm not claiming that I have anything approaching relationships at that level.
Yesterday I talked to one of the best sales/marketing guys I know, a bit younger than I, and who once worked with me. He's changing jobs, and he told me he's had to learn a whole new lingo just to have a conversation with the 30ish recruiters. “What's your dynamic?” I have met through cycling another gentleman in his early 50's who seems quite capable and can sell. He's become bored with an early retirement and wants to break into the tech world here. I'm going to help him with that. I figure no matter his age, anyone who can tote a bag, build relationships, and close sales always can be productive. He may have to learn both tech speak and new age recruiting jargon, but I'd rather imagine he can charm his way through those hurdles. At least he's giving himself a good chance by having great people skills as his foundation.
Anyway, shame on me if I don't fulfill my offer in help in this latter case. We've all over our lives gotten too busy and too absorbed in our own worlds of business, family, golf, etc. and let commitments fall through the cracks. I'm certainly as guilty as anyone of that. But, every day I see the power of real relationships that have been properly tended, and I've come to appreciate them more and more.
Ben Dyer is a technology veteran, investor, and blogger who publishes TechDrawl, which promotes technology business across the South, is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Austin Technology Incubator, and is best known as the founder of Peachtree Software. He originally posted this on his blog, TechDrawl, and gave us permission to reprint it here.