Be Fearless: How We Used LinkedIn To Launch Our Startup Part 2

June 23, 2014

popomaronis

In my first post, we covered the beginning of our story, including how we used LinkedIn to land our Chairman of the Board, Joe Seibert. He was also kind enough to contribute to the series, with Advice The Former CIO Of The New York Times Has For Startups.

Here, we share more about how we used LinkedIn to launch our startup. This includes how we landed our first paying enterprise client – the direct result of efforts on LinkedIn.

5. Invest Time

I currently spend at least 1-2 hours a day on LinkedIn. It used to be more. When we were first putting OpiaTalk together, I spent at least 2-3 hours on it, sometimes up to 4-5. In addition to researching and replying to people, sending InMails became what I did in my ‘free’ time (like anyone launching a startup actually has that). Between meetings, after dinner, while watching Game of Thrones; once I realized how valuable it was, I was regularly up at 2am, sending them. (See Part 1 for more on why InMails should be your jam).

I think there’s often some hesitation to spend that much time ‘just’ networking. Butconsider that networking is likely what will dwarf all your other efforts combined.

Okay, so here’s how my crazy mind works: If I’d kept my head down, solely working on what I was creating and not soliciting feedback from a high-level contacts, I never would have connected with the executive at Skype. We wouldn’t have launched OpiaTalk with them, so we wouldn’t have enterprise data to share right off the bat. This, in turn, would likely have meant we wouldn’t have gotten the exclusive we did with Fast Company. Without Fast Company, we may not have received the inbound marketing requests from other enterprise-level clients we did. And of course, investors are paying attention every step of the way. This kind of “traction” (we all love that buzzword) is part of what has them sit up and take notice.

Try to avoid getting so caught up in ‘doing’ (perfecting your product, answering emails, writing the perfect web copy) that you neglect what is equally, if not more important: making valuable, worthwhile, strategic connections.

Don’t be afraid to invest time in LinkedIn. It could easily turn into the best investment you ever make.

6. Go In With No Expectations

I didn’t reach out to the senior executive at Skype expecting them to become our first client. I was simply (and genuinely) looking for feedback on OpiaTalk. The good, the bad, the ugly – I wanted to know what people like him really thought about our technology. He was one of many to whom I reached out.

Here is our actual exchange (for privacy reasons, we’ll call him “John”):

Hi John,

We are working on a new e-commerce technology that I would love to get your general feedback on. I certainly admire your immersion in the space and would be grateful for your time.

Do you mind if I send you a link?

Thank you!

Regards,
Tom

[I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I always asked before sending the link. You could also say that is a known psychological technique -- get someone to ‘opt in’ right away, and they’re more likely to be responsive to whatever it is you’re sharing. I didn’t do that on purpose; I just didn’t want to piss people off.]

----

Hi Tom - would be happy to take a look and connect. Feel free to send the link along.

Thanks,
John

----

John,

Thanks for the message back and I greatly appreciate the time.

Light context - Our launch will be in about two months, so we're finalizing majority of development and honing in on key metrics & KPIs to deliver to pilot customers.

Here is the link: http://vimeo.com/64940295

Any feedback on the platform would be invaluable.

Regards,
Tom

[At this point, John wrote back with a long-ish, thoughtful response. I responded even more comprehensively, with a link to a demo we’d worked out by that point.]

----

Hey Tom,

The demo is helpful to see. Definitely makes clear this is a new variant of "social shopping." And assuming the numbers are low enough - my thoughts below on waiting to hit the threshold might be moot. Definitely interesting!

Would certainly welcome the chance to discuss further. Not that you were asking/offering but we're always looking for new ways to engage our user base at Skype to drive higher revenue/orders. Would be interesting to discuss that as well.

Thanks!
John

---

A few weeks later, we got on the phone. Not long after, plans were in the works for us to pilot OpiaTalk with Skype. The pilot went well, and they came aboard as a paying client. Words cannot express the euphoric feeling of seeing our platform, live, with such a respected brand. We had a quite the team hug that day!

But none of this occurred because I targeted Skype as a client and then went after them aggressively. It was a natural outgrowth of what I didn’t even realize was a strategy at the time: Connect with well-placed people in your industry, and see where it goes.

Going in with no expectations has the added benefit of being fun. Who will respond to me today? What will they be like? Where will it lead? Every time I got a response to an InMail or an application to one of our job postings, it was like a Christmas present (I’m not kidding). What’d I get, what’d I get, what’d I get? I was sending InMails to people with illustrious careers, whom I looked up to and admired – and the same caliber of people were responding to the job postings. Whenever someone wrote back, I was eager to continue the conversation. And many of those that were interested, became strong allies.

Go in with no expectations. Be patient, persistent, pervasive, and responsive, and see where things go. I think you'll like where you end up.

7. Let Connections Come To You

A lot of entrepreneurs have mentors. A lot don’t. I wouldn’t be where I am today without mine, and I found many of them through – you guessed it – Tinder.

Joking. Found them through LinkedIn. And not just through cold reach-outs. As much as I’m an advocate for reaching out with InMails (and I am), it can be slow. Even with a 20-25% response rate, it can take a while to get a reply and then get a dialogue going. There is another, faster way.

Posting a job is a great way to make a lot of valuable connections, quicklyPart 1covers how to post a job for an advisor.

There are two reasons this works. First, it forces you to get specific about who you want in your corner. What kind of expertise do you really need? What are you lacking in terms of insight or acumen? Do you need technological expertise? Someone with an established rolodex of people in your industry? Simply, another perspective?

Second, posting a job has LinkedIn do the work for you. Within a very short time, you become connected to a bunch of people who want to be involved with you and your company. For example, we nearly received 100 responses to this posting, seeking an advisory board member:

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I went through the responses and reached out to every single person that seemed like a good fit, or who could be an ally in some way. And the contacts we garnered through the two job postings we listed ended up netting us our Chairman of the Board and over 10 Advisory Board members.

In the Baltimore area, a job posting is $195, or the price of 20 InMails. For us, it was a rock-bottom bargain for what we got. In addition to invaluable advice and extraordinarily qualified mentors, those connections have led to:

  1. Direct introductions to large, well-established sources of funding (angel and venture)
  2. A direct introduction to another enterprise retailer, soon to be announced as a client
  3. Connections to extremely relevant thought leaders (our advisors' own advisors)

Whatever industry you’re in, advisors are valuable. Having very well-connected people back you brings a sense of validity and confidence. LinkedIn provides an effective way to have them come to you.

8. Be Fearless

If there’s one theme that runs through all the actions we took and the results that came out of them on LinkedIn, it would be this: Be fearless.

One of the most important things you will ever establish in your business are connections. Connections are everything. Connections open doors, nail down contracts, establish trust, find you funding, land you sales, move you forward. They’re the difference between getting by, and becoming a multimillion dollar company (or acquisition, depending on your exit strategy).

The primary utility of LinkedIn is just that – to get linked in. To make those connections.So don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t feel embarrassed or like you’re too much or like you’re a nuisance. Let the other person decide whether they want to connect – your job is just to reach out and then see what happens.

Everyone always says it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And the possibilities for expanding the range of who you know on LinkedIn is infinite. Use it to your advantage. The more you work LinkedIn, the more it works for you.

Be fearless. You’ve got nowhere to go but up.

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