It’s a plot that’s familiar to both authors and startup founders; the small band of passionate outsiders take on giants and win. Everyone loves to cheer on the underdog and see heroic effort rewarded by outsized gains. In each case, the underdog wins by finding a way to punch above their weight.
Finding a way to punch above your weight as a startup is crucial to success. Teams of 10, 20, or even 50 are trivial compared to the teams and resources of the major players. Without a conscious strategy for punching above your weight, winning deals you shouldn’t win, and getting into conversations that you would not have been expected to be part of, chances of success are much smaller. But what should that strategy look like?
1. Your story
The first thing to focus on is your story. Not your elevator pitch “leading provider of ….”, but the real story that inspires others and makes them want to live vicariously through you. Humans are a social species, and we socialize through stories. Nobody ever tells their friends about a middle manager wrestling with mundane corporate politics, but they will tell the world about an inspiring entrepreneur that they know who is taking on the world.
Think about your story, find the anecdotes, and be ready to tell them. If you can do this well, and others in your network and beyond begin retelling your story because the story stands on its own merits, you’ve started punching above your weight.
2. Your network
The business network you’ve built to date is rooting for you. They want you to win. They will happily add your name to the conversation when it’s appropriate just to help you out, but only if they remember. Now is the single most important time to invest in your network, keep the relationships strong, and stay top of mind.
You don’t need to focus on selling to each person in your network, just find ways to keep the relationship strong. Engage with anyone you once knew, cheer for their successes, or interact on anything outside of the world of business that they care about. Keep investing in each relationship so you have a broader group of people who are happy to throw your name into a discussion that you would want to be part of.
3. Your advisors
Investors, board members, advisors, or even the leaders of your incubator or co-working space are highly connected individuals with strong business networks at senior levels. Engaging with these groups for advice alone is very limiting. Use a relationship intelligence platform like Nudge.ai to unlock their networks, with their permission, and see which target accounts they can introduce you into.
These business leaders have invested in your, either through their time or their capital, and they want you to succeed. Asking for their help with introductions, if done respectfully, can open doors that they would want you to have open. The impact that one of these senior level introductions can have on your business is disproportionately large, and an opportunity you should not miss.
4. Your team
Each senior hire you add to your team brings with them their own business network. Most large organizations are surprisingly blind to the power of their internal network, but you don’t need to be as a startup. The same relationship intelligence approach you used to unlock the networks of your advisors can be used internally to unlock the networks of your team.
Each account you are looking to build a relationship with, and ultimately sell to, may have someone internally that your core team built a strong relationship with in a past role. Merely being aware of this and making a quick ask for an introduction can make the difference between being on the outside and having an inside track.
5. Your speed
Let’s face it, startups move much faster than large, legacy organizations. If you want to punch above your weight, this speed should be captured in new stories, new updates, and new ideas that keep you top of mind in the community.
People are inspired by the new and the next, and if they can reliably count on your startup to deliver the next idea, the next product, and the next new concept, you will become part of that conversation every time the future is discussed. Use your speed to your advantage.
6. Your connectedness
Startups are small. Large legacy corporations are gigantic. What this means practically is that you are connected externally to significantly more of the community than anyone at a large corporate is. You don’t need to spend even a fraction of the effort maintaining internal relationships than they do, so you are able to maintain more external relationships.
This connectedness has real business value. Network theorists, anthropologists, and Nudge.ai’s internal data have all shown the same conclusion; network “brokers” who connect disparate parts of the network are immensely valuable.
Large organizations need to be connected to new ideas, new people, and new skills. It may seem like your network is small, but the breadth of your connections might be your advantage. Any time you can make an introduction for a hire, a new skill, an interesting perspective, or a speaker at an internal talk, you’ve delivered tremendous value and created a loyal advocate in the market. Leverage the disparate weak ties in your network to continue punching above your weight.
Punch above your weight
As a small startup, if you are not doing something to punch above your weight, you will not succeed in the battle against the incumbent giants. The technology you build can provide part of this advantage, but your network should provide an equally important part.
Focusing on understanding, building, and leveraging your network in order to maximize your ability to deliver outsized success is as much a part of the startup journey as knowing how to build a great product.