Leading your startup community involves quite a bit of cat herding. When you’re herding cats, it helps to have some cat food.

It’s easy to convince yourself that the $30k or $300k you worked hard to secure from sponsors or tax payers is both the ultimate lure for startups and the ultimate legitimizer of your program for the volunteers you recruit.

It isn’t.

If you replace cash with pilot projects with large organizations, you’ll make more progress for your startups, secure your cat food more easily, and build a more relevant ecosystem.

Your job leading a startup community feels a lot like this! These cowboys’ jobs would be a lot easier with some cat food.

More Progress

For a startup company, the opportunity to win large organizations as early customers provides validating traction, crucial product feedback and the potential for recurring revenue. These benefits outweigh a one-time injection of cash for your startups, and therefore for your community as a whole.

Easier to Secure

Our partners, Prime Health, put on a magical event during Denver’s recent Startup Week. Eight startups made five-minute pitches to 18 large healthcare organizations with 575 in the audience. Delighting everyone, every single startup won multiple offers for pilot projects right there on stage.

Behind the scenes, Prime’s conversations with its large partners went something like this:
• “We know your organization is always looking for the next innovation to move your industry forward. If we were to present you with a curated group of startups we determine to be among the strongest in our community, would you be willing to look at doing pilot projects with them? There’s no obligation for you, of course.”
• “Would some of the key members of your team be interested in coming to speak with our startup community about the challenges facing your industry?”
• “Would your company to provide us with some volunteer hours to help evaluate and mentor our startups? We’ll give your team members a la carte menus of various opportunities to engage.”

It’s easier to secure this type of cat food than cash. The value proposition to the large organizations is clear, and the “ask” isn’t held hostage by an opaque budgeting process.

A More Relevant Community

Channeling Steve Blank and Brad Feld respectively, startups need to “get out of the building” to meet with customers, and your startup community should engage with the “full stack” in your ecosystem. By building relationships with a roster of large, high quality partners / potential customers your community gets out of its echo chamber and into the marketplace.

As you begin to think about community-building as cat herding, consider adding some juicy, fresh relationships to the dry kibbles that are novelty-sized checks! Your community will be healthier, happier and easier to herd if you do.

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