'In the 80s, everyone wanted to be in a band. Now they all want to be in a startup'

This angel investor delivers a masterclass in networking at industry gatherings.

By Ian Lucey CEO, Lucey Fund

BACK IN THE 80s, everybody wanted to be in a band. Now everyone wants to be in a startup.

It’s the lifestyle and not the business they’re interested in – that’s why if you want to grow your company you need to get away from startup events as soon as you can.

We all know that the startup community is really exciting. When you go to mixers and meetups, you hear great keynote speakers and get to chat with some very enthusiastic people. It’s great fun.

Myself and the Lucey Fund team attend a lot of those kinds of get-togethers – but that’s because our customers are startups. There’s a good reason for us to be there.

I always say that founders should only be part of the startup community for six months, and that’s it. After that, they need to start thinking of themselves as a business and move on to industry events.

By all means, go to startup gatherings, learn what you need to learn about government grants and other schemes. But move on to more relevant – and often boring – industry gigs.

Focus on your customers

When Lucey was launched, our first product was for accountancy firms. The last person who will buy off a startup is an accountant.

So when you start showing your face at industry gatherings, don’t act like a startup. Act like a business.

We’ve sometimes found it hard to work with early-stage companies because they’re thinking too much about themselves and their own problems and not their customers and partners.

ian lucey Ian Lucey
Source: Lucey Fund

Once you’re in the business environment, it’s all about your customers and what you can do to make their lives easier.

It’s a very difficult mindset to get into when you’ve got your own business worries and concerns going on. I’ve been there myself.

But if you start moaning on about how hard it is to get a young company off the ground, all the other person is hearing are problems and not solutions.

They won’t see your struggles as a badge of honour. In fact, they could be seen as a bit of a red flag if you ‘smell’ too much like a startup: here’s a bunch of new guys that don’t have that many customers running a business that’s not guaranteed to survive.

That’s not a brilliant pitch.

Spin a good yarn

You should always create a very clear message about what exactly it is that your company does. Something simple and to the point.

It’s been called everything from elevator to seven-second pitches. Actually, it’s just about explaining your story in a clear and concise way. If you can do that, then you’ll naturally get the benefit of networking at events.

People are interested in stories more than anything else – and all they remember from events are good yarns.

We get about 5,000 people a year pitching their business ideas to us. For most of them, my eyes glaze over after a few minutes because they’re just talking about features and functions and all kinds of dull stuff.

I’m more interested in hearing about their journey, their big vision and how their product will help their customers.

It’s actually an interesting idea for startup founders to think of themselves as a messaging entity. Every time one of the team goes out to speak on behalf of the company, they should know exactly what to say.

When we all talk about the coolest startups on the planet – like Stripe and Intercom – we naturally sell those businesses to other people purely because they’ve heard a brilliant story about them. Often, we don’t even use their products.

I was speaking at an event on Monday night and was asked about my favourite social business. I started talking about FoodCloud, the non-profit that redistributes leftover food from supermarkets and businesses to charities.

I have nothing to do with FoodCloud, but I understood their message and I shared their story with a big group of people.

food cloud founders FoodCloud founders Aoibheann O'Brien and Iseult Ward
Source: Naoise Culhane

That’s a very good sign for a business. If I’m doing it, the odds are other people are doing it too, and that builds credibility.

What’s great is that when people love your story and share it then is free advertising and recommendations that could help you sell your business while you are not even there.

So when you’re meeting people, share your story and message and don’t bore them with the details. If things go well, arrange to meet them again. Don’t spend hours trying to close the deal there and then.

You’re better off giving that person space and coming back at them in a professional environment.

Be the speaker

When you do move off to your own industry event, try to become the speaker rather than just the attendee.

If your content is good, then people will want to hear from you – and if you are launching a new startup into that industry then the odds are you have something interesting to say.

When you do speak, don’t blatantly sell. Talk in concepts and visions that align to how you see the world and of course if that pushes people to try your product then that’s great.

Follow up on LinkedIn

I’m appalling for bringing business cards to events. I regularly forget them. But I’m pretty good at following up with people on LinkedIn.

I love LinkedIn. I think it’s perfect for business people – it gives you the right amount of information to keep tabs on people without seeming like you’re stalking them.

Social Media - Linked in
Source: Jan Haas/DPA/PA Images

Quite often when myself or my colleagues are at events, we’ll just connect with startup founders while we’re talking to them instead of exchanging cards and following up the next day.

Once you’ve connected with a potential customer, you can use LinkedIn to share updates on what’s happening at the company and carry on your message.

Of all the social networks, if you’re looking to do business development LinkedIn is the one to master.

Ian Lucey is chief executive of Lucey Fund. This article was written in conversation with Conor McMahon as part of a series of masterclasses with some of Ireland’s most influential business people.

If you want to share your opinion, advice or story, email opinion@fora.ie.

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