Build Measure Learn - principles of Lean Relationships

The beginning of every New Year is always a great time to take on challenges and #juststart. As well as starting afresh, we must also leverage our resources and often what we need may be already be their in front of us already inside our Networks. So for startups, Lean Relationships are ones that scale and contributes to overall growth. However we often see startups make big mistakes when relationships are neglected.

Too under-stated and in my view missing within current Lean Startup methods is the onus on relationship building and nurturing -- yet they are critical. The same way we bootstrap products and services, we must bootstrap relationships around them. Relationships are everything. Without relationships you don't have a business. Without relationships you don't have customers. So with any Lean Enterprise should adopt a what I call a "Lean Relationship" principles. We Build > Measure > Learn our products and services and we can apply the same cyclical principles to relationships. 

At its heart Lean Relationships begins with the founders and cofounders. All the data on successes show that startups are more likely to success where there are two cofounders rather than a lone-wolf. If the cofounder relationships are balanced, inherently they have by design, already begun to think about scale: What are each others strengths and weaknesses? Who are they connected to? What are they bring to the business that I don't? And so on.

Here are some key principles to help guide you throughout your startup journey.

5 Principles of Lean Relationships

1. Forming Strong Relationships Often Takes Time.

Persistence. There is often disappointment when important introductions occur and they don't necessarily take off from that point. Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson were famous for saying they make up their minds in 30 seconds and as is common with investors. However usually this due to being busy people, and why we also spend a lot of time working with startups on their elevator (or we prefer "Gaddie") pitch. 

To says a relationship is over after "I'm not interested right now" is a mistake. As an example, it's extremely rare (though not impossible) for investors to immediately crack open their cheque-books after a pitch. Investments more often than not occur after the relationship has been built over time. 

So it's important to stay in touch, report in again over a coffee, say, after three months. Tell them a) what you've achieved since you last met, b) what your current Key Data and insights look like, and c) what you plan to do in the next three months. Lock this into your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software as a repeating milestone. Again persistence pays, even if it's still not for them, they may be impressed with your traction and become a referrer (see #2).

2. Lean Does Not Mean 'Weak'

The importance of developing strong ties and relationships. Referrers (think AAARR! metrics) also need to be nurtured, for instance, an investor may not be keen at the time, and perhaps may never be, but by nurturing a relationship with them you may spark an idea with them which could in turn lead to them introducing to deeper and more relevant ties within their networks. Targeting referrers and influencers - people who have high network connections that are relevant - is an important part of scaling a business. Startups that create "network effects" stand a much better change of achieving scale, however this is done by nurturing strong ties rather than weaker ones.

This is particularly true when talking with possible or existing investors. Keep nurturing, keep building but stay focused on the product or service you are creating. I've seen many startups talk far too much on financials and raising capital and forgetting the "Wow" factor of why they think their product or service is going to change the world. 

3. Use CRM Platforms

Customer Resource Management (CRM) tools and platforms are much more accessible, inexpensive and quite frankly less cumbersome than in the days when they were the exclusive domain of big corporates with large Sales teams. A cornerstone of the startup movement is access - and democratisation - of SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms and CRMs should be at the centre of your startup's ecosystem (see #4).

Important consideration should also be on the points of integration with other SaaS platforms like Email Marketing, Accounting/Invoicing, Social Media, eCommerce, etc. The type of system you chose depends on what type of business you are, for instance certain platforms are very eCommerce Sales-Funnel orientated, others perhaps more Social Media. However the most important criteria is that you and your team will be able to use it every day, otherwise it's pointless. It also needs to happen seamlessly so we favour CRMs that integrate well with our regular email platform - again we don't have large Sales teams that "live" inside CRM systems.

Why? Traction. This is key to the businesses own Measure/Learn key metrics. We can plan our Sales pipeline, track conversion rates, manage revenue as well as also see where things may be going wrong. You can data-mine yourself, find your own influencers who will evangelise your product or service, demonstrate how you've de-risked and tested your hypothesis. 

4. Relationships in Ecosystems

Ecosystems in the startup movement sometime get rather generalised and over-simplified in terms of importance. We see ecosystems as the combination of targeted customers, new potential markets, partnerships and affiliates. These ecosystems should be dynamic, diverse as well as large enough to enable a startup to grow and pivot. Connectivity brings opportunity. 

An ecosystem that nurtures customers, partners and affiliates, and then also recombines them (relationships do also fade - see #5) brings new invention and innovation, especially so with strong developed relationships. As with all MVPs (Minimal Viable Products) we require feedback, and feedback within a diverse but focused ecosystem reaps rewards and generates new knowledge. 

Entrepreneurship is disruptive, and by measuring ecosystems amidst disruption we can identify patterns such as more demand, lower prices, faster times, etc. This is a Feedback Loop: the holy grail. 

5. Never Burn Bridges

Always be polite, be nice and never burn bridges. I have fallen foul of this and regretted it. Sure you cannot please everyone, however you never ever know what will happen around the corner. Things change as do people. If things don't work out, learn from that and maintaining relationships after times of difficulty and stress usually seems almost impossible. Even when relationships fail for one reason or another, over time they can reignite.

Build / Measure / Learn and repeat starting from principle #1.