Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Startup Community: the Culture of Payback

Last week, I received a call from a California entrepreneur letting me know he'd referred a large piece of work to me. Why? Because 4 years ago, when he was starting out, I spent a few hours with him discussing various issues unique to his business model, trading notes on possible investors, and providing a few forms for him to use. Ultimately, he decided to move the business to San Jose, where it has since prospered. Good for him, but not so good for future business from me. But, I figured, that's part of business development - you win some, you relocate some.

Still, this entrepreneur stayed in touch, calling me every few months to let me know how he was doing and in each case ending the call with a thanks for the time I had spent with him. He made a point of letting me know that he had valued my time and effort. When he called last week, he let me know that he was glad he was finally able to return the favour.

What's important here? Think of what I did: provided feedback, information and some documents. I didn't invest. I don't think I even paid for coffee. But this founder understands the importance of the thank you. It's sacrosanct with him.

This is a trait shared by many entrepreneurs in the valley that I’ve met, and I think it has to be a key driver of the startup support system that thrives there. In my case, I know I’ll always make time for this entrepreneur when he calls, because somewhere down the road, it will help my own business.

A complaint I continually hear from Canadian entrepreneurs is that there few professionals will find time for them, or help them without a retainer, etc., etc. I hope that’s not the case. But so many more could be drawn to the table if, in my view, we cultivated more of the culture of payback.

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