Can all knowledge be accessed to on the internet?
If the web provides universal access to all knowledge, does it mean that we do not need advisors and experts anymore? I couldn’t disagree more, because how much time does it need for you to google and learn something tricky online, instead of asking and having a real conversation with an expert who can guide you in just a short session?
There are few lessons considering giving and taking advice that I would like to share.
Learn to ask for help and do not be afraid or ashamed of that, and you’ll be surprised when you realize how much people are keen to help. To learn to ask for help proved to be a turning point for my successful startup and our company’s development. We were in a security-tech competition and I e-mailed the Assistant Secretary General of NATO, Marshall Billingslea, for advice.
He replied to schedule a meeting in Brussels. We discussed the issue and he was ready to help and connected us with many people, but his high position in NATO also gave us a boost in accomplishing our ideas because of the newly obtained credibility.
We grew the company to 20 employees, gave out over 5 million dollars in prizes during our technology competitions, and were successfully acquired by the industry leader, InnoCentive. Never hesitate when asking an expert for advice.
I continued with sending e-mails and reaching for people who could help us and one of those went to Ted Schlein, a partner at Kleiner Perkins (one of the premier venture capital funds). We met a couple of weeks later and discussed about bringing high-quality judges for our competition and he even became our informal advisor.
A few years later, during a pitch for the Conquer-Paralysis-Now Foundation, I mentioned his name in my final presentation and indicated him as an informal advisor. But what I didn’t realize was that the Foundation’s board had a prior relationship with Ted. He must have done at least 10 IPOs, 40 M&A deals, met with hundreds of startup CEOs and I haven’t spoken to him in a while, so what were the chances that he would remember me?
Luckily, he told them he knew about our startup project and I realized then that it’s important to keep your advisors actively engaged with your business.
Another important thing that I learned is that your own competitors can give you crucial advice. Our biggest competitor was InnoCentive, the company that later successfully acquired us. At one point we heard that our competitors (InnoCentive, Kaggle, ChallengePost) raised their venture capital.
Because of the limited time frame and our business model, it was obvious that we are unable to keep track with them. But then I connected with Barry Libert and later with Dwayne Spradlin (the first is a board member and the latter a CEO at InnoCentive) and learned that they are increasing their European market share and that my startup could help them achieve their goals. We were successfully acquired by InnoCentive 9 months later.
Giving advice can also be of great value to you. For example, representatives of TSWG (a U.S. government agency) were looking for more international security technologies to fund, so they contacted us and we provided them with an overview of the top applicants in our London event for free. After the event, they were thrilled and offered us an annual sponsorship worth 500,000 dollars.
Give up the what’s-in-it-for-me attitude and try to give advice for free as well as asking for it. It can be of crucial importance to you and your business.