“What types of support relationships do you find beneficial as a startup founder?”
I asked a group of six women founders this question as part of a whiteboard conversation conducted last year by WhiteSpace Consulting and Startland News. Their answers reveal a broad range of support relationships, including one that is a must-have for every entrepreneur. Here are three perceptions that surfaced during our conversation.
Women advisors are confidence builders
Based on the whiteboard session, women in Kansas City’s entrepreneurial support organizations are significant advisors to women founders in the early stages of forming a company concept. The six founders I spoke with saw the women in support organizations as confidence-builders in the formation and pre-money stages of their companies. They especially looked to women in organizations such as the Women’s Capital Connection and Small Business Development Centers for confidence-building and encouragement. Women founders also rely upon each other for advice and support.
Male founders are role models
What happens when a founder’s company is gaining traction? Who are their role models?
“Men who have companies a few steps ahead of mine,” one founder said of her role models. The women agreed that they look for male role models when revenue generation and fundraising become priorities. Why? Fundraising and growth require tough decisions and perseverance. “It’s related to respect,” one founder said. “I’m less nice when dealing with men.”
Men and women work “the network” differently
The women founders recognize the value of their networks in growing their companies. They also sense that male founders may use their networks differently than women founders. Some of the women perceived that men have fewer advisors and have an easier time connecting to and working “the network” than women.
The Key Relationship: A Champion
During this conversation about support relationships, two words never came up: “sponsor” and “champion.”
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, notes that developing a sponsor or champion is one of the key differences in the way that men and women develop their networks. “Women have twice as many mentors as men, but half as many sponsors,” observes Hewlett.
A sponsor or champion can endorse a company’s performance, connect the founder to influential people and be an advocate in critical situations.
A relationship with a sponsor or champion has to be earned. Here are three essentials for making 2016 the year of the champion:
- Make your personal and company brands champion-worthy. A reputation for integrity and consistent performance are powerful collateral.
- Review or expand your network for possible sponsors or champions.
- Begin an intentional process of building a give-to-get relationship.
What advice would you share with founders on building a relationship with a sponsor or champion? I’ll be exploring this topic in future posts. Stay tuned.
Elizabeth Usovicz is topline revenue strategist and principal of WhiteSpace Consulting, and General Manager of Transaction Commons. Her career includes leadership roles in corporate, start-up and consulting environments. Connect with Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org or @eusovicz on Twitter.
In July of 2015, Startland News collaborated with WhiteSpace Consulting to conduct a whiteboard conversation with women entrepreneurs in the Kansas City region. Women entrepreneurs shared their perceptions about launching and leading companies, and identified topics for ongoing discussion. As a result of this conversation, Startland News and WhiteSpace Consulting have developed (S)heStarts, a blog series that explores the entrepreneurial experience that women and men share, as well as perspectives on how their experiences are unique.