You have a startup, but where are your people?

Friday October 21, 2011,

4 min Read

View from the sidelines by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy 

Entrepreneurship lives in our consciousness as never before. It has been infused right from college and technology being a tool has enabled numerous engineering students to take to startup right in their college. What was an isolated domain of enterprising students in other disciplines before technology changed the landscape, you could say technology has democratized entrepreneurship. The unlikely entrepreneur, a student with no resources, can now bet on his skills to start a company and scale it. Informal startups without a name but just a loose assemblage of a few enthusiastic students are also a reality today.

Starting up is easy. But after an initial stage of success when your business takes off, you need people to grow your business. Here comes the hitch. Definitely, startups cannot compete with corporate organizations for pay packages. Then, finding talent becomes a huge undertaking. Increasingly, there is a trend of fresh graduates opting for working in a startup. While that is good news, the proportion of students taking to startup is small in relation to demand. Are there options? Let’s explore a few.

1. Use interns. Students in the midst of their studies consider it valuable to have real-time experience. So employ those enterprising students as interns, as they are looking for experience and not for a paycheck. You could pay a small sum as a stipend. They wouldn’t mind and they would be working like hell with enthusiasm unbound.

2. Use social media. Marketing or spreading the word about your service or product is a great way to get customers. But instead of spending on marketing campaigns, ads, et al., just use the free social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to propagate your business. Find allies and you could just win a few deals, good ones perhaps. Create a Facebook page for your business, Twitter account for your offering, and LinkedIn for your profile. Just push messages consistently on what you have on offer without spamming too much. It is likely to attract attention from the interested people.

3. Use evangelists. If someone is gung-ho about what you are doing, ask them to extend their awesomeness in their community using them as evangelists. They would plant a great deal about your business and if that evangelist happens to be a journo, then you get free publicity. This will help you gain visibility and succeed.

4. Piggyback on biggies. If you are small and if you have a really great product, use the biggies in your business to sell that product to their customers. If your product is really valuable, biggies will do it willingly. Many small IT companies thrive on this proposition. Aleph, a David Dravidar (Indian publishing icon) startup, is joining hands with Rupa just to ride on its distribution network.

5. Friends can help. Har ek friend jaroori hota hai (friends are essential). Shed your inhibitions and ask friends if they can help with fixing a problem, do some accounting, renting their unused premises, spread word among their network, and all that they can do. Most will be willing to and you have to just ask. It works and if it works, it works well. Don’t pester and cut off if the friend is really unwilling.

These are a few among many strategies used by startups and if you are willing to explore, you could invent new ways of getting people to work for you for less. Money is not the prime criterion for many and they look for something beyond money like achievement, satisfaction of doing something, and leading people. Money is a good hygienic factor. If you realize this, and plug the right places, you are likely to find resources you need when you can’t afford to pay well.

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