Beyond the Pitch

Mentors Pave the Way to the Best First Customer Relationships

There’s nothing easy about starting a company. Developing a credible business plan makes the 12 Labors of Hercules look tame.

However, the right advice at the right moment can be transformational—especially when that advice helps an entrepreneur sign up those first customers.

Customer acquisition is the lifeblood of a startup and a major focus of First Connect. Dozens of client engagements from prior years are producing significant results. In the first three months of 2017 alone, along with our savvy mentors, Rev1 portfolio companies have produced 16 new client engagements and more than $800K in client revenue.

It’s all about leveraging experience and relationships to create optimal strategic partnerships. In this process, mentors are invaluable. Here’s how:

Mentors can help entrepreneurs navigate a complex industry.

Industries are not homogenous. In the early years of a startup’s life, successful entrepreneurs will narrow up their opportunity to focus on specific industry segments (also called the serviceable available market). In just a few hours, a mentor who knows the industry can deliver a tutorial that can save an entrepreneur days, weeks or even months of industry research. With a few phone calls, a well-connected mentor can introduce the entrepreneur to a powerful network of individuals, trade groups, and strategic suppliers within the targeted industry segment.

Mentors bring connections to the “right” strategic customers.

Startups need to do business with companies who are willing to go shoulder to shoulder, engaging in two-way partnerships.

This means corporate executives who are more visionary than most, who may be seeking a breakthrough solution to achieving a previously unattainable competitive edge, or who face challenges that are so crucial to the company’s future that they are willing to take the risk of doing business with a startup offering a compelling solution that may not be entirely proven.

When it comes to first customers, a client/vendor relationship won’t cut it. Strategic relationships must start high. When an entrepreneur is trying to reach executive decision-makers, nothing beats a warm, timely introduction from someone that executive already knows and trusts.

Read about Simple-Fill and Safelite AutoGlass—a partnership that signals the first step in bringing groundbreaking, affordable technology for compressed natural gas fueling to the transportation industry.

Mentors bring the know-how and networks to jumpstart working relationships with key stakeholders inside strategic customers’ organizations.

These relationships are the lynchpins of complex implementation projects and the change management challenges that disruptive innovation always requires.

Every startup needs champions within the customer organization—individuals with the drive and tenacity to stick with a startup, even when the wheels come off.

These leaders (a startup needs at least two in every client organization) will be the startup’s advocates. With as much to gain as the startup does, they will work to validate the technology and feature set as a solution that can scale, not as a one-off project. They will also work openly with the startup to assess the operational and workflow changes that are bound to come with any new solution. This is the only way a startup can assess the day-to-day effect that a new solution has on the humans who will be using it.

Every startup must master the challenge of signing up first customers. Transformational advice from an experienced mentor can change the slope of that curve.

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