Jason Berek-Lewis Creator, Healthy Startups
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My favourite thing about startups is the community around them - across the world thousands of founders, venture capitalists, angel investers, entrepreneurs, social media people, programmers, coders, bloggers, UI and UX experts, app developers... all come together to share their learnings and ideas in meetups, on blogs, websites, bulletin boards, social media networks.
I spend a lot of my time absorbing all of this so that I can be of better value to you (through this blog, but also through my consulting work). Here are some thoughts on how you can help startups. But, before I get to that, I want to thank Dan Shapiro because his awesome blog inspired this post (see http://www.danshapiro.com/blog/2012/07/how-to-help-startups).
Know who needs help
Whether you are seeking work or offering your expertise pro bono, there is no point extending a helping hand to someone who doesn't need it. If your skills lie in helping startups to raise money, a startup that has ample funding won't necessarily benefit from your help right now. You might spend all your time chasing the 'hot' startups that are featured on TechCrunch and Mashable, but the fact that they are profiled there should tell you that they don't really need your help.
Much of the startup ecosystem is populated by entrepreneurs and small 'garage' startups that are working hard to reach their potential - your goal should be to help them get there.
Be focused on how you can add value
Because startups are the 'new black' there is the temptation to throw your hat in the ring, to offer your expertise and your services, because it's 'cool' to work for/ with a startup. Having startup experience might look great on your resume, but it may be better for you to be selfless about this (to some degree).
If you genuinely want to help, make sure you are adding value. Offer advice or skills to a startup where you are clearly plugging a gap. Put your hand up to help them grow their business, refine their product, improve their marketing, or open doors for the startup to an untapped part of the VC community (these are just some of the ways you can help).
Startup founders and employees are frantically busy. Everyone wears multiple hats, puts out numerous fires and builds numerous things. I have learned a very important lesson in the last few weeks: if you are going to take a founder's time while catching up for a coffee because you want to pick their brains, come armed with an idea, resource, tip, contact, etc that you can share so that you give something back (and paying for the coffee can help too).
Make your help scale
The best way to help might not involve meeting with startup founders at all. Sharing your experience and knowledge by meeting with one founder at a time is going to take forever and you are not really giving much back that way. Find a local entrepreneur meetup and offer to speak at their next event. Write a blog or an ebook chock full of your knowledge and give it away for free. If you can't write, post 'how to videos' online. There are so many platforms that can help you reach a larger audience - and that is your goal. When you launch your platform, let me know. If your work is of value to my readers I'll share it right here on Healthy Startups.
Barter your help away
Many new startups are cash strapped. The founders are probably 'bootstrapping', or maybe they are funding the business through taking on debt. If you can offer help, odo so in exchange for something else of value from the startup founders. Maybe you can learn from each other's experiences and call it 'even'?
One more piece of help
Viral word of mouth can help a startup to scale - fast. Healthy Startups can be part of that, so if you are a founder or you work for a health-related startup, or if you know someone who does, ask them to answer 6 for a startup (see http://healthystartups.com/startup-blog/2012/6/12/6-for-a-startup.html) and get some coverage on a Top 50 Startup blog.
How are you helping startups? Share your work, thoughts, ideas, experiences below.