(Editor’s Note: The Start-up Chronicles is a new weekly feature giving an inside view of the trials of a bootstrapped start-up – The Cost Savings Guy. CEO and founder Bruce Judson is also the author of “Go It Alone!: The Secret to Building A Successful Business on Your Own” and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management.)
In business books, you read a lot about the ‘eco-system’ that surrounds successful companies. Generally, this consists of smaller companies that arise around (and feed off of) massively popular entities such as Google or Twitter (which are, in turn, enhanced by the smaller firms). For example, there are now a number of services that offer platforms to help businesses connect with potential customers through Twitter.
For smaller companies, though, the eco-system is made up of other companies—ranging from suppliers to business partners—that will benefit from their success. For a start-up, a motivated eco-system can be a significant way to jump-start awareness – as well as the value of its products and services.
As we approached the launch of “The Cost Savings Guy” (CSG) a few weeks ago, I gave this area a lot of thought. For a start-up, the dynamics of engaging an eco-system are far different than those faced by larger companies. Established companies create them by enabling other entities to work with their products or services – often making their API’s available, so that developers can integrate valuable new products and services.
In contrast, a start-up needs to aggressively motivate its eco-system. It’s unrealistic to think anyone will instinctively act on your behalf. Nothing happens unless you make it happen.
In launching CSG, I realized that the central issue for this rollout was not who constituted the eco-system of the business. (CSG is built on partnerships. We have a relationship with every company whose cost-saving services we recommend.) The real issue was what we could reasonably expect it to do to enhance our launch.
From experience, I knew there were at least three hurdles in motivating an eco-system to take action:
The need for specificity. When working with busy people, broad requests for aid don’t cut it. You are far more likely to get action with a very specific request.
Your request needs to be easy to implement. If you’re not creating work for others, you’re ahead of the game.
Ask for something special. Articulate why your requests have benefits for everyone involved.
With all this in mind I put together a plan and started making active requests. As objections occurred, I met them.
In some cases, I simply said, “I will write the first draft of what I am talking about and send it to you. Then, you can decide. “ By taking this approach, I made the request tangible and far more real, demonstrated I knew exactly what I wanted, eliminated as much of the work for the recipient as possible and showed that I was serious when I said “I will do all the work to make this happen.”
At launch, the eco-system responded and awareness of our service is quickly climbing. Right now, The Cost Savings Guy is ranked as the number #1 startup in November on KillerStartUps.com , and I am starting to get calls from press contacts initiated by our eco-system.
This effort also opened the door for discussions of joint initiative that can enhance CSG’s chances of success. Many of our partners have large, ongoing e-mail communications with customers in our target market. The right e-mail initiatives from these trusted providers, discussing CSG’s service, could quickly build a large customer base for the company.
These last benefits were unanticipated – and they underlined what’s probably the most important lesson of all. The best opportunities are rarely the ones that you predict ahead of time. They arise as you move forward, and often surprise you. But, they never happen unless you act first.
Photo by AndyRob via Flickr.