Collaboration: the one thing that all startups need to improve and do

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Last week I sent a quote to a large European client for Facenition (our startup) – I wouldn’t have known about this RFP (Request For Proposals) unless a Berlin startup which is acting in the same niche like we do – of retail analytics – didn’t tell me about it. In fact, we put a joint proposal of several services – few of them by Facenition, and few by the other startup. Even that we are, by dry definition, competing in the same market niche, for selling similar products and services (retail analytics) to the same clients – we found a smart way to collaborate: we joined forces to offer a wider range of solutions, so the client may be more likely to hire us rather than a larger and established company. Large and established companies have got a competitive advantage over startups: experience, money and strategic partnerships.

The two of us are collaborating in other things as well, I believe part of it will look completely wrong to you – but for us it is working really good: for example, whenever I spot an investor that may be interested in what they do, I send the details to my friend. When I apply for funding or for an acceleration program – I share those details with my friend as well. Does it look stupid to you? Well it may, but the first impression can lead you to the wrong conclusions – because I already applied for three other grants, which I never knew about, grants which my friend spotted and shared the information with me. You are actually increasing your chance to succeed when you share information and ideas with someone who seems to be your competitor, reason is – that now the two of you work together – you get a partner that is working along with you to double your chance! If one thinks that the benefit does not add up, it is because they may not be so strong in maths and business…. which means that maybe they shouldn’t run a startup at all. I will explain this by example:

Say there are really good two investment programs, and you know only about one of those. And lets assume that for each such program, 1,000 startups apply and only 10 get it, i.e. you have a chance of 1% to get the funding. So you have got 1% chance, right? Now – lets say you share those details with your friend that is running a competing startup, while you know that he/she will share such information with you as well: your chance to win that grant is now reduced to 0.9991% rather than 1%. OK cool, but you have actually doubled this number by 2, because your friend has told you about the other grant which you didn’t know about – right?. So in total, collaborating with your competitor has increased your chance to win from 1% to 1.998% – you almost doubled your chance to succeed.

Ideas how to collaborate with others

First, identify the right people

Steven Pinker in his book “How The Mind Works” (which influenced me a lot) is saying that humans have got an in-built mechanism for collaborations and information sharing. On the other hand, we got lots of cheaters around – and those are not the people you want to collaborate with. Our mind has evolved in years of evolution when humans had to collaborate in order to survive. I use my natural senses to identify cheaters, and stop communicating with them, while I focus on people which are willing to give without conditions. A cheater is basically someone which wants just to take, and not to give anything. There are some easy techniques to spot them.

Giving without conditions is a natural way to identify the right people, and you need to act the same. The worst mistake is to try and collaborate in a measured way – as the Arabic verse is saying “Yum Atzal Yum Batzal” i.e. one day is good, one day is bad: You shouldn’t calculate your help to the cent (i.e. to the smallest detail) – you first need to give something useful, and observe / watch to see if the other side is giving something to you in return. Giving and getting does not necessary need to be of the same size / level. If they are giving more than what you initially gave – it is even better – and you in return should always try to give more than you have received (another lesson I learned from Steven Pinker).

So if someone is telling you “oh you gave me a contact, I will give you a contact in return” – you should watch carefully how those people behave – most likely they are selfish and do not know how to collaborate. If someone is giving you without conditions, you should focus on those people and try to find ways to collaborate with them. If someone is pulling out a contract / agreement before they try to help or before they get to know you – stay away from those people: they will try to screw you down the road.

Build long term relationships

I sometimes get those random social media messages of people which ask for my help. Sometimes I would not hear back from those people, even if I showed the will to help. I will devote a whole article to social media and how to properly network with people via social media, at the moment what I want to emphasize is that you shouldn’t “jump” on strangers to get help: the best way to maximize your collaboration effort is by building long term relationships: I connect with people on social media but then I take it further and setting phone calls meeting with them, if they sound serious I do video calls, and then I would make an effort to change my international itinerary so I could meet them for coffee – seriously – the above Berlin mate is someone which I met on social media, but I changed my itinerary so I could meet him face to face – the investment paid off and I also earned a friend for life.

Share information

Information sharing is important for humans as resources (food and money) are – because we down the track of our evolution, we used information to avoid hazards and to know where the best hunting grounds were – we are actually addicted to information which explains the success of social media. If you find information that can help others – for example – potential clients, grants, conferences, ideas,…. share it with your good contacts, especially if it is not useful for yourself. Think about it like a hunting-gathering tasks: if you found an apple tree – you can’t eat all the apples by yourself – you would share them with others – right? Do the same with information: you network with people, right? so the moment you find something which can be useful for others – call them – don’t wait for them to call you and ask for help. “Cast your bread upon the water…” – use information as a commodity! help others, you will get rewarded later on.

Challenge your own ideas

New friends are really good for challenging your own ideas: tell others what you do, explain them your product, and see what they say

Investors relations

Investors relations are a really good asset to “trade” or give to others. If you keep your investors contacts close to your chest, you are not doing yourself any good. I will explain why: with investors, you usually have one shot – no more. If they tell you “no” – they are no longer have real value for your business. However… if you connected between them and others – you earned two people which now owe you a favor….  think about it – you doubled your chances again just by connecting two people. I strongly recommend to share your investors relations with others.

Until next time –

Yours –




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