The value of network in scaling a startup

by Paula Gould

I have lived in Reykjavik for just over 5 years and have been working with Icelandic companies for just over 6 years. When I moved to Iceland from Los Angeles in 2011, one of the ways I minimized culture shock was by engaging with the startup community, a business sector I love and have worked extensively in for many years in the US. But my forray into the Icelandic startup scene began well before I even considered moving to Reykjavik. It started in 2008, when I first visited Iceland over the New Year.

As a small business owner of a boutique PR shop catering to both tech startups and artists, every travel opportunity was a business opportunity, whether I was on holiday or attending an event with my PR clients. My business philosophy was to kill as many birds as possible with one stone. As a result, I built an international clientele and heightened my company’s profile beyond the reality of my budget and the size of my team. I networked literally everywhere I traveled.

When I met my husband in Iceland in 2010, and knew I’d likely be traveling to Iceland a lot more, I realized I needed to find a way to make the trips work for my business too. I researched women in business networks in Iceland. I researched the startup scene in Iceland. I went to networking events when visiting Iceland. I reached out and met people in the business community for coffee, lunch, anything. Those people then introduced me to other people in their network. Every moment I was not with my husband, I was building my business profile in Iceland.

Through the network I had established in Reykjavik over the first two years, I joined the Board of Directors at a company, where I served through their acquisition by a major US tech company. My Icelandic network also proved valuable when I inevitably decided to let my US company go in 2012, a year after moving to Reykjavik. Within a matter of days, I had a new role at a cloud computing startup, a company I had been targeting for 9 months for my PR business and for whom I would serve as CMO for three years.

The point of this anecdote is to show the importance of network to grow your business and the value that establishing a network early can have on business development as you scale into new markets.

Here are 10 things every startup in Iceland should do to build their network:

  • Go to networking events in Iceland. There are tons of them now, across all industries. Startup Reykjavik, for example, is hosting several PopUp & Pitch events this summer.
  • Get to know the Embassies and Foreign Affairs resources. If you bring value to a country’s market, the Embassies will want to work with you. Take good care of these relationships. As you scale into these countries, you’ll need the Embassies to help.
  • Meet with and talk to investors far before you ever need them, both in Iceland and abroad and both online and offline. While your idea is likely amazing, investors only invest in people they have gotten to know and who they think can scale their ideas.
  • Invest in marketing and PR from the very beginning. Too many companies treat their go-to-market strategy as an afterthought. Don’t be that company. Competitors who know how to build a product and brand story engage early. Early feedback means building a better product and a better understanding of where you fit the market.
  • Respect the networks around you. If someone makes an introduction on your behalf, it is your obligation to respect that introduction and nurture it. People spend a lot of time building their networks. Think not “what can this person do for me this very second.” Think about the long term goals. I still do business with people I met in various industry sectors 20 years ago. Sometimes it takes years for the relationship to pay off but having amazing people in your network is invaluable.
  • Help people that can’t immediately help you in return. One of the ways I established myself early in my career was by actively helping people solve problems that didn’t have anything to do with me or by introducing them to others that could be helpful, even if it didn’t immediately benefit me. It’s the right thing to do.
  • Help the people who have helped you succeed. Sure, Iceland’s small. But you started here and there were lots of people who supported your success abroad by extending their financial and network resources to you. Give back not only to new startups but also to those who put themselves on the line for you.
  • Make the most of your money. I had “offices” in New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and LA. Basically, I had huge reach beyond my small little company, which was a competitive advantage. Like-minded creatives and entrepreneurs who needed the same reach that I needed traded apartments with me. We worked from each others’ offices. We helped each other with free or low cost resources, which we extended to each other because we knew we could count on each other and stand up for each other (see #5 above).
  • Take advantage of travel deals. There were countless occasions where I determined my business travel based on the cheapest flights. Just go.
  • Always use travel as an opportunity to bring your business forward. Wherever you are and for whatever reason you travel, commit to going to a meetup, invite someone for coffee, or lunch or a drink. Every time.