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By Brunna Beccaro Seabra (2Y 2020)

When I was kicking off an investment round for my venture, I was still struggling to understand why we failed the previous time. On a trip to Mexico City with other entrepreneurs from Kellogg’s Zell Fellows program, my mentors coordinated a unique opportunity for me to connect with a large, early-stage VC. I had one straightforward question: What should I do differently to succeed in fundraising this time around?

I couldn’t believe the answer was so obvious. In my very first class at Kellogg, when I was starting to reflect deeply about leadership, I was introduced to Paul Revere and the power of his networks. I didn’t realize at that time how relationships truly are an enabler for successful businesses.

An entrepreneur can get trapped in the tempting idea that a unique and revolutionary service or product will lead to success. As a result, one dedicates all their time, energy and money into building the perfect UX for the app, mastering the job-to-be-done, testing product-market-fit, validating the CAC and building a business model to achieve a 3x CAC/LTV ratio. In the meantime, your customers might have changed their needs, the angel investor didn’t get a chance to tell you what he or she is truly looking for in an investment, and a meeting with a potential partnership was canceled because you needed to test all the new bugs on your app.

Key lessons for an entrepreneurial path

From my personal entrepreneurial path, these are the five key lessons that I have learned — all of which are all fundamentally based on relationships:

  1. “Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money twice.” This was the VC’s answer to my question in Mexico, and it was as straightforward as this. I was so trapped in all of the entrepreneurship buzzwords I just mentioned above that I didn’t dedicate enough time to seek feedback and cultivate relationships with potential investors early on. On a side note, usually investors like to talk with entrepreneurs referred by their own network, reinforcing my point that relationships are the base for everything.
  2. Be passionate about your clients. An entrepreneur, more than any business professional, should be extremely passionate about his or her customers. The so called ‘customer-centric’ approach that leads so many ventures to succeed nowadays, should be in your DNA. After pivoting my own fintech solution for the third time, now I see where I was failing. An entrepreneur’s relationship with their customers is actually a loop of constant testing and learning. That is why you should be extremely close to them.
  3. You are only as good as your team (and co-founders). Motivation is the basis of any successful team (especially small teams). As a founder, it is my responsibility to build strong and honest relationships with any person on our team. Conduct weekly check-ins, set realistic goals, do team-building activities and foster learning opportunities. It is only by building these strong connections that a founder will make them believe in his or her vision. In my case, I managed a double — or triple, if accounting for my social life — shift between my MBA at Kellogg and my startup back in my home country. It would not have been possible if I hadn’t cultivated a transparent and close relationship with my co-founders.
  4. Learn from those who have been in your shoes. I am talking about mentors. Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs, while Jobs was mentored by Mike Markkula. Mentors will not only hold you accountable, but also provide you experiences that are not shared in books and business cases — not to mention that mentors will leverage their own networks to benefit your business.
  5. Find balance with friends and family. Entrepreneurs (myself included) usually work 24/7. You never know when that idea will hit you, and business success is extremely aligned with how much time you dedicate to it. I tend to believe that, once your friends and family have bought in to your vision, they will share your enthusiasm and become your main ‘non-cash investors.’ So dedicate quality time to deeply and intentionally connect with them.

These groups will become your assets, and believe me, they will indirectly impact your valuation. Back from Mexico, I am making an intentional effort to cultivate these relationships and invest in my communities by setting a recurring time to connect with them. I provide an update on how our business is going and seek feedback and advice. Also, I try my best to build trust by following through with the commitments I make to each of them.

In today’s changing times, it is still through these relationships that avenues will come your way. Personally, I will carry the community I am building as part of the Zell Fellows program at Kellogg for life. If you allow me, I have decided to make a minor adaptation on one of our Kellogg mantras: Always strive to build ‘low-ego, high-impact’ relationships.

Check out the Zell Fellows program for more details on the resources available to entrepreneurs at Kellogg.