Irina Dzhambazova shares how Bulgarian startups deal with obscurity, and succeed building international relationships:
Serendipity and true partnerships
"Investing time in getting to know an organisation or a person, without looking for the immediate quid pro quo is the way to go. Just get to know people, interact with them in the manner you do with friends and leave the rest to chance." - Vesselina Tasheva
Good partners understand each others goals and can act proactively on each other's behalf. This type of relationship is much easier when you can relate this way at a personal level. Vesselina's advice is to start here - the deal's come more easily later.
She's the former partnerships manager for a large, multi-national IT company, and now runs community for the largest accelerator in Southeast Europe, so has seen this work in both contexts.
Getting in the door, with research
Max Gurvits, an internationally-connected investor, emphasises the value of a little research. He encourages startups to invest a few hours in a list of 100 desired connections.
He wants them to do the mental exercise and leap to realize just how many people are hidden in Linkedin, Crunchbase, or alumni groups. All they have to do is look rather than rely on the obvious choices. Probabilistically, this larger amount of people also increases the chances of a connection actually happening and being helpful.
A list of 100 might seem daunting at first, but it's easier if you break it down into categories:
- ideal customers
- distribution partners
- analogs (companies who've done something similiar and can share benchmarks and advice)
- antilogs (comppanies who've tried something similar and failed)
- domain experts, including press
Aim for a minimum of 10 per category, and you'll probably start finding a lot more low-hanging fruit.
Boyan Benev, learned the importance of equal terms early on in his real estate career. He now has a few startups behind him and is a national TV personality. "If you put yourself as an inferior, you effectively are saying â€˜Hey I am different from you.' People are very good at sensing that and, with the neediness that you exude, they would subconsciously judge you more harshly. We are in fact all the same, entrepreneurs, investors and venture capitalists and we should feel equal with each other all the time."
Lino Velev, director of Obecto, a software development company, starts on the outskirts of a certain social groups. For him, getting to the core through the weaker connections is more practical than going straight for the big fish.
Lino relies on story-telling to be memorable. I also happen to know he parties a lot too!
All of these are viable, authentic, and easy approaches to building your international network. Sofia, Bulgaria now has a growing startup scene, but it happened because of founders like these, hustling their way up from the remote, Southeast corner of Europe.
You have to be prepared; it takes a while for your network to build. But it usually pays off faster than you expected. No reason to let your current obscurity stop you.
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