You don't need an idea to start a business

Entrepreneurship through Networking

by Francisco Santolo

How meaningful encounters with teachers, leaders, and entrepreneurs, together with a tenacious exercise in the art of networking, helped me to acquire the key concepts and tools to tackle entrepreneurship, promote change, and pursue my purpose.

Entrepreneurship through Networking

I wrote this article in early 2015 – the first one I published and which I revisit today with special appreciation. I didn’t know then what lay ahead for me, but my vision and principles were clear. I had discovered something more powerful than I’d ever imagined. Having polished and expanded some concepts through intensive execution, testing and calibration of my initial intuitions, I once again share these musings, confident in their topicality and ability to inspire change.


2014 changed my life. It was a year of discovery and growth. In this article I share some principles, learnings, and resources that made all the difference.


Kellogg School of Management. The Power of Networking


Brian Uzzi's class on “Networking” had a huge impact on me. After a masterful lecture, Uzzi perfectly illustrated the power of networks with an exercise that explained how we could help each other fulfill our dreams.

The underlying concept was fairly intuitive: my dream, still difficult to achieve for me, could be easier or more manageable for you or for the people in your network. Without our knowing, any of us could have the keys – resources, talents, contacts – to unlock the door to other people's dreams.


Stanford Entrepreneurship and Innovation Certificate. Tools for Entrepreneurship


In his course "Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset" Tom Byers offered us new ways of thinking about entrepreneurship. He also provided me with a set of powerful tools, including but not limited to the seminal books The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank & Bob Dorf and Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder.


Further reading: Why I Decided to Invest My Money Studying at the World's Finest Universities


Inspired and driven by that knowledge, I set out to explore this new concept within my network and extended network. I wasn't exactly sure how to do it, so I decided to trust my intuition.


Two Key Resolutions


I made two resolutions that turned out to be key to getting started in the art of networking:

  1. Meet one person every day after work to share recently acquired ideas, get to know their views and explore possibilities for collaboration. I started with close friends and colleagues, and then reached out to my friends’ acquaintances.
  2. Make my resources, skills and contacts available to other people, with the aim of helping them. Trusting that something good would come of this, I dared to unite the power of networking with the resolve to give first.

With this approach, magical things immediately began to happen.

Almost naturally, I became a part-time startup consultant – after office hours and on weekends – collaborating with companies and projects for free. This was an excellent learning experience.

I was invited to teach a class on Entrepreneurship at a renowned university in Buenos Aires. This too turned out to be a significant learning experience through interaction with my students. In the process of helping others, I discovered talented and like-minded entrepreneurs, with whom we would later co-found new companies.

Less than a year later, without having pursued these goals, I was invited to join as a partner in Les Croquants, a French-style pastry chain, and I co-founded Eneldo, a marketing and graphic design agency which soon went on to sign major clients. Towards the end of 2015 I had participated in the creation, reformulation and expansion of several ventures in different industries. 


"There are at least a handful of extraordinary and passionate potential entrepreneurs within your network; you just need to pay attention and sharpen your aim to find them."


I had collaborated with various prestigious and top-notch entrepreneurs. However, I was still growing in my corporate career and was offered – and accepted – a regional position in a multinational company, BRF, as the Head of Trade Marketing for the Middle East and Africa.

Settled in Dubai to carry out my new role and fascinated by the encounter with new and diverse cultures, I decided to uphold the two resolutions I had taken and to continue weaving and expanding my network.

The relocation – indeed, a “life-changing” event – also allowed me to gain perspective; in reviewing the steps that had led me there, I was able to recognize how a series of powerful principles had guided the process. I would like to share these with you and encourage you to follow them.


Four Networking Tips (That Can Change Your Life)


  1. Share your goals. Don't be embarrassed or shy about asking for help and expressing your wishes or dreams; in doing so, try to be transparent and communicate frankly. Don't keep your dream to yourself – your network is willing and ready to help.
  2. Start by giving. Extend your help first, without expecting anything in return. Help as many people as you can. One way or another, something good will come out of this.
  3. Train yourself in the art of talking to people. Connect with them, say hi and ask them to coffee – or go for a walk or a run, whatever works best! Identify any activities or interests you might share. Ask them about their goals and tell them about yours. Think about how you can help each other. If you think you're too busy to do this, reconsider how you spend your time (you can always catch up on Netflix later).
  4. Grow your network, go meet new people (if possible, on a daily basis)! Your network is a living organism, it only thrives if properly nourished. Design a healthy diet that considers variety, regularity and method.

I developed this set of recommendations primarily as a result of my own personal experience. For those who wish to gain a technical and scholarly perspective on networking, I recommend delving into the extraordinary work of Brian Uzzi. I admire him deeply.

Finally, I also want to share some of my learnings about entrepreneurship, which I suggest taking into account when undertaking a new business or project and which are complemented with and enhanced through the previous suggestions.


Tools and Tips for Entrepreneurs to Harness the Power of their Network


  • Starting your own business is easier than you think! Often the most difficult task is identifying your desire or purpose.
  • It is essential that you use the appropriate tools to develop your business or project. Entrepreneurs are not born, they are made – through consistent hard work and continuous learning! There are some very efficient theoretical frameworks and methodological principles to provide orientation. Start by reading the two books I mentioned above (The Startup Owner’s… by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf and Business Model... by Alex Osterwalder). Then you can take a look at the corpus of Recommended Literature on Scalabl’s website, where you’ll find more than 100 books on business, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurial theory. If you have the means, enroll in Tom Byers' course, "Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset" available at Stanford online.
  • Find other passionate, talented and like-minded entrepreneurs (or potential entrepreneurs) and collaborate with them. There are at least a handful within your network; you just need to pay attention and sharpen your aim to find them. They could be hiding in plain sight. It's amazing what you can achieve when you work as a team!
  • Don't spend any money until you've found a scalable, repeatable, and profitable business model. Develop hypotheses about your business model and design tests to validate or disprove them on a continuous basis and in the least expensive way possible. Learn everything you can before executing or investing.
  • Always keep experimenting, iterating, pivoting and improving your model and hypotheses. Don't limit yourself to an Excel sheet or a plan determined in advance.
  • Don't be afraid to completely change your business model mid-way. This is a learning experience; continue the journey of exploration until you reach the right model, and even then, don't stop making new hypotheses and trying them out to improve its performance and/or its resilience in the face of inevitable changes.


I'd love to know if you find this article helpful or inspiring.

I will be forever grateful to Kellogg, Stanford, Brian Uzzi, Tom Byers, Steve Blank, Alexander Osterwalder and all the wonderful people who have been part of this journey: Mariana, Gabriel, Mariano, Germán, Clayton, Domingo, Pablo, Santiago, Andy, Francisco, Mateo, Martín, Julián, Ignacio, Lorena, Roxana, among many others

With this new mindset, eager to learn and ready to offer my help, I invite you to contact me and start building your network. You can begin by saying "hi Fran!" on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn and share your opinion on this article, telling me about your purpose and goals. It may be that I – or someone within my network – hold the keys that will help you achieve your goals.

I will be happy to help in any way I can and grateful for your trust.

* 2020 update. I am honored to hear that Brian Uzzi, whom I deeply admire, recommends this article on his website.

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