You don't need an idea to start a business

Entrepreneurship through Networking

by Francisco Santolo
April 2018

I am very fond of this article, the first one I have written, which I originally published in the beginning of 2015. I didn't know what was ahead, but my vision and principles were clear then. I had discovered something more powerful than I could have ever imagined.

2014 was a life-changing year for me. That year I embarked on a journey of discovery and growth. In this article, I share some key principles, learnings, and resources that made all the difference.

November 2013. Kellogg School of Management. Brian Uzzi's class on "Networking" had a huge impact on me. After a wonderful lecture, Uzzi perfectly illustrated the power of Networking through an exercise where he explained how we could help each other in order to fulfill our dreams.

The concept was quite simple: my dream, still difficult for me to achieve, could be easier or more manageable for you or for people in your network. Unbeknownst to us, we could be holding the keys (resources, talent, contacts, etc.) that could open the door for other people to achieve their dreams.

2014. Stanford Entrepreneurship and Innovation Certificate.  In his course "Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset", Tom Byers offered me new ways of thinking about entrepreneurship. He also provided a set of powerful tools for me to use – including, but not limited to Steve Blank's The Startup Owner's Manual and Alexander Osterwalder's Business Model Generation.

Inspired and moved by that knowledge, I decided to explore this new world within my network and extended network. I wasn't exactly sure how to do that, so intuitively I decided to:

  • Meet one person after work every day to share these insights, ask for feedback and explore possibilities. I started with close friends and colleagues and then expanded to friends of friends.
  • Make my resources, talents and contacts available to others. In order to do this, I decided to use the power of Networking to reach other people and offer them help, with confidence that something good would come from it.

With this approach, magical things immediately started to happen:

I almost naturally became a part-time consultant on entrepreneurship – after office hours and weekends –, helping ventures for free. This was an excellent learning experience.

I was invited to teach a class on Entrepreneurship at a renowned University in Buenos Aires – where I gained serious insight by interacting with my students. And in the process of helping others, I discovered wonderful entrepreneurs, whom I later co-founded companies with.

Less than a year later, without ever imagining it, I am co-owner of Les Croquants, a French-style pastry chain, and co-founder of Eneldo, a Marketing Agency and Graphic Design Studio that has already signed major clients. I participated in the creation, restructuring and expansion of a number of startups in different industries. (2015)

I 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.

I realized how a series of powerful principles were guiding this whole process and I would now like to share them with you:

  • Don't keep your dream to yourself. Don't be shy to ask for help. Be candid. Share your goals. Your network is willing to help.
    Start by giving. Offer help without expecting anything in return. Help as many people as possible. In one way or another, something good will come from this.
  • Talk to people! Get to know them, invite them for coffee. Find activities you can share. Ask others about their goals and tell them about your own. Sit down together – or go for a walk or a run, whichever works best! – and think how can you help each other out. If you believe you don't have time to do this, then find some.
  • Grow your network, go meet new people! Start by helping. Be candid in sharing what your goals are.
  • I drew up this set of guidelines mostly as a result of my own personal experience. If you wish to gain a more scientific insight on networking I strongly recommend you to delve into Brian Uzzi's work. I admire him deeply.

Now let me share some of my learnings regarding entrepreneurship:

  • Building your own business is easier than you might think!
  • It is paramount that you use the right tools in building your business. Entrepreneurs are not born, they are made – by learning! There are some very efficient frameworks and principles out there. Start by reading the two books I mentioned before – you can afterwards take a look at the Recommended Literature on our website. If possible, enroll in Tom Byers' online course, "Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset", at Stanford.
  • Find other passionate and formidable entrepreneurs and work with them. There are at least a few within your network, you just need to pay attention and sharpen your aim. They could even be very close to you. It's amazing what you can achieve when you team up!
  • Don't spend any money until you have a scalable, repeatable and working business model. Keep improving your business model and design tests to challenge it on a continuous basis and in the less expensive way possible – learn as much as you can before you execute or invest.
  • Don't be afraid to change your entire business model halfway through. This is a learning experience, so keep exploring and testing until you get it right.
  • Always continue learning! Don't confine yourself to an Excel sheet or a written plan.

It would give me great joy if you find this post useful or inspiring.

I am forever grateful to Kellogg, Stanford, Brian Uzzi, Tom Byers, Steve Blank, Alexander Osterwalder and all the formidable people that have partaken in 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 in place, eager to learn and ready to offer help, I invite you to start building your network. You can start by saying hi on any of my social media profiles and sharing your opinion on this article, your purpose, your goals... Either I or someone in my network may unknowingly hold the keys to your dreams. 

I will be happy to help.

And grateful for your trust.

* 2020 Update. I am humbled to know that Brian Uzzi, whom I deeply admire, recommends this article on his website.

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