By the time I joined MAZE last year, I was told I would be the inhouse scout on a mission to find the most promising startups for our impact accelerator, Maze X. As you can imagine, for a fresh graduate with elasticity equations still running through my mind, it was kind of thrilling and haunting to hear that by the end of the year I’d know more startup names’ than anyone on the team.
In the aftermath, I can now verify how important this scouting process was to get to the amazing cohort that we will have the pleasure to work within the next months. If you are facing the same scouting challenge, here are 3 steps and valuable hints to get you started:
How to scout for startups
1. Finding leads
The first question I asked myself was: where can I get the right leads for my pipeline? We’ve answered this question through a three-fold approach:
– Online sources
Google, google google: we looked for sources of quality startups, namely recognized awards, top 10s and distinguished startups from renowned newspapers, magazines and blogs.
Secondly, Crunchbase, a worldwide database with hundreds of thousands of startups and investors. Hint: The challenge to overcome here is how to use the right filters to go from thousands of startups to a manageable list of startups.
– Offline sources
At MAZE we understand the value of in-person interactions. We have met with several startups in various events: from gigantic gatherings (yes, I’m referring to Websummit), to demo days and on-going meetings with in-bound interested applicants. Insight: Our conversion ratio (applied/contacted startups) at Websummit was 35%, compared with the overall ratio of our pipeline of 18%. In general, offline events showed a much higher conversion ratio.
– Referrals from our network
Finally, we relied heavily on our partners and friends in our network to spread the message that an awesome startup accelerator is out there and looking for impact unicorns. Additionally, we also worked formally with key professionals in the European startup ecosystem to find us applicants. Hint: These formal partnerships were thought strategically by bringing scouts that have different expertise from our own and that cover different geographic locations.
2. Approaching game
Let me use here the most cliché comparison of the dating game. When approaching someone, you shouldn’t declare your love and propose right way (unless you’re Ted Mosby* eheh). First, you introduce yourself. Then, you get to know the other person, their situation and talk for a while before committing. The same thing happens when approaching startups (but in a shorter time span). Before jumping into the requirements and criteria for the programme and proposing something, take the time to learn about the founder and the company, and be flexible when possible.
As for the contact mechanisms, after many trials, we concluded the best approach was a mix of LinkedIn messaging and email. The routine was LinkedIn message+ follow-up email or email+LinkedIn follow-up. Suggestion: If you are willing to pay a bit extra, try LinkedIn Pro. Without it, you’ll not be able to contact people outside your LinkedIn network.
3. Keeping track
How can you keep track of more than 1.000 startups contacted? Who replied to whom? Which ones to follow-up? Have I used LinkedIn or email?
To keep the process lean we used Affinity, an exceptional CRM tool. With Affinity, we could track the startups’ stage in funnel (new, contacted, going to apply, applied) know who contacted who, where we found them, etc. Tip: Yes, having a CRM is expensive but it was key to a successful scouting. Affinity was a great acquisition for us (no personal interests attached).
All in all
Scouting is a fancy word that usually refers to the activity of “looking for people with particular skills”. In the case of Maze X and in this article, this definition is somehow incomplete for us. The way we look at scouting is more on building a relationship with extraordinary founders that are solving the most pressing social and environmental issues. Besides finding them and inviting them for Maze X, we want to make sure that we can create value for them, for us and for the world.
Finding the right people who are creating businesses to solve the greatest social and environmental challenges of our time is a priority for our work at MAZE, and that is why scouting(slash)building relationships is so important.
* character from the acclaimed series How I Met Your Mother
Images credited to Fia Sports