Building Your Ecosystem Should Be Entrepreneurs’ Top Priority
Patrick Joubert, Co-founder and CEO of Ponicode
It goes without saying that the talent of entrepreneurs lies in their ability to execute an idea and in the quality of what they implement on a daily basis. But we must put an end to the self-made entrepreneur myth! The success of a startup also depends on its ability to build a solid and relevant ecosystem around itself. It is time to promote leadership for and by the ecosystem.
Throughout my life as a business leader, I have been constantly building and expanding the ecosystems around my projects. The goal: building concentric circles around my companies, to protect them in difficult times and propel them faster in times of growth. The ecosystem is both a firewall and a booster.
Developing this ecosystem approach means thinking carefully about all the dimensions of its business and linking partners from different dimensions together. These links are sometimes forged spontaneously, while others need to be built. Over time, unexpected connections are made: suppliers helping to spread the word about a hiring opportunity, thus attracting new talents, for example.
Here are some good practices for growing an ecosystem consistently and nurturing your business:
1 - Connecting your partners
Creating partnerships is only the beginning of the road. It's all about maintaining them in the long run, and better yet, building bridges between your partners - whether they are business partners, technical or else. Building those links ensures that the ecosystem evolves organically around the company’s growth. Bringing partners together and weaving an interconnected network should become a habit. Categorizing and isolating your partners could only reduce the chances of your ecosystem to generate innovative ideas for your business.
2 - Anticipating needs
It is a mistake to think that partnerships should be formed when the company needs them. Your partnerships must be born well before you need their involvement. Creating an ecosystem means constantly talking to new people about your project, making them understand your ambition well before needing their help or services. Partners enable the company to achieve its objectives because they have been convinced beforehand of the vision and the execution. With Ponicode, all the strategic partners involved today were aware of the idea, the vision and the objectives even before the company was created and the co-founders brought together.
3 - Soliciting its ecosystem
Don't hesitate to gather opinions and exchange with the members of your ecosystem on every strategic point (company’s vision, market, recruitment issues...) as well as on every operational aspect (how to build an MVP). Partners often appreciate being involved or questioned about things they know about. Not a day goes by where I don’t reach out to someone in my ecosystem on a specific topic. It's a way to create a link, or even, who knows, to create synergies. Don’t be shy with your partners' resources and intelligence. They can help you do things better!
4 - Going beyond the transactional approach
The difference between an ecosystem and an addition of partnerships lies in one word: people. The strength of an ecosystem is its ability to leverage collective intelligence to create new sources of value for each of its members. Successful ecosystems are those engaging partners personally and emotionally. An ecosystem will therefore never be the sum of contracts signed with your partners. It is the sum of personal investment, knowledge sharing and, sometimes, commercial or financial transactions.
Building long-term relationships between people is key
This last paragraph is perhaps the one that finally brings together all the asperities and challenges of building your ecosystem. If the business leader adopts only a transactional approach, he will never find partners determined to invest themselves in the success of the company. It is necessary to go beyond the simple provision of services. This is only possible by building a long-term relationship between people.
Building a relationship based on trust as well as based on a dense and continuous exchange with decision-makers in leading companies is what I have done throughout my 20 years of entrepreneurship. Those who heard and listened to my first ideas are still the first ones to listen to my doubts and questions in the development of my company 20 years later. They are also those to whom I humbly try to bring help, pieces of advice and opportunities when I can.
Respecting the vision and opinion of your partners and including them in a conversation about the success of your company is how you create a human link with your partners. Thanks to this, you are placing your partners' value at the heart of your company's success.
For instance, I always make sure to keep my strategic partners informed of the company's development with maximum transparency. It enables them to flag weaknesses and think ahead of the curve about opportunities we should grab. This is how the incubator of my previous project became, without planning it, a collaborator and co-distributor of our product. This was only made possible by giving our partner a seat at our table and by constantly informing them of our ideas and our mistakes in the search for the "product market fit.
The ecosystem approach explains why multi-entrepreneurs who are systematically successful in their projects are the same ones who consistently maintain their ecosystem through their career. Xavier Niel's example speaks for itself: creating Ecole 42 and Station F enabled him to root his ecosystem deeper around his projects and consequently spark new energies around him.
A company cannot succeed by itself. The first quality of a good business leader is consequently knowing how to build a robust ecosystem. On a day-to-day basis, a large part of the entrepreneur’s time should be officially allocated to leading this ecosystem and to meet partners. Entrepreneurs must take ownership of the ecosystem management and give a special space to it. A space which should be as important as product development, HR or finance. For all the entrepreneurs out there I can only state once again how critical building an ecosystem is to your project’s success. But beware, building a relationship based on trust with partners takes time. So go out there and get started.