What startups look for in a service provider

What startups look for in a service provider

Startup founders face a number of incredibly unique challenges. 

Anyone in the industry will know about the never-ending challenges of constantly raising (and then managing) capital, acquiring new customers, and getting product-market fit. But less talked about is the challenge of finding the right suppliers to help startups succeed, while working within these constraints.

Finding suppliers who understand your unique set of challenges is sometimes harder than expected, as I’ve learnt in my own experience, not just as CEO of Fishburners but also as the founder of multiple startups, such as Tiliter and Karra’s Lures. 

It can be tempting to hire cheap and get the job done quickly, but it can often cost you more money, time, and even reputation if the work is not up to scratch.

We’ve seen this play out time and time again with startups, but working closely with the community at Fishburners has offered a large number of insights into what startups look for when choosing between service providers.

And, spoiler alert - cost is not always the primary answer. 

Price…sort of

Okay yes, most startups naturally do quote price as an important deciding factor. But while the cost needs to be competitive, it’s an easy mistake to focus solely on cost at the expense of quality. This can lead to problems and lost dollars down the line. 

If you’re a service provider, don’t think you should underquote or undersell yourself. But do be upfront on what the price includes so that founders can have realistic expectations, as they often don’t have legroom when it comes to budget.

In the end, the more upfront you are, the more satisfied and calm a founder is likely to be. This will improve your chances of securing a long-term, rapidly growing client.   

Flexibility

The pace in startup land is notoriously fast, requiring quick adjustments and pivots that can affect the service provider’s delivery. Providers who understand this and can adapt to this pace are the ideal candidates. 

Cultural alignment

Startups are small and quite personal to the founder, so cultural differences can make working together more difficult than for larger businesses. It helps if you share the same values, on top of having worked with startups before and knowing how the ecosystem works. Attitude is a really common reason we’ve found for founders choosing not to go with an external contractor or service provider. 

Proof

Show us what you’ve got! Around 98 percent of startups said they’re more likely to use a provider that has a good review from another Fishburners member or from an entrepreneur they know and trust. Founders like it when you’re able to provide case studies and referrals showing your capability and experience with people similar to them. The more collateral and hard evidence you have, the better. 

No bull

Cut the sales pitch. Entrepreneurs are sales people themselves, and can see through sales pitches in minutes. It’s best to be transparent and concise. They want results, not lunches, coffees and presents (but a supplier who offers all those things probably won’t be turned away).

Communication and transparency

Startups often turn to service providers to bridge a skills gap. Delivering services that a founder may not have much technical knowledge of requires strong (patient, non-condescending) communication. Also, nobody likes misunderstandings that could lead to extra costs, missed deadlines, or poor delivery.

So how do we find these magical perfect suppliers?

Tips for how startups can get it right

  • Look to your ecosystem or join a startup community where you’ll have access to people who can point you in the right direction and give you invaluable references. Your startup ecosystem often has all the answers you need. 
  • Always look for service providers with specific experience working with startups in your industry or your stage of progress - bigger agencies with bigger clients aren’t always better.
  • It may be tempting to hit up your mates, but do your best to keep business separate from family and friends. Don’t use your “mate” unless they fit the criteria.
  • Be as specific and as accurate as you can on your scope and requirements. Service providers need as much information and direction as they can get. Your outcome will only ever be as good as your brief. 
  • Build a long-term relationship with your provider so their understanding of your needs can deepen over time, and you can grow together. This offers consistency, efficiency, and a great deal of time saving. You also won’t need to waste time hiring on a job-by-job basis if you already have a good working relationship with your provider. 
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