Managing Stakeholders as A New Founder

No, this post is NOT aimed at proselytization. And No, this is NOT your typical list of tips from a business rag. I’m writing here for new (i,e. amateur) CPG founders who are not professionally experienced in the CPG industry—folks who got in because they had an idea, an innovation. 

Most founders in this situation have little to no industry network in any business function. This puts them at an enormous social disadvantage when negotiating with stakeholders that they will need. 

Your lack of knowledge, social capital (networks), and symbolic capital (social proof) is crippling in the beginning. It’s a vulnerable situation, like anyone making a huge career change (which you probably just did). 

Here are my tips for leading stakeholders, not chasing them:

  1. Stand out with your business-growth hustle – I’m the last person who will tell you that hustle alone will create a win, but, without it, in most categories, you have little hope without a pile of paid media cash. 
  2. Build your network of elite peers who have connections that could benefit you later on – if you don’t have social capital; you have to start building it
  3. Use PR opportunities to enhance your credibility – choose wisely and recognize that every impression exposes you to copycats with more experience. 
  4. Find early angel investors who function as ‘social proof’ of your potential. There are lots of prior founders and/or angel investors who come from the industry and who could perform this function
  5. Research stakeholders you may need to work with well in advance. Do your homework. Locate the ‘good folks’ who work well with startups.
  6. Drop names from your network when the time comes so that you won’t get treated like a complete newb.
  7. Don’t let the presence of bad actors poison your attitude – you have to negotiate in a friendly manner, even if you’ve had a crappy experience before with a broker, co-man, agency, etc.
  8. You must have a strong POV – act like a leader, and stakeholders will follow. Act meek, confused, passive, and they will simply fit you into their processes or unconsciously downgrade you.
  9. Learn how to negotiate with no financial leverage – it’s a linguistic game. Learn how to build empathy for yourself when you would otherwise be taken advantage of. 

Look at the pic for this post. Notice that Jesus is NOT gazing at his fans like a jerk. He is in prayer. And they’re only there because of what he has been doing, not his PR campaign. Your slice of humble pie has been served. 

Dr. James Richardson

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