Updated: Mar 22, 2021
For startups seeking to disrupt, stakeholders can be everywhere you look and overwhelming. However, they may also be a source of opportunities. An in-depth understanding of a startup’s stakeholders can open doors and illuminate opportunities that were at not apparent at first glance and resulting in important business and legal ramifications and innovations. By understanding not only who a startup’s stakeholders are, but why they are stakeholders, one can leverage the hidden opportunities.
One anecdotal story occurred we saw the creation an AI based technical product for research and non-profit causes. However, the amount of work needed to develop the platform was too much for the individual and a handful of interested parties. That’s when the stakeholder discussion began, questions such as: Who is a stakeholder? Who is greatly impacted and how are they impacted? Why are they stakeholders? Can these stakeholders become more involved? were some of the questions asked asked.
This led the organization to turn to a stakeholder that had minimal involvement and little to gain at that time, the students. Why were students stakeholders in this situation? Students were stakeholders as a professor of theirs was conducting cutting-edge research in their area of study, this type of technology greatly impacts their future careers, and they came to school to learn, grow, and experience. Thus, the stakeholder analysis indicated that there was a great amount of untapped potential for student involvement. Many students had expressed interests in startups, disruptive technology, and other industry changing innovations. Students were continuously looking for greater hands-on experiences while in school. In other words, the next generation of technologies that will directly impact their career was right in front of their nose and they wanted to take part. The organization then combined the student's reason for being a stakeholder with the university’s and created a variety of credited and volunteer opportunities for students to take part and build something together. This ultimately resulted in the platform being created in half the projected time.
Although not all startups begin in the non-profit research based setting there is an applicable takeaway. Understanding your stakeholders for who they are and why they are your stakeholders can lead to a variety of opportunities in sales, partnerships, employment, growth, and strategic decision making that may have been hidden. For instance, a startup that is looking to disrupt an industry can speak with stakeholders who are secondary stakeholders, e.g. a stakeholder of your customer, who can provide insights and opportunities arising from their journey and experiences that were not obvious from your point of view.