Maybe the hardest thing for any entrepreneur is figuring out the difference between symbiotes and parasites.  i.e. people who can legitimately help your startup and people who can't.

As your company makes more progress, stunningly people get a lot more interested in you and your venture.  If you detect irony, you're on the right track.  People tend to come out of the woodwork telling you how much they can help you.  And let's face it… there are *a lot* of "helpers" here in Austin.  Maybe some can advance your business.  But if you aren't careful, you can wind up in a business relationship with someone that you regret.  I have seen it several times in past startups — whether it's hiring the wrong executive, getting the wrong consultant to work with you, or attracting the wrong partners.  I'm probably a lot more callous about these relationships than most as a result.

So how does an entrepreneur combat attracting parasites?  Here are a few tips that we use:

  1. See what people offer *before* entering a business relationship.  Have no patience or regard for folks who promise but can't give you a taste of what they offer.
  2. When you do sign on the dotted line, be sure you try before you buy.  What does that mean?  Enter a shorter-term contract based on solid deliverables that can't be disputed.  If you like the relationship, extend it.
  3. Never play all your cards.  Reveal enough information to tease, but guard truly important details as best you can.  Good news spreads fast and often times to your competitors.
  4. Question people.  If someone says they've done great things for other companies, get the details.  Talk to the people they've helped.  Make sure the stories wash.  Don't just accept what you're told. 
  5. Finally, ask around.  Learn about peoples' reputations.  Read what they've written, be it a book or a blog or whatever.  Do your research.  It's easy these days.

Follow these guidelines and you'll be better for it.  You won't necessarily eliminate your life of hangers on, but you'll have a better sense of the positives and negatives of working with people in your community.