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By Nathan Parcells

Recently I have been following the This or That Startup Madness competition, which is taking a March Madness bracket approach to picking the web’s favorite startup. Initially I thought the rules were really stupid – every round is a 1 on 1 match-up, with the victor needing a majority of a popular vote to win.  I disliked this format, because it meant that every 2 or 3 days each startup would have to re-tap their contacts and ask friends, family, mentors, etc to help vote them up in order to advance to the next round.

Then something cool happened that put the competition in a new light for me. One of the contestants, a company called Punchd, who works around the corner from us, started giving out awesome looking buttons to people in the office, including those that had helped them out in the round prior. This wasn’t a deal they offered, it was just a fun way of saying thank-you. The response was really interesting — all of a sudden they had a following of fans on twitter and facebook supporting them in the next round of the tourney, which they won by a landslide.

Make it fun:

As a startup you are always looking for a helping hand, whether it is seeking contacts for your next fundraising campaign, or trying to get a few extra votes so your cool infographic hits the front page of Hacker News.   

Simply reaching out and begging friends for their help is lame.  Sure it may work once or twice, but people get tired of Re-tweeting, up-voting, and pimping your stuff. Plus aren’t these the same friends you recently abandoned to spend all your time on your startup? The point is you have to make it FUN.

Deliver an experience:

In Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational he talks about the powerful disincentive money can have when weighed against a favor. People will happily spend time helping you out as a favor (if you’re not a jerk) but if you try to put money on the table, it will sour the arrangement.  Learning how to deliver a fun experience for people who intersect with your company is a little skill that can literally make or break a startup. You don’t have money and you need a lot of help, so learn to give people a reason to want to help and talk about you!

Build Good Will:

The final piece of the puzzle is the old saying of what goes around comes around. Yes, when you have a startup you have a mountain of your own problems. You are about to pitch an important Angel, your CTO just quit, and your servers are on fire – how do you find time and the mental bandwidth to help others and have fun? I don’t know but I always try to remember that 90% of startups do fail and so you better be having fun along the way, and you better take time to help others if you want people to return your calls after you start your next big thing. I try to take my cues from some of the incredible serial entrepreneurs in Seattle who spend their free time at startup events and making intros in order to help the hordes of young founders.

Vote for Punchd:

Right now I can’t help but do some cheerleading for Punchd. They have won me over. By taking the 10 minutes to give me a cool little button I want to see them win this competition. Mostly I am curious to see what they do next if they win.  Aren’t you? You can vote here: and RT this hashtag: I want to see what happens if @getpunchd wins Startup Madness, vote here! #makeitfun

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