Two crucial elements for an entrepreneur’s survival are stocks of knowledge and their relationships with other people (Davidsson & Honig, 2003; Hoang & Antoncic, 2003). Knowledge is gained by entrepreneurs through conversations with their supporters from which they can receive advice. Hanlon and Saunders (2007: 602) define supporters as actors who “willingly provide” entrepreneurs “access to a valued resource”. This definition builds upon the relational dimension of entrepreneurship which indicates an entrepreneur’s access to resources is achieved through social interaction with supporters (Stevenson & Jarillo, 1990; Venkataraman, 1997). Some relationships, however, render better access to resources than others (Brüderl & Preisendörfer, 1998)—but the reasons as to why these particular relationships do so remains unclear. We contribute to unraveling the peculiarities of these particular relationships by expanding observation to include one dyad beyond the direct tie, observing support paths.
This way, we contribute to what Slotte-Kock and Coviello (2010) refer to as research in “Business Networks”: Emphasis is both on dyads—here, entrepreneurs’ direct and indirect ties—as well as how they relate to a wider structure—in this case, the support path—to follow both what happens within relationships and across them, with a view towards the complexities of relationships. To this end, we use cross-case analysis (Eisenhardt, 1989), guiding analysis by QCA (Ragin, 2008; Schneider & Wagemann, 2012) to compare these cases because this method reveals through boolean algebra which pairs of tie characteristics form a path that is sufficient for obtaining advice.
Our findings add to research on entrepreneurs’ support by extending the inquiry into the supporters’ network to understand entrepreneurs’ indirect relationships. We call upon insights from discussions of tie features related to obtaining advice, such as association with a supporter or third party of higher status (Borgatti & Cross, 2003; Jack et al, 2004; Ridgeway, 2006; Stam et al, 2014; Wegener, 1991) and multiplexity, which is the accumulation of different types of relationships within a tie (Batjargal, 2003; Dahlander & McFarland, 2013; Ferriani et al., 2013; Kuwobara et al., 2010; Shah et al., 2016). Particular attention is given to experience of negative affect within the relationship (Labianca & Cross, 2006), since advice seeking involves exposing difficult problems (Higgins & Kram, 2001; Levin & Cross, 2004) and the experience of negative affect can cause people to avoid certain conversations with counterparts (Lewicki et al., 1998). We follow up the analysis by combining our findings around negative affect with those around unequal status and multiplexity to further explore the subsets where affect plays a role.
We find that advice is given when a) at least one of either the indirect or the direct tie is of equal status, b) the indirect tie is multiplex, and c) there is negative affect directed at the supporter from at least one of the two ties in question, although if there is absence of negative affect between the supporter and the third party, the entrepreneur can receive advice when negative affect is avoided with the supporter.