This week and the coming week I am bringing some entrepreneurs to meet with some people in my network. And the results of this week's meetings reinforced to me the importance of connections in my line of work.
I had originally placed more emphasis on my personal skills, ie. product strategy, user experience, etc., in helping early stage internet companies. I had not thought my rolodex was strong enough to contribute in that capacity yet. But I knew as time went on, old colleagues of mine would leave Yahoo! and have ended up in some companies which I knew would prove useful to my companies. This would be a valuable asset to my business and, thus, I began a side project of networking more and getting out there as much as possible.
I also resolved to approach this networking from a slightly different perspective. There are what I would call professional networkers out there. I have found these people only network purely for business reasons. They get out there and have conversations about how they can work together and it rarely goes beyond business type conversations. I thought I would attempt my networking to have a slightly more interpersonal aspect with it. Yes, we would potentially begin with business focused discussions, but I would always leave the door open for making it not-always-business related. Who wants to keep talking about the industry anyways? Combining this with my belief that working together can be enhanced when you geniunely like hanging out with each other makes things a whole lot smoother and easier.
I am finding that as I do things for other people, that I also get some of that in return. For that, I am eternally grateful. Everybody is busy, but as I make time for others, they make time for me and my projects, like when I ask them to help me review their funding presentation.
We did just that late Friday afternoon and it was extremely fruitful. I brought one of my companies into a meeting with two guys who I thought had just amazing sense for putting creative deals together. When we left the meeting, I thought that it generated some real new possibilities that we hadn't thought of, and now we're going to talk about how that affects our final rev of the funding deck. If we can get some of these ideas in motion, it would certainly make our funding deck that much more attractive.
Another meeting I had was with a prominent media company exec I knew. First, I think my chances of gaining a meeting through cold calling was pretty slim. In this case, I had some history with this person and he was willing to take the meeting. It also turned out to be very good. While the person didn't have anything specific for us, he was willing to introduce us to a person in another division who might be interested in our technology and product.
My strategy with these connections is thus:
1. I know the importance of the interpersonal aspect and thus am willing to try build relationships beyond just business.
2. I am willing to help them as much as they help me. And I won't charge them for doing some presentations or just a meeting or coffee or two with someone they want to meet me and learn about what I do. I have always been willing to make time for any of my connections.
3. I continue to build trust with my connections.
The first area is with not bringing frivolous time-wasting proposals and startups to meet with them. I won't do it. Everybody is so busy and time is valuable. I don't want to setup a meeting unless I think they can really benefit from it. Thus, this maximizes the chance someone will take a meeting with me if they know that 99% of the time it will be something really cool and worth their time.
The second area is with investors. This is trickier. The number of people who claim to be fund raisers is staggering. But I think there is a problem with their business; almost all of the time, they are not investing into the companies they bring to investors. They get paid either on a percentage of successful fund raising or get paid hourly for their work. As an investor, you will never know if these are good deals or not; the person bringing them to you is getting paid no matter what! For me, I don't want to work that way. I won't open up my investor network unless I have put money into a company. It is the ultimate sign of confidence in a deal; you have put your own skin in the game.
Unfortunately, my investor network is the smallest out of all my networks. It's definitely an area I'm working on now.
The third area is with introductions. There are some people who are willing to make introductions quickly. Almost too quickly. Perhaps that is a sign of trust for me. Perhaps not. But sometimes, I think it's a bit too quick. I think they should think beyond the fact that it's me and they know me. I think they should get to know why I want the intro, as well as the mind of the person they would be introducing me to, and then think hard on whether there should be an intro or not. Sometimes, there shouldn't be. Or you might need to wait a while until conditions are better to ensure that there will be a successful response. Or maybe there should be an introduction yesterday.
This is in an effort to maximize value to both parties and minimize time wasted. It also helps the person who is the receiver of the introduction know that you, the introducer, aren't making frivilous introductions and they just sit in an email inbox forever not read or responded to. My goal is to have 100% of introductions returned and matched up. If an introduction email is not responded to, I know I'm doing something wrong.
Build trust and keep building.
4. Lastly, I intend to be honest, clear, and straight-up about everything. If I can't do something, I'll say so. I won't beat around the bush on that. I want people to know I mean what I say and where I stand no matter what.