Definitely connections is one of the most important parts of my involvement with startups. I introduce them to people I know in other companies for potential partnerships, I help them hire people (although I have to admit my record here is abysmal), and I try to meet more new people in case they may present opportunities for investment, partnership, or acquisitions later.
So I try to meet as many people as possible. But I've learned a lot about this introduction and meeting thing. Some thoughts about it:
1. In general, I try to meet as many people as possible, and as many as will meet with me.
2. I have discovered that it is impossible to meet everyone that you want to meet. It sucks but it's true. More on why in a sec.
3. Time is a so precious. Filling up your day with meet and greets is tough and it doesn't give you time to get your other work done. So I have to limit these kinds of meetings as much as possible.
4. Filtering becomes super important. As you can imagine, those with immediate purpose and importance come first.
5. Making introductions is also an important skill. Here is my process and thoughts:
a. I identify a possible introduction that should be made. In general, I try not to do more social type meets but want them to have at least a purpose. Think of it as a courtesy on peoples' time demands and not wasting them, and also it gives them something to talk about which will reduce awkwardness.
b. I hold my contacts close and don't frivolously make introductions. I am keenly aware of not creating an image where Dave Shen sends frivolous introductions around. That would reduce the possibility of someone responding to an introduction. My goal is to have a 100% response and connection rate, so I think deeply about whether to make the introduction or not.
c. Timing on the introduction has come up often. When to make it is important as you don't want to intro too early and want to do it when both parties are ready.
For example, if a startup is working very hard and if I judge their resources to be strained too far, I won't make another business development intro until they get more resources or some brain space frees up. The worst thing is you send them the intro and then nothing happens until much later. Or if the startup has nothing to show yet, then I don't want the intro-ed party to feel like it was a wasted meeting because it was too early to talk about their product since there was no demo.
d. While I do not bill myself as a fund raiser, the few investor contacts I do have are important to me. Asking for money raises the stakes of an introduction. Thus I will not make an introduction to an investor until I feel the company is at a place to put a really good foot forward. I do not want to make it unless they will look good at the meeting. If they look bad, then I will look bad for sending an unprepared company to that investor contact. I also won't make an introduction unless I have put my own money in. I feel it is the ultimate vote of confidence for a company when you have your own skin in the game. I do not want to come off as sending what may be perceived as random companies to them. There are plenty of people who are professional fund raisers who do this and do not have any skin in the game. I want to operate with bit more confidence than these guys.
e. I try not to deluge someone with introductions. For example, at a recent meeting with a media company executive, we discussed many of my startups who may be potential partners of theirs. He got excited about all of them. But I did not want to throw all the introductions at him at once for fear that he may not get to them, or they may get lost in email, etc. So as a courtesy to both introducees (is that a word?), I think about the tide of introductions racing at them and try not to overdo it, and space them out.
f. I always try to follow up on introductions. I want to see how they went, and pass feedback back to either or both parties. I also want to double check my introduction methods and make sure I am hitting as close to 100% response and connection rate as possible. I also want to address potential problems on the rare occasion that they occur.
6. Getting deluged myself with introductions is bad. If I meet someone who can intro me to several people, I tell them to slow it down a bit. I do not want to drop one or two because they get lost in email or from my brain. Sometimes, I am scheduling out many months and my calendar is super-important to me. As a personal goal, I try to get to 99% of my emails and always try to get back to those whom I say I will meet up with. I like saying I'll do something, and then actually do it. I don't like it when someone says they'll meet up with me but don't mean it. I intend to be as clear as possible, which unfortunately is really hard. Better to head it off with the introducer and be clear with them before they send the introduction email.
7. I have found there are many who are not what I would call socializers, which enjoy meeting for the sake of meeting with no particular goal for the meeting other than to connect. There are those who don't seem to meet anyone who does not have a particular purpose for them. Whether this is good or bad I cannot be the judge, as everybody has their own way of working and time demands.
8. I always confirm a meeting the day before. You never know when someone else may drop you off their calendar. It's always good to remind them that you're meeting with them, again as a courtesy and also it's a good time to remind them of why you're meeting.
9. By the way, I always space travel time between meetings. I try not to pack them so closely together time-wise. This also goes for how many of these types of meetings I can do in one day. Generally, I try to space them out across days as well. Going through a whole day of meetings with people you haven't met before is tough for a guy like me (call me an introvert with extroverted tendencies!).
10. Some people network solely for work purposes. There is almost no notion of personal relationship they build. You can tell by what they ask you about, what the conversation is about, and reasons for contacting you later. You never go out for a coffee with these people, or grab a brew. It's kind of cold, sometimes empty. It creates this feeling that you are only useful to them for one thing, which is business. I prefer to look for opportunities to create a relationship that goes beyond that of business only. I think this creates a richer relationship than just for work alone. If they know and feel you are a good person and you connect with each other at that level, I think you'll find that the relationship tends to work better and have more opportunities than less. Who wants to work with someone who isn't cool to hang out with?
Bottom line: introductions, connecting, and meeting are important parts of my work. I do my best to try and not waste the relationships I have built with these people, and create value with each relationship I have.