The most important resource in entrepreneurship is people: co-founders, engineers, investors, partners, and anyone else willing to help your cause. The adage that it’s not what you know but who you know is true.
How do you meet great people? Networking.
What is the best way to network? I’d say it’s a freemium model.
Freemium means offering something for free to show your value, then asking payment for extra value. In networking, too many people ask for what they want before demonstrating any value:
“I’m Chip Meekbottom, VP of Sales at Crapster, and I’d love to talk your ear off for two hours about our new doohickey.”
This is like trying to sleep with someone five minutes into the first date. It just causes shields up.
Better is to offer value first, and the best way to offer value is to understand needs:
“I’m Chip Meekbottom, what do you do?” “You sell enterprise hardware? Could you use contacts at Cisco? I know some folks there.”
Offering value first is not only kind, it creates goodwill and shows you are someone worth knowing. Once there’s a relationship, you are also more likely to receive reciprocity, though you shouldn’t demand or expect it.
What can you offer? There are several common needs that business people have:
-Potential clients and partners
-Good employees, especially engineers
-Investor contacts, especially for startups
The same is true for investors. Investors spend many of their meetings assaulted by strangers with lofty talk and requests. “Our team believes it can do X and wants $Y million.” Often the hardest decision for investors is execution risk: deciding whether an unproven team can do what it claims.
How can you reduce the perception of this risk? By showing competency as early as you can without asking for anything.
I setup investor meetings as soon as I can, even pre-prototype, to form the relationship and show value. I make any commitments I can of what we will build and when, then meet those milestones to demonstrate the team can execute. I also mention any interesting ideas or teams I’ve seen. It’s empathy for the investor’s dilemma; don’t pitch, show.
Even if you have no connections or value to offer a certain contact, just showing genuine interest in people makes them genuinely interested in you. As a side effect, asking nothing from someone who is frequently hounded piques interest. Ask a super attractive woman; the guys who are unfazed, confident in what they bring, and form a friendship first are more likely to be the keepers.
When I meet new folks or reconnect with old ones, I try to ask how I can be helpful. It’s good business, good karma, and feels good.
How can I be helpful to you?