Having worked at startups for more than a decade, it has become clear that the defining characteristic of success is who you know. How much do those individuals trust and respect you and how much access do you have to them?
As a human behavior scientist, I’ve spent years studying what causes people to connect and I have personally tested the research. These simple tips will accelerate the growth of your network by five or 10 years.
1. Know your buckets.
When you are talking about building a great network as a startup, you want to fill key buckets and understand their role over the course of a startup’s lifecycle. These aren’t the only buckets, but they capture many of the critical concerns you will have. These include knowing key contacts as potential customers, partners, and investors and each of their roles in your community.
- Potential customers: In the early stages, it is important to connect with the actual decision-makers at a company. These will be your best sources for understanding the solutions that their company needs, and they will likely know other ideal customers. Whatever your product is, you’re going to need early adopters to test the product and be your champions.
- Partners: Similarly, partner companies will have a wealth knowledge on your customers’ problems and provide secondary revenue opportunities. Additionally, they can make key introductions as your company grows.
- Investors: I’ve never heard of a serious investor who put in money day one without doing due diligence. Instead, developing a relationship over time allows them to track your performance and behavior. They will give you guidance and make introductions before they ever put in a dollar.
- Media: Getting attention from the right outlets can make or break a company, but you don’t want to be searching for contacts the week of launch. You want to know journalists and media professionals long before and have them advocate for your company over the course of years.
No matter what the relationship, it is unrealistic to expect to build trust in one day. Research has shown that familiarity breeds likability and appeal. You can’t look at building a community or a network as an overnight activity, but rather a lifelong commitment to your own success and happiness.
2. Ask people for opinions and insights.
Especially if you are new to an industry, it is important to know the players involved and the lay of the land. Taking meetings or grabbing a cup of coffee and asking people for their opinions and thoughts will lead people to invest into your relationship.
From a scientific standpoint, the more effort someone puts into a relationship, the more that they will like you. This is called the Ben Franklin effect. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors, but stack them from small to large.
When you meet with somebody, even if it’s for 15 minutes make sure to do two things:
- Ask them why they met with you. It reinforces the idea that you are worthy of their time.
- Ask them for recommendations. Thank them for their time and ask them for connections to influencers in their network that might be open to talking with you.
3. Provide value.
Keep in mind that every relationship is an exchange of value, even in friendships. I exchange my trust and time for yours and hopefully, we both come out better for the experience. It is important to understand what value you can provide in your interactions. You might think that you are young and don’t have the traditional things that people value or notice, such as money, access or expertise, but I have yet to meet a human being that doesn’t possess value. The key is in understanding what it is that is important for other people and how you can fulfill that need.
4. Consider event-to-event relationships.
As your community grows, it will become impossible to maintain significant one-on-one relationships with everybody. Instead, you may want to consider event-to-event relationships, which focus on meeting a larger number of people by constantly having something to invite them to.
Ideally, you would invite them to your own event, but that’s not always an option. Consider hosting events for those people who are critical to your startup’s success, so that you are seen not only as a successful entrepreneur but as a critically connected hub at the center of the industry. This will allow you to develop deeper relationships with larger numbers of people. Other industry professionals will also want access to you, your company and your community.
This strategy is incredibly effective but please note: It takes a significant amount of energy and effort and may take time away from your core business.
5. Communicate clearly.
Always know what you're asking from people and what they are getting in return. When my team at The Influencers communicates with a guest, we are completely transparent. Guests get access to an extensive network of influential and interesting people. What I am asking is whether or not they want to be part of it. There is no grey area.
To get your communication to a point of clarity you need to try varying approaches. People from different backgrounds, status and cultures will interpret your communication differently. If you can't say what you are doing in three or four sentences, then it is probably confusing and reducing the chances that anybody will participate. As a general rule, a confused mind says no. So keep it clear.
Whether you have the next killer app, run a squid fishing company in Borneo, or make lightweight hammocks for campers, your company’s success will be fundamentally impacted by the community that you build and the conversations and experiences that you share with them. Hopefully, these insights will not only accelerate your success, but increase the strength of your relationships.
For more information on connecting with exceptional people and leading a fun and exciting life, pick up a copy of my new book The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.