Technology is People. Whether it’s building your team, pitching potential partners or mining sources of capital, at the end of every decision is a person, so relationships still matter. Fortunately for founders, we’re living in an ecosystem where accessibility is increasing. Sure it still takes time to build trust, but if you think back to the limitations of 5, 10 or 20 years ago, it’s clear email/LinkedIn/Twitter are far more open platforms than, say, a Rolodex. Still takes work – especially if you don’t live in a tech center – but if you hustle, if you build something, if you contribute interesting ideas on blogs, you’ve got a chance to build a reputation.
“Who should I meet over the next 3-6 months?” A NYC-based entrepreneur who recently left his startup after a successful exit asked me this question, talking about how he’d gotten to know a few well-respected tech investors and founders. One path would be to crawl this network and ask them for introductions to other tech Bold Faced Names.
My advice was to do the opposite – spend time building out your relationships in areas that aren’t well-known to the rest of us. For example, since this particular operator has deep mobile knowledge, he could ‘trade’ that expertise for discussions with top CPG or retail execs. Instead of just getting to know the VC or founder one degree removed from his current friends (he can get those introductions any time), establish a base of expertise and connections that others want to transact through. Become the guy who can connect you into a particular industry. This has happened recently with celebrities, US government and international companies – there are several investors who have put significant time into bridging the gap between tech and these spheres. Now they’re the go-to people for those areas, leading to privileged deal flow and information.
Sociologists call these “weak ties” – the theory that the most valuable nodes in a graph aren’t just connected to each other (“strong ties”) but also have connections into individuals outside of the main group. This is where new knowledge and resources come from.
So whether you’re doing 50 Coffee Meetings or taking some other approach to building your network, think outside of the social graph and find areas where you can be the connection back to tech scene. It’s a longer-term bet than just trolling Sand Hill or SOMA but one which will give you social capital and unique perspectives.