Network building – How to build a sustainable network around you for long term benefit

Shelley Golan, USA Managing Partner @ Rinnovation AgTech Accelerator
Startup Grad School Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

[00:00:05] Hi, everyone, my name is Shelley Golan, and for the next twenty five minutes, I’ll be speaking to you about network building, how to build a sustainable network for long term benefit. Now, this is a prerecorded session, so I do apologize.

[00:00:19] It’s not as free form or loose as it normally would be. I did practice with a photo of audience members to imagine what it might feel like live. A little bit about me in my career, I could say I’ve almost been a professional network builder. This is between my experience as a founder in the tech space to my role running and launching three ed tech accelerators between New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’m also the VP of the NYC Collective. I’m currently the USA managing partner at an innovation group launching a joint Israeli US AG Tech Accelerator. And I’m the co-founder of a Texas platform called Regenerative Institute. I did also once accidentally ride with a motorcycle gang, but that’s a story for another time. I’d like to start by making sure we’re all on the same page in terms of what does a network mean? And here are the two dictionary definitions of what a network is. The first is a group of computers who are connected and in order to share information, and the second is a group of people or organizations that are closely connected and can work together or share information. I like the fact that network is both a noun and a verb. This is what comes up when you Google network. I think this is the computer version and this is what comes up when you Google network business. And I’m sure to many of you as well as myself, this is a very familiar tableau. And I thought about this when I was presented with the opportunity to talk at a Senate, which is how can I distill my learnings from being what is essentially a professional network builder through my work and ecosystem development and startups, how can I share the knowledge that I’ve given to the companies I’ve worked with, with a broader audience? And basically I’m here to share my learnings of how to turn this into valuable, sustainable, long term connections that continuously add value to your life. Before doing this talk, I spoke to an informal group of about 30 of my fellow founder friends, I asked them why do they network?

[00:02:42] And these are the top three answers that I was given to meet potential investors, meeting potential new hires or meeting potential new clients. Something that these three reasons have in common is they’re all coming from a taking perspective.

[00:03:03] And all in all options, the goal of the networking is to receive something.

[00:03:12] And this is where I want to spend some time focusing on, because it really informs my overall attitude around networking on successful networking, which is how do you pivot from a taking mindset to a giving mindset when you approach what networking means and what that looks like is instead of going into a networking opportunity by thinking how can this connection have value to me, whether it’s through investment, through their skills or through their money? Instead, think, how can I add value to this connection?

[00:03:51] And when you think about giving, it’s an act of generosity. And there is a lot of research on the role that generosity has in building and maintaining trust. When you’re networking, you’re not making connections, you’re building relationships and relationships, good ones are built on trust. So you see already that there is a very clear connection between the success of the network connection that you’re making and the attitude that you’re entering that connection with coming in from a giving perspective, a generous generosity perspective. As an exercise to prove this, I want you to think about your three best friends in the world and think about what makes them your best friends. I would reckon, and I’ve done my own research on this, and this is also from my own personal life, that these three things reliability, reciprocity and duration to a large extent inform why these people are your best friends. Reliability, do they show up for you? Are they there for you? Can you count on them? Reciprocity. Do they offer you? Do they add to your life as much as you add to theirs and duration, which is how long you’ve been friends? Often the people we’ve known the longest we trust the most. Now, I can guarantee you that the people that can add the most value to your life in networking capacity value these three qualities just as much. And so I want you to think about what are the qualities that make a good friend and think about how those are the qualities that make a good connection. And I want to be clear, this isn’t isn’t to say make your connections, your friends. This is about distilling what are the human things that make us trust other people and applying that to the connections that we make in a networking perspective. So a bad friend doesn’t value your time, is always asking for your time, your energy, your money, but never offers to do the same. There’s no reciprocity there. A bad friend doesn’t show up in a super flaky there’s no reliability, a bad friend is insincere and lacks empathy. They’re always fake. You can’t trust them. A good friend is the opposite of these things. And that’s what also makes a good connection, a good connection, values your time and is on time, resume meetings or in-person meetings, a good connection offers you time and support and expertize unprompted, without necessarily an expectation of having a tit for tat response or good connection, shows up, is sincere in their intentions, is trustworthy, has empathy. When you’re going into a networking opportunity and you’re thinking about feeling sorry, feeling growing your network connections, think if you’re acting like a bad friend with your network and if you are, chances are you’re not going to be left with the network that’s going to add value to your professional life.

[00:07:00] So with that in mind, these are the five things that I like to focus on when I tell people, give them advice on how to build a sustainable network.

[00:07:10] No one don’t make an ask without an offer. Don’t do it. Side note to that is if you are asking for money, ask for advice instead. And the opposite is true as well. If you want advice. Ask for money, and I say this to all of my companies that I’ve been in my accelerator programs. What does this look like?

[00:07:32] This looks like monthly updates to your email list of investors and potential partners. This means ending each of those updates that will potentially have an ask of people’s time or their meetings or their meeting time with an offer of your own expertize. And I get it all along all the time, especially from early founders, that they don’t have that. The whole point of them reaching out is that they don’t have a lot to offer. But there are so many other things except for finances that you can offer someone. If your background is an SEO or if you have marketing experience, offer it. Oftentimes you don’t even need to necessarily be. At most people will value the fact that you offered more than they will actually follow up with you to take advantage of the offer. But be prepared to make sure that you can fulfill what you’re saying you can offer in case they do be very generous with your network. I’ve never encountered a scenario where my generosity with introductions or my network has led to a bad outcome. The exceptions, of course, are when I’ve made a mistake of making introductions to bad connections. They ruined the trust and that hasn’t happened again. But that’s part of how you build a sustainable network, is making sure that there is mutual trust between the people that you’re working with and the people you’re opening your network to. And my outcomes in terms of the likelihood of making those connections have increased because the investors that I go to trust me and my ability to vet my network for trustworthy people.

[00:09:02] And so they’re more likely to accept my introduction emails as well. So this is part of a chain of trustworthiness that goes into building these relationships into strong vehicles. Number two, keep it short.

[00:09:18] You shouldn’t be scrolling on an email if your update or your email is taking more than being able to just see it in one screen on iPhone, it’s too long a specific after an event that’s very common to just follow up with everyone. But if you don’t have a clear call to action for why you want to connect with that person, that’s a waste of time for both of you. If it’s a partnership opportunity, if it’s a meeting, if it’s understanding a little bit more about what their company does, be specific about what your ask is of the other person and remove unnecessary barriers. It’s I see it so often where the introductions go. Well, everyone is agreeing on an email thread that they should meet. And then you spend a purgatory, no man’s land of scheduling back and forth thing. When are you available? When are you available? Remove it. Make a calendar link connected to your Gmail. Put it please feel free to book fifteen minutes of your time. Here’s my availability or suggest something that’s better for you. But nine times out of ten, that person will just go into your calendar link, click one button and write them in their book, a meeting with you. So eliminate unnecessary labor from the person that you’re trying to connect with. They’ll appreciate it. Number three, remember Kevin Bacon? If some of you are not aware there is a parlor game called Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon, and it’s based on this idea that everyone on Earth is separated from everyone else by only six degrees of separation. So you can name any one person. And in six connecting dots, find out how that person is connected in this case to Kevin Bacon. But this is an important thing to think about when you think about your role in your own network, which is your dream investor, your dream contact is probably only six degrees of separation from you. So how are you going to get to the next the second stage of separation, the third stage of separation? How can you get closer down that line to reach the ultimate goal of this person that you think will add the most value to you? This could be you and your investor, your your dream investor, your dream contact could be right there. And something to think about here is part of building a robust web of degrees of separation is diversifying your network. And the best networks are very diverse. And I mean that diverse in terms of gender, diverse in terms of race, diverse in terms of sector. It is very common for us to only attend networking events with founders or people who are within our own field. If you’re an actor, you’re only going to all the ag tech events. If you’re in Stass, you’re only going to the SAS events. There’s a lot of benefit to this because after seeing people for enough time, you strengthen those connections. But it also limits the diversity of the people and the networks that they have that you have access to. Networking is not only about your network, it’s about your networks network. And your network will only grow larger if you are seeding relationships across different fields that could fill in the gaps where you don’t have expertize. That’s the point of a network in the first place. Number four is be human, and I say this because I so often encounter interactions between founders and investors or founders and founders and multiple networking events that seem very robotic in how they’re conducted. Everyone’s a person. Everyone would probably rather be doing something else truthfully than going to a networking event. We’re all here because we think that it could benefit us professionally and we’d like to have a decent time while we’re doing it. So we feel like we didn’t waste our time. And if you think back to my first slide, I went through a whole list of things that I’ve done in my background, but I included something there, which is a bit of an anecdote. Maybe you remembered it, maybe you didn’t, but chances are you did. And that story is great. I’m happy to tell it if you want to connect with me offline. But the reason I included that there was to demonstrate how much storytelling and narrative can affect people’s memory of you and make sure that you’re more memorable. Any message is delivered as a story. Can it be up to 20 times more memorable than just plain facts? And the reason is because humans are hard wired to view the world through narrative. We connect with them. We see patterns. When you frame anything that you do within a narrative, it makes it easier for the person you’re speaking to to remember it. So even if you’re pitching your company and you pitch it within a narrative frame, you are much more likely to have made an impression, a lasting impression that will make that person remember who you are when you then follow up with them later. An example of that is you could say my product increases yield by thirty two percent. Or if you frame it in a narrative way, you could say when a farmer uses my product, they’re able to grow 10 times more tomatoes in their fields. And when they go to market, they make forty five more dollars and they would and that enables them to buy school supplies for their kids. That’s a narrative, it gives the same information, but it’s much easier to remember than just the facts. And it’s also more interesting, which is why the human part comes in.

[00:14:48] Number five is play the long game. Too often we think about networking as immediate rewards, and if you think about the words that we’re using when we describe networking, we’re using words like build building. We need to build our network. When you build a building, the part of the construction that takes the longest time to finish is the foundation. And the reason it takes the longest time is because that foundation is what holds up every single story that’s built on top of it. And the same thing goes for relationships. The same thing goes for networking. Relationships take time. Networking takes time. Someone that you’ve met today may only find value in your life two years from now. You don’t know. But you want to make sure that you’re keeping that connection alive and supportive for that eventuality when that person might add value to you. And these are some ways that you could do this, you really want to think about where you’re at, what are your needs right now? What will your needs be five years from now? The connections that you’ll need in five years from now, you should be starting to build today, because by the time it gets to five years from now, those connections will be ready to be part of your life. Those things take time and think about the bigger the ask, the longer that relationship will take to gain the trust in order to make that ask.

[00:16:20] In terms of more pragmatic things that I like to offer, when people ask for strategies, I schedule check ins. So I have a very large personal and professional network. It spans three major cities internationally. I work with a lot of different companies. I have a very large network. It is impossible to organically keep up with everyone.

[00:16:43] And so I schedule in my calendar a list of people that I haven’t seen or talk to or touch base with in over six months. And I make a note to reach out in some way, whether it’s an email or a phone call or it’s an email that’s asking for a phone call. And the important thing is there’s no agenda to this outreach other than just to check in. Let’s add a little bit more life to this connection. Keep track of where we are and buy ourselves some more time in order to keep that connection alive and active. So building a network and building a network sustainably does take a lot of work. In the same way, the plan that you put in your house will die. If you don’t water it regularly, your network will shrivel and die if you don’t water it regularly. And the water in this case is your own ability to continuously add value to the people you’re connected with. And often just the thought of someone reaching out to you adds a lot of value to the people that you’re doing the outreach to. A third thing I like to suggest is the warm up. So if there is an immediate ask but you want to make of someone but you haven’t spoken to them in a long time, it’s been a bit of a cold connection. I rarely like to ask for that. When I make the initial outreach, the first time I reach out to them, I just want to meet up. I want to catch up. I want to learn where they’re at. Maybe their professional life has changed, maybe their priorities have changed, maybe their needs have changed. When I connect with them without an agenda like this, I learn a lot about where they are and where I can actually come in with an offer that will most directly help them. And once I do that, I’m in a position to follow up and make my ask, and that’s a much more sustainable way of doing things, it takes a little longer and it requires more effort. Yes, but the benefits are much greater because you’re strengthening an existing connection by depositing more time into it, as opposed to continuously withdrawing time and energy from a connection when you’re not putting in the same amount of effort.

[00:18:54] But covid, so I’m sure that networking events are very different and I’m sure I know that they’re very different and I have gotten a lot of questions from people in my network about how to network when you can’t be in places with large groups of people. Some of the ways that we used to network and that all of these things I’ve just talked about would be relevant for our meet ups, coffee, drink, things often named after events. There’s a great networking that happens when you hang out with people after the event. Events themselves are ripe where we used to gather with hundreds of people in giant auditoriums and meet so many new people. You come with a stack of business cards this thick. This is great and I look forward to when we can do this again. But the other side of this coin is there are a lot of areas where this didn’t work for a lot of people, this type of networking really favor those that are naturally gregarious, charming, extroverted, because talking to people face to face in real life. Is very hard, especially when you have a lot going on in your professional life outside of it. So I think this is great, but I recognize that this wasn’t the best thing for a lot of people, which is why so many people feel not working as hard. And that leads me to the opportunities presented with where we’re at during covid, we’re limited in these in-person interactions that we could make. So there are multiple ways that you could use our online interactions in a way that will further your networking capabilities. The first is making intro’s offer interest to your network, post about it on LinkedIn, added as an offer in any of your outreach. The second is creating content and engaging online use the opportunity that we have to be socially distant and for many of us isolated at home to produce content around what you’re doing and then engage with the people who react to your content. We’re able to do these to engage with each other now fully online. And the benefit is that everyone’s online. So it’s evened out the playing field and a lot of areas, particularly in networking. Pick up the phone. Phone calls, I believe, have always been underrated, I think they’ve never been more underrated than they are now. Phone calls for many are a lot less stressful than zoo meetings. It is difficult to, as I am doing, talk to yourself on a small screen, see how your looking phone can be a very intimate, very reasonable and solid replacement for in-person interactions. And I often prefer phone calls over zoo meetings, and I try to make them phone calls as often as possible. So I know that we in our generation and in 20, 20 don’t like the phone, but we don’t have in person anymore. So it’s time to to to be friendly with the phone and get get with it. Zune awareness, just an overall being aware of of things like your lighting, how you’re presenting yourself on zoom in the same way that you would keep track of what you’re looking like before you go to an event. I think about how you are engaging with people on Zoom, make eye contact to your little green light camera as much as possible and and focus on these other things like voice that we can’t really do when we’re we’re digital as opposed to in person. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity for networking during covid and even after school. But I think a lot of these things are going to remain as we move to an overall more remote workplace environment. That’s it for my talk, I thank you so much for joining me. I welcome you to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to share the story about the motorcycle gang. Any time you want to connect with me about anything else, I would love to to to meet up to talk and share my email if necessary. Thank you very much and enjoy the rest of your ascent conference.

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