On a Saturday morning in 2007, Sequoia Capital met with the co-founders of a new startup called Dropbox. Drew Houston demoed the storage software and explained his vision for the future. That meeting eventually led to a financing round of $1.2 million, launching Dropbox as a full-fledged company.
Without a friend’s introduction, that meeting may never have happened.
Networking is as old as business itself, but by nature, it’s very transactional. You begin to see people only for what they can do for you. To truly add value, you need to become an opportunity maker.
Unlike networkers, opportunity makers bring people together where opportunity matches interest. They earn unbreakable trust by adding value, are adept at spotting patterns and constantly explore industries outside their own.
As an entrepreneur, you’re limited by the resources and time you have. You need to discover ways to grow exponentially early on, and nothing fuels growth faster than connecting the right people.
In the tech community, opportunity makers are especially crucial for accelerating innovation. They connect people with similar values and interests who then create products and services that impact millions of people, including venture capitalists, angel investors, advisors and conference organizers.
Opportunity makers connect people through invite-only events such as Summit Series or MaiTai. It’s not unreasonable to attribute the innovation velocity of the Silicon Valley ecosystem to these parties.
Since leaving Google, I’ve made connections for Google employees looking for their next career move and facilitated millions of dollars in investments by making proactive introductions to angel investors and venture capitalists. These connections don’t always benefit me directly, but karma often circles back in ways I never expected.
You, too, can become a super connector in your industry and reap the benefits. Here’s how:
1. Crack the surface.
You can’t tune into others’ needs without learning about them and their businesses. Go beyond small talk -- get to know your new connections personally and professionally. By understanding people’s backgrounds and current business needs, you’ll be equipped to spot valuable opportunities to connect them with others.
2. Connect with caution.
Making connections indiscriminately is a rookie mistake. Your network will be more valuable if you handpick people to connect with and make organic introductions based on needs.
Carefully consider how both parties will benefit, and only connect people when it makes sense. You don’t have to predict what will come from the relationship, just make sure your friends can help each other and haven’t already met.
When a drone startup asked for my enterprise go-to-market advice, I recommended hiring an experienced head of business development. Before introducing the founder to a potential match, I closely vetted both sides to ensure it would be a win-win in terms of interest, skill-set alignment and salary expectations. After the intro, the team moved quickly because it was a great fit.
That one incredible hire has helped bring in millions in investments -- not to mention great press -- as a result of the high-profile deals he’s spearheaded for the company.
3. Offer incredible value.
After you meet people, ask “How can I help you?” I do this at the end of every meeting I have, and I genuinely mean it. If I can make an introduction that’s a good fit based on a person’s answer to that question, I’ll make it happen. Offering genuine help is a powerful way to build trust. Strive to be someone people trust and want to build a relationship with by providing relevant, unrivaled value.
In the tech world, entrepreneurs understand the value of a strong network. That’s why incubators are on the rise. Entrepreneurs are willing to give up equity in exchange for community support and connections. Accelerators curate a community and set the stage. Forging connections within their networks can lead to acquisitions, millions of dollars in funding and thriving new companies.
4. Stay in touch on social media.
Don’t underestimate social media. It’s a convenient and efficient way to keep up with your connections and their changing needs. Make whatever platform you use a microcosm of your real life. Spark conversations with your network, offer thought-provoking ideas and promote educational resources to remind them you exist.
As an entrepreneur, it’s more about who you know than what you know. And in today’s connection-oriented economy, earning a reputation as an opportunity maker can make your connections flourish in ways you could never imagine.