Picture this. A VP insurance guy who’s been at a large corporation for over a decade decides to transition into the startup world knowing only a handful of relevant people.
That was me, 12 months ago. Coming from a corporate culture, I knew the only way to get my foot in the door in the tight-knit startup ecosystem was by developing my own network of at least 50 people. That’s what got me to ditch my car for a motorbike so I could save time on parking and maximize the number of meetings I can have in a single day.
Turbo-charge your network
Once you start meeting and greeting, everything starts falling into place and moving forward. All of your hard work suddenly gains traction. But until you get yourself out there, you’re just hiding behind a screen, reading articles, and missing out on opportunities in the real world.
On my quest to expand my network, and after meeting hundreds of entrepreneurs and players in the tech world, I learned quite a few lessons that I hope will be valuable for early-stage founders.
When you begin your entrepreneurial journey, you’re on a mission to build a successful product and secure the right investment for your business. Connections are the ones that will get you closer to that goal. You want to put your idea in front of as many strategic investors and eager ears as possible.
What most people don’t realize is that you don’t have to go very far. Israel is a small place. You probably have a friend from your military service, someone you went to high school with, or a cousin’s cousin who knows someone you might want to be in touch with. If the six degrees of separation theory is a worldwide rule, in Israel, it’s probably three. And people are open to helping.
Here are my top 3 tips.
So how do you hone in on the connections you already have? Here are three tips for making
the best of your existing circle, no matter how big or small.
1. Map out your first-degree network.
If you’re like most of us pre-entrepreneurship, you use social media as a tool to stay connected with friends from different stages of your life. Take a good look at that friend list to identify which of those you can pick up the phone and call. Be methodological. Make an Excel list with your Facebook or Instagram friends and proceed to look them up on LinkedIn. You can also use time-saving digital tools to link a particular Facebook profile to that person’s other online presence.
If Facebook isn’t your thing - you can also go old school and pull out your high school or army yearbook from storage. But you’ll still have to connect on LinkedIn.
Keep in mind that LinkedIn will be your best friend throughout the whole networking process. It is your portal to the world of business and should be your main tool of communication. If the person you’re trying to reach is not on LinkedIn, you probably won’t get the results you’re looking for. But if they are, the next point details how to connect.
2. Reach out. Say hello. Be polite.
Now that you know which long lost friend you want to reconnect with on LinkedIn, it’s time to do so graciously. People are typically generous and willing to help, but they don’t want to feel bothered or taken advantage of because of a certain position they hold. The best way to go about sending that first message is to keep it casually cool and straightforward so as not to waste anyone’s time.
Here’s generally the way I wrote it:
It’s been a while since we last saw each other in high school. How have you been?
I recently started a business in the XXX industry, and I read you are a C-Level/VP/Other in YYY company. If you could spare 15 minutes for a Zoom meeting (or coffee) in the next few weeks, I’d appreciate your insight.
I’m available here or on Whatsapp (#Number).
Remember, our “new normal” is working in your favor. Digital meetings have become commonplace. It might be easier to meet your connection for a 15-minute video call then it would be to coordinate getting a coffee. Make it even easier by adding a Calendly link where your connection could schedule their preferred time.
3. Get on a Whatsapp Basis.
Once you have that 15-minute coffee or Zoom meeting where your connection may offer to introduce you to someone else they know who might be able to help - it’s time to get to Whatsapp status with your old high school friend turned startup world giant.
If Facebook is where you first look for your connections, and LinkedIn is where you reach out to them, then Whatsapp is really where you nurture them. Whatsapp creates a more intimate yet casual form of communication where you can easily send a quick message to check-in and follow up, without the formality of an email. And you’ll want to follow up to ensure your connection introduces you to the next person you ought to meet.
I provided something like this:
After speaking with both of you, I am happy to make this introduction.
XXX is an old friend from YYY and is entering the startup world.
ZZZ is an ex-colleague, and today is a founder/investor at TTT.
I’ll let you take it from here.
*Please keep in mind that while Whatsapp is a tool used in work culture in Israel (much less so in the US), all written communication (this goes for all platforms) must be conducted in native English.
There’s nothing I would encourage more than to get out of your comfort zone. Networking, "meeting and greeting", may not come naturally to you, but it’s exactly this persistence that will take you further in your journey. And luckily, you really only need to start with meeting five people who will then introduce you to five more. There will be many connections and “friends” along the way who may be reluctant to help, but there will also be the surprising ones that will open doors you never imagined. All you have to do is be ready to walk through.