Last week I gave an in depth interview to a couple of guys who are writing a book about entrepreneurship and investment. They asked me a lot of questions about my own angel investment process and especially how I go about first identifying and then deciding which companies I am going to invest in.
This got me thinking about the sorts of interactions I have with founders and entrepreneurs generally and the ways in which people end up at my (these days) virtual door.
Anyone who knows me well will have heard my own views about LinkedIn. I used to use it exclusively for people that I had actually met in real life and had a conversation with. In a nutshell I would describe my LinkedIn network as being people I could lift the phone to and ring if I needed something or people I would answer the phone to if they rang me. I’ve relaxed the rules somewhat during COVID to include people that I’ve had meaningful online video conversations with. I just counted them up there. Since returning from New York City in a terrible hurry on 14/15 March I’ve added 154 people to my LinkedIn network. Between 7 & 8 new contacts a week. I’d be interested to hear how that level of connections growth compares to other people in my network? Like everyone else I get loads of connection requests every day from people I don’t know or haven’t met and I ignore these 99% of the time. Occasionally someone writes a covering note that’s interesting or engaging enough to catch my attention and when that happens I may reply … but I still don’t connect. My reason is quite simple. I’m not selling anything and therefore having 10k LinkedIn connections that I don’t know isn’t of any interest or value to me personally. I understand why other people build those types of networks but it isn’t for me. That’s what I use Twitter for.
So when I look at that list of 154 “new” people they are an eclectic mix of other entrepreneurs and founders, investors, civil servants and people who work in some capacity for the EU, academics and postdocs plus a few random interesting people. The lion’s share of them have come to me by way of introduction from a mutual 3rd party. Again, I’d be fascinated to hear how this compares to other people in my network in terms of how their networks grows. In more depth, when I look at this week’s 8 people, 4 were introduced to me by people in my close network, 3 were people I met at online events this week (one at University of Oxford, one at Imperial Ventures and one at my local Chamber of Commerce) and one is indeed one of those rare randomers – someone who attended an event I had hosted a few weeks ago and then wrote to me cold and I liked her enough to have a call with her and then we connected.
I’m getting to the point of this blog in my own roundabout way.
About half of the 154 people I’ve connected with since March I would class as people that I have met and liked who are interesting to be linked with and we will enjoy reading about each others progress and content but we have no immediate identified need from each other. We connected because it’s just part of collecting people and who knows – maybe something will come up in the future. But the other half … they are people that someone has connected me to with a specific purpose and it’s these people that I’d like to discuss today.
Specific introductions come to me in several ways. Some come from my own close network and happen without the need to do that double intro dance. Someone has asked a person in my network for an introduction to me for a specific reason and my contact has qualified that person’s interest and then either made the introduction or said no. They haven’t asked me first if it’s ok because we know each other well enough that we don’t need to do that. You will all recognise this in your own networks. The people you know well and who know you well and know what you’re interested in and how much time you have available to have conversations with strangers and also your own appetite for doing that. These introductions are always super interesting. Similarly I will sometimes ask people in that same close network to introduce me to one of their contacts as there’s something specific I want to ask them about or an idea I have that I’d like to float past them.
Other introductions come from people in the next circle outside that close network. They usually ask first if it’s ok to make an intro for X and they sometimes give me brief background as to what it’s about and what X wants or needs. I also frequently do this for other people who ask for introductions to people in my network.
This is the introduction that can go spectacularly wrong and I have a great example of that from last month and that’s what this blog today is about. The waste of time introductions. Someone had asked me if it would be ok to introduce her friend to me. Her friend is starting a tech platform business as a first time and solo entrepreneur and she needs help on many different fronts including but not limited to access to talent, access to finance, advice about outsourcing tech development, hints and tips about what her immediate priorities are and a lot more besides. All of which I could have given her pointers on and would have been happy to do. She even needs to create a significant amount of online elearning content. Something that I know more about than I care to.
Unfortunately she did no homework in advance of our call and had not thought about the purpose of our 30 minutes. Instead she used it as a one way diatribe opportunity to ramble to me about her plans, name drop people I’ve never heard of and she asked me no questions. I’m guessing she followed up on the introduction to me because her friend had gone out of her way to make it but she used our time together very badly and I quickly realised she didn’t know anything about me or what I do or have done. I stopped her 15 minutes in and asked her what she needed from me or what the purpose of the call was. She didn’t know. She didn’t know that I’m an investor who specifically invests in women leading early stage tech startups and she didn’t know that I’d built and sold an online learning business. But this blog isn’t about blowing my own trumpet. At the end of the day this doesn’t matter that much to me. Sure – I was a bit put out by having 30 minutes of my morning wasted … and I’ll ask a lot more questions the next time that particular person tries to have me take a call from someone she knows again.
The person who really missed out here was the wannabe entrepreneur. All the people in that chain wanted to help her but through her own lack of preparation she has ended up no further ahead. She has destroyed her friend’s reputational capital and alerted me for what it’s worth to the fact that she’s a scatterbrain. I did gently say to her that she would get more out of calls with people if she had done some preparation but she told me … wait for it … that she hadn’t had time !!! Oh my. I’m not even going there.
So this is what I do on the odd occasion when I ask for an introduction to someone. I’ve already done my homework on the person before I ask for an intro. If it’s more oblique and someone initiates a connection by suggesting they will intro me to so and so, then I usually say let me come back to you & I go and do some homework on the person. I tell the intermediary what it’s about & they either ask the person if they’ll take the intro or they go ahead and introduce us by email. I then send the person a brief note in advance to tell them what I’d like to talk to them about. I do this so that they can think about it in advance. If I’ve never met you but we have a call next week & you’ve already told me what it’s about then I can be thinking about that from time to time between now & then. Otherwise our time goes on you telling me what you want to talk about. I then have the call. I join promptly and am very mindful of not taking up more than the allotted time. I follow up straight away and I am grateful for anything that the person does for me. At the end of the call I ask them if there’s anything I can do for them.
The no prep or badly prepped scenario applies in so many instances from sales calls right through to investment pitches. Don’t be that person.