We all know that building a network is important. Yet thoughtless networking can be a time drain with no results.
The key to building a successful network, like anything in life, is knowing what you want and why you want it.
Your network is like food: it can be nourishing and make you feel great, or it can be junk with no nutritional value. Like food, a good network is both delicious and nutritious.
Delicious means that you enjoy the company of the people in it. Nutritious means that the people in it can help you reach your aims.
Sometimes the same individual can be both, but not always. The key is that they have to be at least one.
As we grow our careers and businesses, most opportunities for new jobs, new clients, or new investment come from people you already know. But, how do you know who is worth knowing and which relationships are worth cultivating?
Renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ben Horowitz has the answer in his excellent book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
At Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm he co-founded, which was one of the early investors in Facebook, Slack, and Skype, his colleagues focus on building a network to help their entrepreneurs succeed.
Horowitz says his firm’s network building strategy is split among these four categories: large companies, senior executives, engineers, and press and analysts.
“Every new company needs to either sell something to or partner with a larger company,” says Horowitz.
Entrepreneurs can do this organically or via specialist connectors. Organizations that connect startups to corporates, like Founders Factory in London or the New York Fashion Tech Lab are good places to start.
If the startup succeeds, it will need to hire executives at some point.
A famous example is founding CEO Mark Zuckerberg hiring Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook to turn Facebook into a revenue-making machine.
Horowitz says that “in the tech business, you can never know enough great engineers.”
While this is certainly true of engineers, it is also the case for any other professionals who are great at their jobs. If you meet a brilliant marketer but do not yet need them or cannot afford them, staying in touch will be useful for future hiring.
Press and Analysts
Having warm leads to call about your new product saves time and marketing dollars. However, cultivating a network of journalists and industry analysts is not only useful when you want to promote your product.
These industry insiders often have a holistic view of the sectors which entrepreneurs do not. They can share insight and help you grow your network, as well as highlight your work.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things is one of my favorite books on technology entrepreneurship. Its main premise is that building a business is hard. This is true in the best of times, and even more so in the time of COVID.
While building a business is hard, Horowitz also shows that it is possible, even after setback upon setback. The right network can be one of the best investments an entrepreneur can make.