Networking is something that I take a lot of pride in. I’m good at it. I’ve learned the true secret to networking is gaining the first-mover’s advantage: leverage. The right kind of leverage in a relationship allows you to extract value over time.
How does one acquire that kind of leverage? Be the first person in the relationship to provide value.
In my career there have been 500 to 1000 times where I have approached someone, done something for him or her and then figuratively walked away. I expected nothing in return from those situations, and yet they have been, by far, the interactions that have driven my career (and my companies) forward. On the other side, the five to 10 times others have done this for me have been the beginning of great relationships.
By giving first, you have established that the relationship will always be a minimum of 51:49 in your favor. You now have leverage for your counter-ask. This is something that is theoretically pretty easy, but the real trick is replicating it the second time. And the third. And the 4th, and so on.
As a rule, the bigger and more influential someone is, the more patient and giving you need to be. You’re climbing the mountain. You give and you provide until ultimately you reach a point where you can guilt someone into giving back.
For example, when you go to Angel List, find a Chris Sacca-type investor, and want him to invest in your startup, the last thing you should do is hit him up with a cold email and tell him why your app is the greatest thing ever to hit the iPhone. Or if you go to Launch Festival as an emerging VC, roll up on a startup and offer money right on the spot, that’s not going to work either since any smart startup will wonder why you’re offering money on impact.
Effective networking is about reversing the game everybody instinctively plays. It’s about patience and buildup, not the close. We celebrate audacity and courage instead of patience and value. It’s backwards, and when you make an effort to buck the trend, not only will you be noticed, but you’ll be appreciated and remembered. Take that laundry list for what you will, but I assure you that the real takeaway here is to pay it forward first.