Silicon Valley has become synonymous with a spider's web of companies, investors, and connections all lying in Northern California. These interlocked webs of networks hold a plethora of itty-bitty spiders all aiming to expand their webs, meet new bigger spiders, and hopefully one-day land a big fly (unicorn) of their own. Living in SV means getting dozens of Facebook invitations, texts, and Eventbrites about Networking Events in addition to always being on the patrol for new people you can meet that might help add another node to your web.
The problem here is that "networking" does not work.
As my cofounder Mahbod Moghadam will always say, in perhaps an overly blunt fashion, "I only like people who use my sites." If you ask someone for a favor or to be a connection, especially if they are on the bigger spectrum of spiders (to continue to the analogy), they will have dozens of other people just like you asking for a hand-up. Eventually they run out of hands.
Wharton Professor Adam Grant is famous for his philosophy of "givers" and "takers." Prof. Grant states that everyone is either a giver or taker, defined by whether you offer help to others or you are looking to take that help. What Grant pushes forward though is that realistically we can all be givers if our first question is always "How can I help you?" and then if everyone is a giver we all end up receiving something.
What everyone ought to be taking away from the Giver vs. Taker philosophy though is just how much more lucrative it is to be a giver and logically so. Mahbod gets too many message requests for help to be physically able to reply to them all, but if you offer him help of course he will take the time to be your friend and Mahbod is not alone in this approach among other Unicorn-founders.
Networking is not the science of building your connections number on LinkedIn, it is the practice of increasing the number of positive relationships you have with others. This means putting in time to water those seeds before harvests are yielded.
Jonathan Allen is an 18-year-old entrepreneur in Atlanta, Georgia and he got his current job as Head of Content Partnerships at SalesLoft, a SaaS company that empowers sales professionals with tools like email tracking, all off of writing an article on Medium.
Allen's story starts two years earlier when he started working at a market research firm with the ambition of eventually becoming an account executive. He progressively befriended more and more people within the company as well as "big spiders" in the Atlanta community off of just reaching out and trying to start a friendship.
Eventually Jonathan earned his Account Executive role and started emailing various CEO's in the area to talk about entrepreneurship, the SaaS industry, and overall played his age in his favor by trying to learn from these experience executives. This all worked out for him and he became connected with Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, and Eric Spett, CEO of Terminus, two of the faster growing SaaS companies in the area.
As his next move in diving more into the SaaS industry and evolving out of straight market research, Allen wrote a Medium article about information he knew best, Account Based Marketing. This just happens to be in the domains of Terminus and SalesLoft and so Allen linked to and talked about the two ventures. Once he published the piece he sent it to Kyle Porter, SalesLoft tweeted out and posted the article on their social media accounts, and Jonathan had an invitation to come meet with the team.
He was hired shortly after.
Of course Jonathan could have taken his ample opportunities with these power players to beg for a job and talk about how dedicated he would be to them, but then he would not have been picked. Setting yourself apart from a pack of people looking to climb a ladder requires some innovative approaches of displaying your value.
As the phrase goes, #NoNewFriends, but if you can force yourself into a friendship with your targeted connection then the world becomes your oyster (or spiderweb).