Networking tips from startup executives

David Hornik is
incredibly busy.  He’s an on-the-go venture capitalist, husband, dad,
high-energy conference host and more. When I asked him to do an interview for
my book Your Network
Is Your Net Worth
, he said yes without skipping a beat. As
Adam Grant wrote in Give & Take,
“Hornik is the opposite of a taker; he’s a giver… [Givers] tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they

George John, CEO of Rocket Fuel, feels giving back and
helping others is a key to networking in Silicon Valley. He believes if you
focus on helping others, your efforts will come back to you ten-fold. “I’ve
only realized as CEO how significant the helpful, encouraging culture in
Silicon Valley can be. Want advice on how to run a board meeting? Ask a friend
and poof, the chairman of a huge public company (Peter Gotcher, chairman at
Dolby) is in your office giving you tips over lunch. It’s just one example, but
it happens all the time,” said George. 

It happens time and time
again: our connections are a key to our success and productivity. Behind the
connections are often generous, collaborative people who truly want to support
each other. As David Hornik said, “We’re all going to be in this business for a
couple of decades, so we might as well have fun and build great relationships.”

One principle to build and
grow your network in Silicon Valley is to be
generous and collaborative
.  Several other tips from
entrepreneurs on how to make Your Network
Your Net Worth

Be authentic and let your passion show

Another key to connecting is
being authentic and letting your passion show. John Zapolski, co-founder
of Fonderie 47, a
company that takes AK-47s weapons out of conflict zones and turns the parts
into jewelry, agrees. “When I was a consultant, I was good at building
relationships through a specific lens, mainly an intellectual one. But when I
started trying to make my own idea in the world, something that hasn’t existed,
people can’t always understand abstract ideas but what they can understand is
people. I learned I had to change the way I let people in,” Zapolski said. “I
needed to become more human…I could no longer be just the smart guy.” He added
that when he “gave up all the pretension, people really responded.” 

“The old John was more
interested in being smart and giving advice.  Now I’m more interested
in who you are…if I’m going to have deep relationships with people there needs to be more questions and answers and a focus on what
can we solve together. Being real and willing to risk it, that’s where the good
stuff happens.”

“Gamify” your process or set networking goals

A focus on quality over
quantity is important in relationship building, but if you’re having trouble
meeting folks try “gamifying” your process or set networking
goals. Dan Gruneberg of
keeps a working list of 100 people he would like to meet. “Meeting people
inspires me. The beauty is that often you can meet people just by
asking.  My connections help me stay sharp, creative, and interesting.
There’s also magic in the present moment. I try to make each day as meaningful
as possible.” 

Alice Chan also sets
networking targets and has a goal to introduce herself to three people she
doesn’t know at events. “After that you’ll relax and likely meet even more
people,” she explained. She also actively uses LinkedIn to meet people. “Think
about one person you’d really like to meet in the next three months and use
your existing network and tools like LinkedIn to figure out a meaningful way to

Get adventurous and focus on health and wellness

Nadeem Kassam, founder and
chief alliance officer of Basis Science,
thinks staying healthy is a key to making connections. “Startups are a
full-time marathon. It’s a mental and physical game so get enough sleep and
exercise,” said Kassam.

Zak Holdsworth, VP of
business development at WellnessFX, agrees
wellness activities can accelerate connecting. “I conducted an entire early BD
operation by basically going and training with one or two new CrossFit gym
owners every day for 4-5 weeks. It was phenomenal. I was training first
and talking work second. I’d only bring up business if it made sense or during
if the conversation came up.” He added, “I think more authentic connections are
formed when you connect with someone on something specifically not related to
work first. Working out or doing extreme sports together is a fantastic way to
take this to the next level and it is often an excuse for meeting with someone
who is insanely busy as it means they get to kill two birds with one stone.
Also inevitably, when training with someone, you end up running out of non-work
related things to talk about and the conversation often naturally goes there
anyway.” Holdsworth added, If
you’re in a ‘I want something from you’ state of mind,’ you are likely to fail.
I think having positive energy, being interesting and interested is very
important while networking because people need to like you, not feel threatened
or not feel like you are trying to get something from them.”

So is Your Network Your Net Worth? Are
you investing in your relationships and not just in your bank account? Remember
connections and relationships are a key driver of our success, productivity,
and happiness. So invest in your social capital. Make authentic connections,
give back, be passionate, and focus on wellness to connect. Consider starting
or joining a mastermind group and you’ll probably gain more than expected.

If you have startup
networking tips or collaboration stories to share, please contact me at
@portergale or [email protected]

Related Posts