Building a network is about playing the long game

When I moved to San Francisco, in many ways I was totally starting over. After 8 years in Boston including 3 in its tech scene, I had built many great friendships and connections. I still keep in touch with many of them today, but being across the country is definitely not the same as having beers, dinners and coffees regularly.

I find nothing more fascinating than the challenges and struggles in building a company and how some succeed where so many others fail. I greatly value the insights into how companies are run and the tough decisions leaders face, so it was really disappointing to suddenly miss out on all those conversations I was often privy to in Boston. As I’ve worked to rebuild what I had in Boston, I’ve come to realize an important lesson:

Building a network is about playing the long game.

A number of my friends in Boston are now successful founders and C level leaders. Many are raising B and C rounds right now and two even sold to Twitter for a substantial sum. I’ve learned an immense amount in conversations with them and found their first hand accounts inspiring.

As much as I would love to know the same caliber of successful founders in the Valley right away, it’s unlikely to happen. Instead, what I can do is the same thing I unintentionally did in Boston: get to know people before their startup success. Some of the aforementioned founders I knew when they had just raised an angel round, others before they even started working on their ideas and were instead employees at other startups.

You don’t know Jack.

I hear many people try to get to know the big names in town or even pretend they already do because they talked to Ev or Jack or Zuck once at an event. When you think about the odds of them remembering you or answering your email (if you even have their contact info) it’s pretty slim.

…but you could know the next Jack.

Instead, focus on getting to know the talented people around you that will be successful. Find ways to be helpful for them (much more likely than you being able to help Zuck) and keep it all in perspective; over time you will grow and develop and so will your friends. Like a fine wine you’ll find your network gets better with age. Those same people will happily return your emails and provide assistance no matter how successful they become. They may even work with you on your next venture.

Business Card Etiquette

As promised in my last post on my New Year’s resolutions, here’s a quick post. This time about Business Cards. I was inspired by both reading Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents on the subway trip home from #OpenCoffeeBos as well as by my own experiences networking in the Boston community.

Business Card Etiquette

1) Start at the End

There’s nothing more annoying than when people lead with their business card.  As Chris Brogan mentions in his book…you need to build a connection before your card has value.  Giving out a business card should be a reaction to the conversation you have with another person. It should be a means (way to contact you) to an end (follow up email/meeting/deal).  Men, you wouldn’t ask a girl for her phone number the moment you met her, would you? And ladies, you’d never give that guy your number, would you?

2) Leave some White Space

We all want to make a good impression and have the right information on our cards, but let’s not complicate things.  Leave some white space,  so I can take notes on the card.  I don’t have a great memory and often meet many people at an event. It’s really helpful to write a few words on the back of your card so I know why I want to follow up with you or simply where we met when I add you to my stack of cards from previous events. This also means making sure your card is a light background at least on the back…if it’s glossy or a dark color, my efforts to write notes are futile.

3) Keep it Simple

The value you create should not be in how cool or catchy your business card is.  If you network properly, people are going to go out of their way to pull out your card and add you to their contacts and/or follow up with you.  Focus on building those relationships and you’re more likely to get noticed.  When I go through my pile of business cards, it’s because I’m looking for someone in particular, not to randomly choose a card from the stack.

These are a few things that stood out to me recently. What are your tips for business card etiquette?