Networking. We’re Doing It Wrong

(originally published in the Observer on March 20, 2017)

Don’t Stop Networking. Network Smarter.

Startups and VC’s spend a tremendous amount of time networking. So much so that Brad Tusk of Tusk Ventures recently shared his thoughts with VentureBeat about why the startup community should stop speaking so much and instead return to focusing on their product, service or technology. I get it. As someone who runs a company dedicated to facilitating authentic relationship building — to the tune of more than twenty curated industry dinners per month, I understand where Tusk is coming from. The New York startup community is filled with tons of enthusiastic people (which is a good thing) and after a while, it feels like networking can become a full-time job (which is a problem, for anyone who’s not in the networking business).  

I hear Tusk’s point, but I have a slightly different take. In my view, it’s not networking that’s the problem, it’s who you are networking with and why you’re doing it. You shouldn’t meet everyone. Time is limited resource (throw kids into the mix on top of a startup, and forget it). But your network counts, and it’s the first place you’ll look when you’re trying to do a business deal, raise capital, find a job, or find some expert advice.

Before the world of LinkedIn (which, let’s face it– do you really know anyone in your LinkedIn network) and social media, people did business by getting to know those around them. It can seem counterintuitive in today’s hyper-connected world, but it wasn’t so long ago when professionals invested time in relationship building with individuals they genuinely liked and cared about with a mutual investment in success. While perhaps not as scalable as connecting online with thousands of people you don’t know and will never speak to, taking the time to build an authentic and trusted network has its time-tested benefits.   

One thing we’ve learned from hosting twenty industry dinners a month is that there continues to be magic in sitting across the table from another like-minded professional for a meal. We see guests of Voray leave our dinners, later coming back and telling us they’re now working with each other in some capacity, or have made beneficial introductions. Why? It’s not just because our dinners are so fun (although I think they’re pretty spectacular). It’s because people are being introduced by a trusted source and there is relevance to the conversation. It’s not just getting to know someone for the sole purpose of adding another name to your network.

I don’t think the answer is to stop networking. But — Tusk makes a good point. There is room to network smarter. Take fewer meetings, and invest in those relationships. Look for opportunities to be helpful and add value to your network instead of looking to always grow it.

On the topic of helpfulness, I always tell people that starting a business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. In addition to Voray, I am an advisor to fifteen early-stage companies and sit on three venture-backed Boards. I feel well-equipped to make this statement. As a result, I always tell people that if I can help in any way, I will– and yes, that means I take a lot of coffees. Be an advocate for others. Personally, I think it’s important to pay it forward from those who have been helpful to me (and there’s not much of a chance to do this if you’re chained to your desk).

So please– keep networking. Just do it smarter.

 

Why You Should Become an Advocate for Others

Want to create a better professional network and build a community? You may want to consider becoming an advocate.

As Michael Roderick points out, there are four types of people in any professional’s network:

  1. Advocates, who are supportive and caring
  2. Boomerangs, who operate on a quid pro quo basis
  3. Celebrities, who, because you know them, generate popularity and better treatment by association
  4. Drains, who drain you of energy because they are always entitled to your help and you always feel compelled to give

Advocates are the rarest of the four categories, and they’re the ones you want to nurture the most.

Advocates, in my opinion, are people who help others out without expecting anything in return. They usually do it because they’re good people who genuinely enjoy seeing other people climb the ladder and make more money.

You have advocates. That person who helped you make payroll. Always says “how can I help” and means it.

Every professional has stumbled across an advocate at one point or another. Advocates are typically people who are extremely comfortable in their skin, in their personal lives, and in their careers. They don’t ask for anything in return for their assistance. Instead, they come along for the ride because they simply enjoy it.

Yes, they still like money and capitalism. It’s just that their paths are less transactional than the ones many other professionals decide to take.

How Being an Advocate Has Helped Me

I can’t remember the last time in my career when I’ve helped someone while expecting them to return the favor.

These days, I spend my time investing, networking, building, helping, and making friends. I don’t take myself too seriously, and I don’t compete with anyone for anything—especially the wrong people. Instead, I do everything I can to help others find success. In return, I make great friends, build strong bonds, expand my network of strong, authentic relationships, and—most importantly—develop more friendships based on mutual advocacy.

This stance has resulted in some pretty amazing unintended consequences. I’ve formed a number of strong, valuable relationships with some extraordinary people—many of whom are ridiculously high profile or otherwise successful in their own right. It has also given me the opportunity to join incredible companies, networks, events, and stages. It’s given me the ability to do what I enjoy doing most while providing for my family and achieving work-life balance.

Who to Advocate For

If you have the power to help someone improve their life, do it. This simple notion seems to be lost on a lot of people. Quite frankly, I don’t understand why.

I try to be an advocate for most people.

Time and again, professionals tell me how thankful they are even if results aren’t generated. Almost always, they follow that up by asking if there’s anything they could do for me.

It’s incredibly rewarding. I’m consistently amazed that a vast majority of these people aren’t just talking; they actually follow through.

How I Advocate

We are all incredibly busy. We are buried in email hell. We are all tied up with our lives, our families, our relationships, and our careers.

But whenever I meet somebody that I respect and am in a position to help, I’m going to help. And I’m going to work hard helping.

Every week, I spend about 10 hours doing the following:

  • Introducing extraordinary people to extraordinary companies
  • Helping fantastic teams and companies meet fantastic investors who are looking for their next investment
  • Acquainting professionals who are building a great product to people who should be using it
  • Advising businesses on my experiences with failure in case it can be helpful
  • Helping entrepreneurs, professionals, and LPs avoid bad investment vehicles

The results have been great. But—as is the case with all else in life—there are some pitfalls:

  • It can be a bottomless pit. Combine advocacy with essentialism; pick your battles.
  • You’ll be misunderstood. People will think you’re always expecting something in return.
  • Some people suck. They’ll never return your advocacy. In fact, they might even expect you to help them just because they think they’re entitled to it.
  • Drains can really drain you. Channeling Roderick again: There are people who will ask for your help on a regular basis. They’ll drain your energy; avoid them.
  • People are entitled. Don’t expect to hear a “thank you” every time.you shouldn’t need it, frankly.
  • People forget. Introduce someone to someone else, and they hit it off. Don’t expect them to remember you introduced them. That’s not why you’re doing it in the first place.

Still, despite all that, I have nothing but good things to say about advocacy. If you’ve never done it before, you don’t know what you’re missing. What do you have to lose?

The Network Effect: How Community Building And Advocating for Others Empowers Everyone

Recently, I began a multi-part series on the importance of networking (see Part 1 and Part 2). To recap, without a network of genuine relationships, it’s impossible to reach your full potential.

The reason is simple: Talent and hard work will only take you so far. You need to cultivate relationships with people that have your back and actually care about you as a person. If you fail to create authentic connections, it’s only a matter of time before your career hits the ceiling and starts spiraling back down. No one will be looking out for you except yourself.

It’s Not All About You

Think you’re above a little schmoozing? Remember what you learned when you were a kid: It’s just not all about you.

You are not the center of the universe. There’s more to life than you. The world is full of greatly talented individuals. You won’t form great relationships with any of them if you look down on everyone you meet.

The Value Of Networking Groups

Amazing things can happen when you are not self-centered. You meet some of incredibly gifted people, hit it off, and things start to get exciting.

I get a real kick out of putting together small groups of like-minded individuals. These gatherings usually involve 15 to 20 people who can be relevant to each other in some way, shape, or form. I enjoy watching these interactions where people exchange ideas, build trust, and forge constructive partnerships. I see tremendous value being created, and largely because the participants are being authentic with each other.

These events can be incredibly fruitful, but they are not always easy to arrange. The most challenging thing about them is getting people to actually open up in the first place. Some individuals have trouble articulating their needs while others have difficulty explaining how they can be helpful. Such is life.

If you find yourself in either group, consider the following tips:

  • Always be on time and stay for the whole event. Otherwise, people will assume you are a dick.
  • Some people are introverted—and that’s okay. Try your hardest to engage, interact, and learn about your peers.
  • Seek introductions and follow ups when appropriate. Don’t spam anyone. But remember cultivating genuine relationships is how your professional life will grow.
  • Assume you are there to be helpful. Don’t be too important to be accessible.

Most people who attend networking events are there because they want to make money, manage their businesses better, and grow professionally. But many lack the skills to optimize the opportunity that these intimate gatherings present.

In my experience, approaching such occasions with an open, honest, and helpful attitude is what gets things going in the right direction.

Don’t Treat People as a Means to an End

People really dislike being viewed as a means to an end.

In the long run, no one really cares about a social climber. (Trust me, over time, it becomes incredibly easy to spot the social climber). However, people that are helpful earn gratitude, respect, and affection.

If you learn one thing from this article, let it be this: Individuals like to help other people who are helpful in return. That’s a key reason helpful people are more ultimately more successful: They create a virtuous cycle. Remember this.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Some of the most amazing opportunities are inbound. They are ones that come looking for you. Unfortunately, those opportunities are unlikely to present themselves to you unless the people who can help you understand what you are looking for and what your needs are.

People enjoy assisting others, particularly when they know what you need help with. In fact, evidence shows one of the best ways to build or nurture a friendship is to ask someone to do you a favor; it makes that person feel needed and valued.

When you attend a networking event, make sure each and every one of the other people there know what your needs are by the time you leave. Odds are someone will offer to help out.

Advocate for Others

Helping people is important—but you need to be genuine. Don’t offer to lend a hand only so you get something in return. If you want to run your business better and grow professionally, you need to be a giver. Sooner or later, others will return the favor. Take my word for it.

Nowadays—in the era of digital professional networks and social graphs—we all have the ability to connect like-minded and complementary people with each other. There are few things in life as worthwhile as taking steps to help others reach their potential. Introduce helpful people to one another and great things will happen.

Treat Givers Right

Whatever you do, never piss off a giver. Don’t take them for granted, either.

If you can’t find it in your heart to be a giver—that’s okay. But at least appreciate those who do. Rubbing them the wrong way or abusing their generosity is a sure way to push the givers in your life away. And by that time, you’ll probably be suffering personally and professionally—without realizing it until it’s too late.

No one is forcing you to go at it on your own. The good news is you don’t have to. Include other people in your life, and lend them a hand whenever you can. They’ll scratch your back soon enough, and great things will follow.

Perception is Reality and Networking is Everything (Part 2)

Last time, I explained how merit will only get you so far in your career. Without an amazing network, you’ll lose opportunities.

So without further adieu, here’s how to build a career-changing network.

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously

Honestly, nobody gives as much a shit about you as you think they do.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. Did you raise your Series A? Did you get some job and climb the corporate ladder so now you’re the CEO or upper management of some company? Are you a successful VC? Did you invest in Pinterest early on?

Cool story. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else.  

Don’t say things like “I can’t make that meeting because I’m at the White House all day!” Especially don’t say that if you’re a 28 year-old founder of some VC backed company (true story).  

It doesn’t make you better than the person teaching, saving lives, or raising their kids.

Be nice to people no matter what you’ve accomplished and who you think they are. Otherwise, all these people kissing your ass will stay asskissers and not friends.  

And then one day, you’ll die. Sad and alone. With only co-workers in your life.

Okay, that’s a little overkill. But you get the point. Don’t be a douche, regardless of the circumstances.

Be Gracious

Don’t blow people off. If you get invited to a party or a dinner or are offered a speaking engagement by someone you know—or someone who thinks they know you—say thank you.

Even if you can’t stand the person who invited you.

You don’t have to go but don’t be disrespectful. By pissing on them, they know just how much you value them. And who knows, you might need that person one day when you’re not flying high.

Don’t hit send on the email that says “Thanks for the invite [to that selective dinner with people who have accomplished more than me]. I can’t commit until the day before and I’ll likely show up closer to dessert than appetizers.” Again, true story.

Speaking of.

Don’t be a Dick

If someone writes you a long email and you offer a one-word or one letter response, you’re a dick. If you show up late for small events you’re invited to, you’re a dick. If someone’s useful to you then suddenly isn’t (and you make that apparent), you’re a dick.

Think about the dicks in your life. Are you eager to introduce them to friends who can help them?

A little humility goes a long way. Its absence can result in failure.

Be Generous With Your Time

If you’re in a position to help people, do it.

For example, I always meet with entrepreneurs if we get connected through a trusted source. I spend up to 20 hours on these kinds of conversations each month.

Why? Because building a successful business is really fucking hard.

I’m not the smartest guy in the room nor do I have a play book. But I’ve had successes, learned lessons, and I’m going to help if I can—without wanting anything in return.

But obviously, do feel free to give me some advisory shares.

I’ve developed lifelong friendships with some of these people. And we’ve created cool things together. Give people access who you wouldn’t normally. There are amazing people out there who haven’t done anything yet.

Don’t Underestimate People

You never know when someone can be helpful or is a genuinely authentic person you should know — so why would you assume they’re unimportant?

Don’t threaten, bully, or have negative interactions with people you think can’t affect your outcomes. Next thing you know, you’ll be unemployable after “resigning for personal reasons.” Or you’ll find it harder to raise capital for your next fund. Things will magically wind down and you won’t know why it’s happening. It’s happening right now!

The reach and depth of a credible social graph is amazing. The reverse is also true.

Be Nice to the Sell Side

I’m fortunate to have been on both the buy-side and the sell-side.

Buy-side: Deciding where to spend marketing budget, whose services to use for what, and what businesses to invest in or purchase.

Sell-side: Please buy my product, service, preferred shares, or otherwise give me your time and attention for some reason.

The buy-side ROCKS. People kiss your ass, take you out to dinner, and try to get on your calendar. They’re polite and make you feel like this incredible person they’re dying to know.

It goes to your head. You think you’re better than these people and believe it’s okay to treat them poorly.

The sell-side is even more fun, but for different reasons not worth getting into here. It requires a different personality than buy-side, primarily no ego or fear of rejection combined with thick skin and a broad smile.

If someone gets on your calendar or is trying to sell you something or tell you about something they’re doing – be really, really nice to them. Become their closest friend.

They talk about you. A lot.

Be Nice to the Executive Assistant

I’m astounded by how many people think it’s okay to treat executive assistants like shit, whether it’s their own or the EA of someone they work with. If you treat your EA badly, get therapy because you’re a bad person. But there’s a business reason to treat them well too.

Is your ego so large that it bothers you dealing with someone’s EA? Not me. I love working with them because things happen much quicker that way.

People that copy their EAs to schedule a meeting with you? Many of your colleagues hate it. They’d rather schedule it directly and “be authentic” but they don’t have the time. Plus, it’s a pain and they created a job for someone who is quite good at it.

When Todd the EA gets copied on the email you’re having with Michelle about setting up a meeting, move Michelle to bcc and say you are happy to work with Todd directly. Then, while you interact with Todd, be totally fucking cool with him. Even if Todd sucks.

There’s nothing better than having the EA of someone you want to build a relationship with like you. Again, the reverse is true.

Don’t Break Trust

If you call yourself someone’s friend, act like one. Don’t be a liar. Trust and loyalty are everything in relationships. The moment they’re gone, the relationship is over.

Being a top performer is table stakes. If you can’t back that up with a supportive network, you’re in trouble.

Perception is Reality and Networking is Everything (Part 1)

Perception is Reality and Networking is Everything (Part 1)

Networking is a critical component for success—no matter how you define it.  

What your network thinks of you, accurate or not, is reality.  

The way your business partners, industry, and colleagues perceive you can have a profound impact on your professional growth—or lack thereof.

Yes, you can make upper middle management by being great at your job. You ordinarily have to be great at your job to be successful.

But do you want to run the place?

You want to be partner at your VC fund, accounting firm, law firm? You want to make MD? Ready to take over the CTO gig?

That has nothing to do with how great an investor you are, whether you know your debits and credits, if you’re the best contract drafter in the world, or whether you can model and pitch book the hell out deals.

Doing the Job is Table Stakes

Successful people know this.

By the time you make senior manager at an accounting firm, associate at a law firm, VP of engineering, or VP at a bulge bank or fund, it’s assumed you know how to do the job. You know how to block and tackle.

If you want to advance beyond this point, being “really good at deals” is meaningless.  

You need an amazing network. An authentic one. People need to like you.

But networking matters even if you aren’t relying on someone to promote you.

Founders: Pay Attention

If you’re 29, founded a company, raised a bunch of money, hired a bunch of people, and the company is tripling every year, congratulations! I’m sure people are telling you how great you are all the time.

“Congratulations on your success,” says every VC trying to get into your next round, banker wanting your business, and commercial real estate broker showing you space. Some rocket ship you created.

You have a gaggle of hanger-ons blowing smoke up your ass.

But did you know that your board is working hard behind the scenes to replace you (or buffer you) with “experience” while making it seem like your idea? Yes, they will destroy the company if you aren’t there to hire, inspire, retain, and raise money. They don’t realize this. If they did, fewer high growth companies would get destroyed by their board.

Concentrate on managing that board, your network, and (most importantly) their perception of you. Whatever you think your board (or any other stakeholder in your life) is thinking (or whatever they tell you they are thinking) — they aren’t. They’re managing and talking about you to other stakeholders. They also hook onto very little pieces of information in a short amount of time to make big decisions – so their perception of you and what other people say about you – that’s the board’s reality.

The good news is that you can pretty much manage them and others, generate a well lubricated, successful life and career, and build a foundation for how everyone thinks of you. Just build as many quality relationships as you can.  

Just Be Authentic and Network

People will embrace it — and the ones who don’t? They have their own problems, I can assure you.

I’ve realized that a lot of people don’t know this. Worse, they have no idea how to build quality relationships

They treat networking as a means to an end. Or they’re just bad at it and create an aura of limited authenticity.

For now, know that you need a community, network, and circle of friends regardless of what you’re doing. Next time, I’ll tell you exactly how to network successfully.

The Importance of Trust

Trust is an underrated lubricant for success in any organization.

It’s the critical key component of healthy relationships. Because businesses are built on the relationships between team members, trust will be what powers you through every phase of your company. It will lead to your team’s mutual success (however you define it).

Or trust will be what sinks you.

Losing Trust

Most of the time, people lose trust without realizing it. Here’s what you can do to have people stop believing in you and what you say:

  • Be overly political. While espousing views on the latest political debate might annoy your coworkers, you’ll upset them more by playing office politics.
  • Being an appeaser. Don’t tell people what they want to hear. Stop pandering. It’s insulting.
  • Being a liar. I know, this is obvious. But when you say one thing to managers about their performance and something else to the board, you are in fact a liar.
  • Being inauthentic. If you’re sending team-wide communications using cliched and branded language, you earn your eye rolls.
  • Being afraid of bad news. You have to celebrate your wins and acknowledge your losses.
  • Being a bullshitter. Specifically, bullshitting your company’s best bullshitters from sales and marketing. You think they can’t see through you?

I want to call this out: Tell your team the truth. Don’t stand in front of your people and say that everything’s great when it isn’t. If change is coming, tell the team what it is and why it’s happening. Be honest and don’t hide behind “proper messaging.”

But there’s good news! Trust doesn’t only collapse. It can be built.

Rebuilding Trust

It doesn’t matter if you’re repairing a problem or want to build a strong foundation, here’s how to get people to believe in you, your company, and each other.

There are two things you must pay special attention to:

  • Culture. Specifically, a culture of openness and transparency. People need to be unafraid to say what’s necessary and feel that you heard them. Once you destroy culture, you can’t fix it. Remember, people will work long and hard to solve problems. But they will kill themselves to solve problems they care about.
  • Executive trust. Everyone hates a micromanager. You hired managers, let them lead. Give them specific, measurable goals and have your people achieve them independently. Show that you believe they can make the right decisions. But make sure your execs aren’t in over their head. Make sure people trust them.

Don’t ignore these either:

  • Constant communication. People hate being left in the dark, but they love being in the know. Overcommunication is okay.
  • Honesty. If you’re always honest, people know where they stand with you. They can plan accordingly.
  • Equity understanding. Normally, equity is a nebulous number. But you can help your employees understand what it means and why they have it. Ownership is a powerful incentive — that’s why you allocate it to your team in the first place
  • Commitments. Your team makes commitments to you all the time. You should reciprocate. And you should always meet your commitments.
  • The opposite of Machiavelli. Don’t play that game. Do what you say. No smile and waving.
  • Critical feedback. People respect leaders who give them the honest truth.
  • Manage your board: Don’t be a pawn for some VC who isn’t independent and has no clue what it’s like to run a business. The same treatment applies to the VC who ran a business back in the day but has forgotten how. Everyone sees through it.

These steps aren’t difficult. You need to follow them consistently if you’re going to create trust.

But sometimes, trust isn’t achievable.

The Untrustables

Trust can be lost or won. But some people don’t deserve it at all. Identify them.

  • Are they always thinking of storylines? Do they actually use the words storyline?
  • Do they show up, pretending to be your friend, to help you “work out a situation?”
  • Are they a “close friend” but they say things like “I can’t tell you that” or “I know you better than you know yourself?”
  • Do they forget where their bread is buttered? Better yet, do they have misconceptions and delusions of grandeur regarding their role baking the bread or even buttering it in the first place?

Are you with me through that last one? Good.

Smells likes bullshit, right? These are tactics for manipulating people, not building real relationships.

Your organization needs trust if it’s going to succeed. Discard these people like yesterday’s trash. Keep them out of your company and your life.

If you’re “looking for a developer” you’ve already failed.

silicon-valley-thumb

At least three or four times a month a person very close to me says something like:

I can’t take [insert day job] anymore and need a really good developer, know anyone?

or

I’m working on a startup and thinking about hiring the consulting agency called RandomDevs, do you know them?

There was actually a site devoted to people like you once.

Here’s the thing.

A dirty little secret with respect to software engineers.

They are smart [er than you]. And they have ideas too! 

They don’t need YOU, the big idea person to show them the light.

So if you are starting or growing a software business and need other people to actually create the software for you, here’s some best practices to find a great partner.

 18-monkey-with-banana

Learn how to code

If you were going to open a bakery, would you learn a thing or two about how to bake?  In order at least have an intelligent conversation and some understanding? Even if you were going to hire a baker, you wouldn’t be all “I need you to make a pan de mie with a brioche top infused with a vanilla custard that tastes like chocolate mousse that’s in the shape of a little double helix but held together with blueberry licorice. I know you don’t have any breads of your own to work on, so just get all the flour and butter and stuff and whip it together and I’ll give you some small equity in my bakery and try to pay you as little as possible until we have 12 locations up and going.”

No, you wouldn’t say this. This is how you sound to a developer though.

I’m not telling you to become a professional manufacturer of software. I’m simply saying that learning how to code will be very helpful to the journey because it will

(1) make you more interesting to the people you want to work with if you can speak their language – literally and figuratively;

(2) show you’re not just another person who’s smarter than everyone with a big idea, but with no ability to learn, hustle, and execute;

(3) provide the foundation where you can actually kick start your big idea on your own with your own time, money, and effort – (holy crap, what a concept!);

(4) help you understand what you are actually asking people to build for you; and

(5) actually provide some relevant friends and colleagues that can ingrain you into the community you are seeking out in the first place – but from a different more appreciated angle.

I’ve personally found that software engineers love it when people try to learn how to code. They are always helpful and nurturing and accepting. I remember when the ShopKeep guys saw me doing “learn Python the hard way” and flipping through some books we got for the library – they all gave me some props and wanted to help me learn (yes, true, they know now I was full of shit and did that only as an act to ingratiate myself with them, but it worked for a bit. Sorry guys, I’m not branching out of excel. Not happening).

Anyway, learn how to code. It’s fun and not as hard as you’d think at a basic level. There’s so many resources to help now as well. Just check out Codecademy if you don’t even want to leave your house.

Don’t be so coin operated

I’m the most coin operated person you have ever met. You put a big enough carrot in front of me and I’ll chew my own arm off before I fail to eat it.  Software developers are equally as motivated – but they are ordinarily not coin operated.

By their nature, engineers like to solve problems.  Many startups and software engineers later (not to mention a wife who is an engineer), I can tell you on no uncertain terms that software developers can be the most motivated and hardest working people you will ever encounter.  Engineers will work night and day to solve a problem (for my wife, I am often that problem, but let’s not digress).

If they are not motivated to solve your problem, or if they no longer care about it, however, you can quickly become a nuisance “project” (no, again, I am not talking about my marriage, lol.)

So if you want to resonate with software developers, focus on the problem you are solving together.  Talk about why you are passionate about it and help them see the vision from a technology perspective. Don’t get me wrong, everyone likes money in the end – but I will never forget popping a cash draw with an iPad in 2011 and watching an engineer with a $200k+ offer from Apple lose their shit saying “I really want to work here”.

Make friends and be authentic. Not as a means to an end

Like I said, I married an engineer.  Her brother is an engineer.  Many of my close friends are software engineers.  The fact that I struggle with complicated addition and didn’t know what a codebase was until 2011 has never stopped me from building authentic relationships with people that want to solve big problems with me.  It’s because I never approach my networking nor my relationships with people as a “means to an end”.

Frankly, I can’t believe I even have to tell people this – but BE REAL.  I don’t hang out at technology events or meet ups because “I’m trying to start something and want to find a developer”.  I have a genuine interest in technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  I have a genuine interest in meeting new people, learning how they tick, and providing value to them.  I really like to make friends and work with people.  I’m not going to these things to hunt for web developers (picture some banker you know with a big idea climbing a tree in camos with a bow and arrow waiting for some one in a tee shirt to walk by so they can bag and tag ’em).    I meet and hang out with people who have similar interests as me which includes solving problems with technology. I get drunk with them and build quality friendships that I truly care about.

I’m sorry, but it’s really hard to start a software company and get a developer to “build something for you” if you don’t have a real interest in technology, innovation, and building software.  So take a long look in the mirror and say to yourself “I have a real passion for this and want to jump in with two feet” before you write a job posting from your living room for a developer and show up at tech events trying to make “friends” that you want to build stuff for you.

“Dev Shops” are fine, but run a process

You’re ignoring everything I just said (or you didn’t read it because I fundamentally ignore the blogging in less than 500 words convention).  You are too old for that shit and don’t have the time and you still have a big idea that will change the world which you want to invest in without quitting your day job – because, as all of your research shows, every huge technology business is started by some person in their cube who put out a “developer wanted” posting.

So you are going to hire a development firm to build your app from the “wire frames” you worked on at night from your couch with the Yankee game on in the background.  You’ve carved out $20k to $50k for this somehow – wtf, go for it! That’s great.  I’m supportive nonetheless.  There’s some amazing consulting firms out there that can really help you kick start your business (happy to recommend my favorite, but def check out Pivotal, or coVenture).  Do me a favor though – run a full process and get some really curated introductions! Don’t just hire the engineer Joe knows who did a great job on the site for his parent’s restaurant or the development firm that Lisa hired to build her app.  Go out and network your face off and find people who have built some successful technology companies first – at least a little.  Get a bunch of recommendations and do your diligence to understand success rate and lessons learned from past clients.  If you hear bad stories over and over – don’t hire them.

Also, remember that entrepreneurs by their nature are a little nutty (we all know this, c’mon).  Managing expectations from a developer perspective is therefore extremely tricky – so take feedback you get about scope creep, cost, and things of this nature with a grain of salt.  Really dig in should you get negative feedback and make sure it’s consistent before crossing a person or firm off the list.

Get a technical advisor

If you are still going to outsource, please find an advisor who’s technical.  Someone with real chops for building software. This doesn’t have to be a co-founder or a partner in the endeavor.  Just an advisor. Give this person like 25bps.  Have this person VET the developers and the development firms you bring into your process so you know they don’t suck – a good developer can spot another one a million miles away, and vice versa.

Remember, you are effectively asking someone to build a transmission for your race car from scratch.  You know nothing about cars and you have never met this person before.  So at least get someone who races and knows cars involved – they can help you pick the best pit crew.

You do not get what you pay for

If you talk to 20 engineers and development shops who for whatever reason decide to work on your project on a contracted basis, you will not see a normal bell curve of scope and total cost.  Everyone will have a different opinion and view of what it will take to develop what you are trying to do.

In hindsight, the worst option can at times wind up costing you 10x the best option – and not because you are being scammed.  More because of differing opinions regarding what you wanted vs what the consultant thinks you wanted and should want – which almost always winds up in dispute. Combine this with more demand than supply which equates to lots of opportunity for consultants (and some bad actors just not giving a shit about your happiness) and it’s easy to choose unwisely.  The solution for this is to again (1) get a technical advisor to fully vet any firm you are hiring or (2) partner with someone who wants to solve this problem full time because they are just as passionate about it as you are – versus looking at is as a project.