The Asshole Rule of Networking

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Here’s a brain-melter for you: Paul Bragiel, partner at Golden Gate Ventures, networked all the way up to the Office of the President in Colombia to snag himself a citizenship to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics (I swear to God that’s not a joke). He literally pulled a Cool Runnings, and I’m convinced the only reason he didn’t qualify at the very end is because Walt Disney Studios threatened to sue for infringing on their intellectual property.

He is, in his words, a ‘human router’, or a bridge that connects people together. That is a woeful understatement. Paul connects people the way Bill Gates sorta does well for himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if I read in PandoDaily tomorrow that he managed a private audience with the Pope because he wanted to pitch Jesus Christ.

Networking done right opens doors. For a venture capitalist, it is arguably what separates good VCs from bad ones: networking can lead to high-quality deal flow, potential co-investors in upcoming investments or, most importantly, investors into your next fund. Having a strong, robust network ultimately makes our job easier. That’s why we are always, always traveling around Southeast Asia, doing our best to get plugged in.

A common method of networking is to speak to ‘human routers’ like Paul, people that are very well-connected to a local scene, and ask for an introduction to someone that they know. That person could be anyone — an investor, an advisor, a customer, whatever. Generally speaking, you are asking to be introduced to people that can provide you value.

There are ways to do this well. There are many more ways to do this badly. I don’t want to rehash much of the literature already out there. Chances are you already know the importance of networking for your business or career, and you’ve developed your own style. But one thing I’ve yet to see anyone talk about is something I’ve dubbed ‘The Asshole Rule’ of Networking, which goes something like this:

If you are an Asshole, and I introduce you to someone on your behalf, by association, I too become an Asshole.

Let’s break this down. Say you are a unabashed hustler, looking to change the world with your badass startup. You reach out to me and ask to get introduced to some investor in the Valley. I agree, loop you two together, and then … you go on to make an enormous ass of yourself. You are rude and demanding; you haven’t done your research; you waste the person’s time. However, because this introduction was brokered by me, you’re not the only one that looks bad; I look bad.

And if I look bad, this is one person who might be less inclined to take my requests seriously, collaborate on projects, or co-invest with on a future deal. In short, it degrades the connections within my network. This is a big deal. Imagine how shit it must’ve been for the guy that introduced his friends to Bernie Madoff.

This isn’t to say that everyone that’s requested an introduction from me is an asshole. Indeed, I’ve met many more good people than bad, and I’ve happily gone well out of my way to link them up with folks when I saw some mutual benefit.

I’m just saying that of all the people I meet, there is always the possibility that there will be one asshole, and that’s all it takes. Most human routers understand this, so are generally quite wary of introducing people they’ve just met to their network.

So what’s the easiest way a hustler can avoid breaking the Asshole Rule? Simple!

    DON’T ASK FOR INTRODUCTIONS

Networkers make the mistake of thinking they only need to work on impressing the people they’re being introduced to. Wrong. They should care more about impressing the people making the introduction. If you want to be introduced to an investor, pitch the human router as if they had the money. If you wanted to be linked up to a potential customer, explain the benefits of your product or service and why you’ve the best startup to do that. If you’ve impressed the human router sufficiently enough, they’ll make the introduction.

As an addendum, human routers can also avoid breaking the Asshole Rule by following the Double Opt-in introduction. Fred Wilson of USV wrote a great post on it, and it basically amounts to first asking the person you’re making the introduction to if they even want to be introduced, and if they approve, then making the introduction. It gives them the option to refuse,

The human router needs to get a good feel for who you are, what you’re like, and the value you provide. You could have a great idea but be a massive prick. Conversely, you could be the nicest guy in the world that’s developing a social network called MyBookface. In either case, you’re not going to get that introduction.

Sometimes the human router can get that feeling in the first meeting; often times, it’ll take much longer than that. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get that introduction right away. Think of it as setting up blind dates: if I don’t know you that well, I’m definitely not going to hook you up with my best friend. I need to know you’re a really good fit first.

That’s the thing. Human routers will voluntarily make introductions if they see value – for you, for the person they’re introducing you to, and themselves. It’s the complete antithesis of the Bernie Madoff example: if I introduced you to your future husband or wife, by law I’m pretty sure that makes me “Uncle Justin” to your children in perpetuity, and you are now legally obligated to include me in all Christmas Card photos. Making an awesome introduction makes us look good, with all the benefits that entails.

If, however, the human connector doesn’t immediately see value, they need to be sold on it. And if they can’t be sold, there’s a reason for that. If that happens, the solution is not to ask for introductions; the solution is to ask for feedback, advice, constructive criticism, whatever. If you’re earnest and, more importantly, you act on that feedback, you have a much greater chance of getting introduced to the people you want, either now or down the road.

Networking can be a hugely powerful tool, if done right. Look at Paul, and everything he’s done! Successful founder, venture capitalist, world-class athlete, and unparalleled human router. Just don’t ask me for any intros.