Intros. They’re the lifeblood of networking – the currency of mavens. They are your route to angel money. Your entrée to sales meetings.
But when misused, overused or abused they can diminish your personal brand, consume your valuable time and waste time of the relationships you value the most.
I would like to make the case for being judicious with your introductions. I would like to encourage you to closely guard your most cherished relationships. And in most cases I would heed Fred Wilson’s advice about the “double opt-in” email for intros – where you ask for permission before green-lighting an unsolicited introductions.
I give introductions frequently. I also request them for time to time. So please don’t view this post as recommending not to do introductions. It’s a simple reminder that whom you do introduction for and how you do them will have a great impact on your credibility with those relationships you’ve worked so hard to build.
Lately I’ve seen some friends and colleagues go nuts with intros. I’ve commented to several of them (so, no, I’m not talking about YOU. I’m talking in aggregate. Promise.) that I don’t understand their motivations.
At best “over introducers” are driven by a sincere desire to help other people. In reality it probably also has some element of ego because sending out many intros gives off the impression that you’re well connected. That you can “make things happen.” That you’re helpful. You’re trying to endear yourself to one side of the intro.
But here’s the thing – every time you send an introduction you’re obligating people. At a minimum you’re obligating them to ignore the email and feel like an arse for not responding to your introduction. More likely they either end up finding an excuse not to meet, delaying a meeting indefinitely or in most cases actually taking a meeting.
Over-introducers also consume a lot of personal time in making intros. It is very time consuming doing intros the right way. Ask yourself the tough question about how you might spend that time more productively getting your job done well.
There are many times when that meeting is a great fit and hugely appreciated. There are also many times where that meeting isn’t really focused or productive. Here are some of the underlying motivators and some thoughts about these introductions.
Helping with a Sales Lead
I do this often. Usually it’s on behalf of a portfolio company. After all, if your VCs won’t help you get access to potential buyers or business development partners – what will they do?
But I also try to help friends / close business associates get access to other people I know.
My personal rules are:
- I must know the individual whom I introducing well enough to vouch for their character and therefore the likelihood that their product or service is of high quality
- I must be able to mentally make a connection of how the person whom I’m introducing my friend / colleague to would benefit. If it’s strictly a favor I will ask before I intro and I will state specifically that it’s a person favor
- In 80% of the cases I will ask permission in advance. Where I don’t it’s usually because I’m highly certain of the relevant of the introduction.
I recognize that each time I ask I’m putting my reputation on the line. If I introduce a time waster or somebody with a crap product then the person whom I introduced them to will necessarily think less of me. If I do it to them twice it may start to affect our relationship or at least their willingness to take more meetings from me.
I carefully guard this privilege that allows me to periodically do high-profile introductions.
Helping Access Money
People need access to angels and VCs. I frequently tell startups that the best way to get a meeting with money is to get a highly-qualified introduction.
But all too frequently people send angels & VCs too many unqualified intros. Regardless – I do my best to respond to as many as I can. The thing about an intro is that I know that one person is trying to help a friend get access to me. So I feel that not acknowledging this is disrespecting the introducers.
And I understand that many people who send VCs deals think they’re doing you a favor. But the reality is that unfiltered intros just create work for the VC. And if you send an intro to a company once without asking – no problem. But if you start the send multiple deals and if the quality of those deals is not super hight then you begin to erode the trust that the VC has in your judgment.
My belief – unless you know the VC really well (you’re a portfolio company of theirs, for example) I’d always ask for permission first. It’s best if you send a deck so that the investor can review it for a fit before the introduction takes place.
If I get a plan I find interesting from somebody I trust I am always hugely appreciative.
And then there is the email blaster / form letter introducer. They think they’re doing the startup a favor by casting a wide net to VCs. By the time I’ve gotten 4-5 of these garbage emails I just start hitting delete (or ask them to remove me from their list). Remember as a startup – the person who sends the intro to the VC matters a lot.
Helping with a Job Opportunity / Career / Information Interview
This is one area where I really try to go out on a limb. It’s a matchmaking service. Companies are always looking for highly qualified talent. Talent is always looking for interesting opportunities.
This is the kind of intro I do most frequently.
It falls into 2 categories:
1. I know the company and the specs they’re generally looking for. I come across a person looking for a new role. This might be somebody I know well (thus the email will come very highly referred) or somebody I just met for which the company will get the “I just met this person. I haven’t referenced him/her. She looks very competent but you’d have to apply your own filter / check reference.
1. I know the individual well and they’re wanting information interviews to find a good home. Here I will usually ask in advance. I will make a clear instruction in the email that the meeting is 30 minutes. I will strongly encourage the person to respect time boundaries and to make sure to send a thank you note.
“You Guys Should Meet”
This is the worst kind. If you find yourself writing this in an email – think twice about sending it. I see way too many of these. You sorta / kinda know s0-and-so because you had a few too many beers together last year as SXSW. You remember that they work for Google / Microsoft / Zynga. You meet somebody new in business. They seem like “a nice guy.”
They mention something about trying to do a deal at Zynga. “Hey, I know a guy at Zynga. I should introduce you guys.”
I know you think I’m exaggerating. The tech world is filled with these kinds of intros. These drive me bonkers. They’re generally disrespectful of all involved unless previously clear with everybody. Even then you’ll find that some people just aren’t good at saying no. But they’ll still likely be frustrated that they now have one less hour of one less day.
Introduce people. It’s good karma. But be judicious. Introduce people that would genuinely each benefit from meeting. Whenever possible ask permission. And if you’re tempted to be an “over introducer” please know that you probably damage your personal brand as much by burning people’s time as your perceived positive brand perception by making each individual connection.