Why You Should Give Before You Get

Posted on Jun 12, 2013 | 41 comments

Why You Should Give Before You Get

I have a motto in business and life, “give before you get.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 7.53.50 AMIt’s a philosophy, really.

And it applies to business relationships & networking as much as it does to remuneration in the workplace.

It seems we live in an era of “ask.”

I see it on Twitter. Lots of asking.

I see it on email even more. And in person in spades.

Everybody is in such a rush that they go for the “ask” too early.

Sometimes there is no other option – I get that. And sometimes I feel happy to help somebody even when we’re just getting to know each other. That happened yesterday with a nice lady who moved to LA last year.

But less as a complaint and more as advice to younger networkers, the more you invest in relationships the more you will get when you need.

The more you accomplish through hard work the more you will feel comfortable asking for more compensation at your job.

Give. Then Get.

I know Brad Feld wrote a similar post. When he wrote it I smiled because I have always used the same saying.  Brad is the ultimate giver. It’s why whenever he does ask my answer is “yes” before even knowing what he’s asking.

I was thinking about this yesterday because my assistant Tasha posted a link on Facebook to Paul C. Brunson’s short and to-the-point blog post, “It’s Called Networking, Not Using.”

In it he talked about how he gets daily emails asking for intros to Oprah (he does a lot of work with her) and his advice

“The most successful relationships I have built are with people I do more for then they do for me. I give, give, give, give, give, then ask.”

So true.

It’s not only more effective but more rewarding. It feels much better to be a giver than a receiver. It feels much better to be helpful than to be indebted.

One of the most common questions I hear from first-time entrepreneurs is, “How do I meet angels?”

There is such an obvious solution. Think about it – who knows angels the best? People who have raised money from them. Duh.

So why not get out and meet them? It’s why I wrote the blog post on 50 Coffee Meetings. You need to be out there building relationships long before you have an “ask.” Be authentic. Be helpful. Earn the right to ask if they wouldn’t mind an intro to an angel. And don’t ask for 10.

It’s why I talk about building VC relationships early – Lines, Not Dots. Fill your VC good will, build relationships, be helpful to them not just asking for things. It becomes easier to ask when you need help or money.

It’s why long before you ever want press coverage you need to spend time actually helping journalists, respecting their profession, taking their calls (not having your PR department screen them) and knowing what interests them. I wrote about there here. When you want press, it will come. Give. Then get.

Some practical examples.

Jason Nazar is a master networker. As good as they come. Early in his days when he was raising capital for DocStoc he came to see me a lot. Of course he wanted to talk a lot about his product and company – he was looking for money after all. But every time he came he was looking for ways to help me. He would send deals. He was eager to introduce me to his angels – a great group that I didn’t know at the time. Later on he would offer to share his advice on SEO with other portfolio companies. He would offer his time to Launchpad LA companies.

Jason could ask me just about anything now. He’s been such a consistent giver over the years.

Todd Gitlin is one of the best executive recruiters the technology & startup market in Los Angeles. On many occasions over the years I’ve called him with a request, “I’m not looking for an X right now but if I were, who is good in the market.” Within an hour I always have 4 CVs with notes on their accomplishments. He motto is, “If you want to talk with any of them I’ll introduce you. No fee required.” Todd does this naturally but in his physche is wired the concept of reciprocity. He knows that good people return favors which means that when we do have a commercial need at a company we call him.

I have other business relationships where it feels like the clock is always running. “What’s in it for me?” OK, I could be an advisor to your company but if I intro them to X I’d like to get an additional % option grant at your company.

And then I think about me. When I joined GRP Partners in 2007 I was offered a role as a General Partner. The compensation at the time was much less than what others told me a general partner at a VC firm would get. My philosophy was simple

“I’ve never been a VC before. So they’re taking a bit of a risk on me. 

Who cares what my equity is. If I do well, I’ll ask for more later. If I don’t do well, at least I got a shot at being a VC. If I don’t do well I didn’t deserve the comp.”

I did well. I asked for the comp later. I got it with no argument. And I always remember who put me in business. Life is about karma.

I always try to give before I get.

Photo Credit: Ben Grey on Flickr

  • http://www.hypedsound.com/ jonathanjaeger

    Yesterday I read a blog from Dan Shipper called “Why are you in such a rush?” (http://danshipper.com/why-are-you-in-such-a-rush). He made some great points about people in a rush to be get funding, be an entrepreneur, and ask for things without much thought behind it. I think the same holds true for building a network and relationships where you feel warranted asking for something.

    I started working with a developer a couple years ago and we ended up not continuing to work together on a project. We stayed in touch over the last couple years. I would ask him for development advice and I would try to help with things I noticed in regards to his startup whenever I could. Fast forward a couple years and he introduces me to a friend of his who is advising me on my project and looking through all the code and making sure things are on track. To develop these kinds of connections sometimes you have to play the long game.

  • dgay07

    Spot on! The number one thing I tell people I have learned in my short time investing is that relationships are the key to success. And the way to build long lasting relationships is to be transparent, trustworthy and reciprocate. Once you build a strong network of relationships based on give and get, opportunities abound!

  • Joel Dietz

    110% agree. Thanks for the reminder!

  • http://prometheefeu.wordpress.com/ PrometheeFeu

    Reciprocity is a powerful force in the human mind. And it works great whether you are exploiting it consciously, or just trying to be a helpful guy. The nice thing about trying to be a helpful person is that you don’t have to remember to try to invoke the reciprocity norms. You just do it and miss fewer opportunities.

  • Brenton Thornicroft

    The most successful people I know have this mentality ingrained in their personality. Great post, Mark

  • http://www.justanentrepreneur.com Philip Sugar

    I was told a long time ago, give thrice before you expect to receive.

    I think you outlined two behaviors that suck:

    Do me a favor even though I don’t know you.
    If you want me to do a favor its going to cost you.

    The combination of the two is I don’t know you, but I’ll pay you to do a favor.

    It must work because I get people that ask me the combination all of the time. I’m sure Paul gets one every day. Just like getting in and nickle and diming a customer, I don’t understand because I would think you would get a bad reputation quickly.

  • Greg Mand

    Great post Mark. I’m a firm believer in your argument and try to make a point in every networking meeting or email to ask how I can be of help. Have thought about the karma bit as well. :) Btw…not sure if you saw this recent NYT Mag article discussing research by a Wharton professor on Giving as a way to get ahead. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/magazine/is-giving-the-secret-to-getting-ahead.html?pagewanted=all

  • http://www.5toolgroup.com/ Jay Oza

    Give without expecting to get. It is a classic win-win; you won by giving something and the other person won by getting something from you.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    I started reading this and immediately thought of Brad’s post – and I saw him talk last month about it in Hoboken and blogged about that – ow.ly/kut50. Some great examples that I will use with the service providers I know here in NJ – some of them do what Todd does, but many do not.

    With regard to your “deal” when you jumped across the table, I tell people (and myself) many times that a deal is a good deal if you believe it to be. I try not to compare myself to what other people are doing, what is “typical”, etc. If I feel good about the arrangement, then it’s a good deal. Things will likely change down the road that necessitate revisiting – you can’t pre-plan for a good deal down the road…

  • Tony Knopp

    Spot on and great example with Todd Gitlin. We’re a growing start-up and he has always been there to help us while never asking first (we’re not quite in his “sweetspot” yet). He’d never ever ask me (or anyone) to post anything like this….which is why I do.

  • https://aserina.squarespace.com/blog Anthony Serina

    I think one of the biggest networking challenges entrepreneurs face is trying to build long term relationships when a startup has a limited amount of time to prove successful. It might seem like asking for something now is important because your startup is running low on cash, needs to close a big client, wants that perfect hire etc. But working in startups is a career, I think it is important to realize when you meet someone that the relationship you build is not just for “your startup, right now” but a relationship that will be part of a long career building and creating companies. Sometimes it is hard to remember that when you are in the heat of the moment.

  • Bill Slenter

    This was a really helpful post for me to read. Trying to establish a business relationship with someone new can be uncomfortable (and I’m not a natural at it). People I need to network with are often super busy, and the benefit of talking to me isn’t obvious to them, so I get their reluctant attention for just a few minutes. But if I can find a way to offer them something, to be helpful, that could really swing the balance and also make it a much more comfortable situation for me.

  • http://stevencox.com/ Steven Cox

    Colleen Hartwell was a senior HR executive that we met in our early days as a company. We couldn’t afford HR servies, but she helped us set up systems, interview and screen candidates – and never asked for anything in return. I asked her why. She said she believed in “paying forward”. Later she became our VP Talent & Culture. When the job came open, it wasn’t even a question on who we should hire. I took her “paying forward” concept to heart. Fill up the bank account before taking withdrawals.

  • Jason Nazar

    Mark thanks for thoughtful shout out, but the same goes for you. I’ve never met anyone who stays as long after events and talks to as many folks to try and help them out as you. I’m going to be buying you a box of Purell for all that handshaking…

  • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

    I think that @timoreilly captured it best for me:

    “Create more value than you capture” http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/01/work-on-stuff-that-matters-fir.html

    And @MSuster:twitter thank you for creating more value that you capture. The blog posts and the education have saved me countless dollars.

  • http://beta.rocketlistings.com/ Brian Sirkia

    I think this also ties into the idea that you have to give respect to get respect. No matter how small or big a fish you are, being willing to help other people out shows that you respect what they’re doing and can expect that same respect back in the future.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    “For it is in giving that we receive.” – St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

  • http://about.me/kirsten.lambertsen Kirsten Lambertsen

    Love that, Scott: “…a deal is a good deal if you believe it to be.”

  • http://about.me/kirsten.lambertsen Kirsten Lambertsen

    So psyched to see you posting about this.

    I adopted this policy a couple of years ago, as I was just starting to plan my second startup (I started my first during “me first” times). I still get the most amusing reactions when I say to new acquiantances, “If I can help you in any way, I seriously want you to ask me. I really mean it. No strings attached. I love to help.”

    The hardest trick you have to play on yourself is giving while completely letting go of ever expecting to get anything in return, directly or indirectly.

    What I find so exciting is that this ethos seems to be built into the new generation of young entrepreneurs. There’s hope for humanity :-)

  • http://www.esayas.com/ Esayas Gebremedhin

    what i can give you is a source to look for an interesting journey of a young entrepreneur: http://www.esayas.com and of course as a big soul (this is what aristotle calls someone who gives and never takes), i rather die than asking anyone for help. weird was thinking about that this week.

  • Entp99999

    Hmm, can we get a post on the flipside pls? I mean, what about the ingrates that you “give” (without asking for anything, in some area affecting them at that time), yet they don’t even follow up with a thanks afterwards? Happy to give first & I do often, but what would really rock is a better nose for sniffing out ingrates beforehand, so that one doesn’t even bother with them to begin with.

    /rant over

  • http://www.whatspinksthinks.com/ David Spinks

    Love the post. Great reminder. There’s one thing that I think about every time I hear this advice though…

    If you’re just getting into an industry, or you’re a young professional who hasn’t built up much of a network or expertise yet, you might want to help but fail to find the opportunity.

    Wondering if you have seen any good examples of people finding non-obvious ways to give and be helpful?

  • Neeraj Shukla

    Great post as always Mark !

  • http://zivazmanov.blogspot.com/ Ziv Azmanov

    Hi Mark,

    Thank you for the nice post. I totally agree with this philosophy.

    I believe it’s best to give more than you receive. It makes you feel good, as well as increases the chances of you getting that favor when you need it.

    One should always maintain a positive balance in the “emotional bank account” of any relationship you have, as the late Dr. Stephen Covey preached. It means that you should be gracious towards your friends, colleagues, and others, with your time, assistance, and introductions.

    Bottom line: Always treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

    Best Regards,


  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

    I believe that we do make our own luck and that generosity is a great poise for life.

    I try to live it.

    I also know that know that humility is connected to success and experience.

    A really nuanced and important topic cause while need has nothing to do with the chances of success, success itself and the personal residue of that experience certainly does breed more of it.

  • Patrick

    Very good advice, although it doesn’t necessarily work if you’re looking for a job. I have “given” time to companies and they just take advantage of it and don’t respect that I’m looking for something solid as an end game. Other thoughts on approach you might have are very welcome!

  • RMD

    A CEO who manages 2000 employees and a friend of mine follows the same philosophy. It’s worked for him. My question for Mark: how do start-up CEOs balance giving vs. asking when you’re bootstrapping? I used to give, give, give to everyone without asking, but one day (a while back) my landlord asked for rent one and when I didn’t have rent “to give”, I began asking more from others. Great post, btw!

  • Modify Watches

    A little surprised you didn’t quote the Adam Grant article, or book that just came out, Give and Take. Pretty apt reading given this topic

  • David A. Frankel

    This should be required reading before anyone is allowed to set up a LinkedIn profile. Great post, once again.

  • http://www.ibla.us/ Meganlisa

    Yes. I ended one networking “relationship” after getting an ask every week for months. Not that I don’t want to help…but… I think your post is so valuable. Give before getting – but one thing you also hit on is meaning. Asking or giving something of no value is just a waste of time. Which is fine sometimes…but true relationships – for me – grow out of respecting people’s time…their most valuable commodity. Recognizing the difference is actually seeing someone as a person and not a “contact”. And, Mark, you are so great about sharing your time and insights with all. Thanks. And for the personal advice and patience.
    And going to the time thing…hopefully you got the book I sent…if not let me know. Don’t know how much “value” it has but it was sent.
    This post made me reflect on my own behavior…always a useful exercise.

  • http://www.siddharthbharath.com/ Siddharth Bharath

    Great article! You’ve got to change your mindset from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do for you?”. I’ve helped my fellow entrepreneurs at Startup Chile find resources, hire people and meet investors without expecting anything in return. And when they reciprocate it’s always a bonus.
    Also to touch on the 50 Coffee Meetings point, I know a guy who came to Chile with absolutely no contacts. He decided to meet with a new person every single day and within two months he was invited to co-found a co-working space! So it totally works.

  • jamesoliverjr

    To give is to receive…

  • Ko

    It is a kind of ancient chinese philosophy, or everywhere’s.
    I totally agree.

  • mattbijur

    This is a great post mark. funny – as i was reading through the first few paragraphs, the name Todd Gitlin popped into my head and then bam, you nailed it. Todd indeed exemplifies this concept…

  • Zero Cool

    Spot on, Mark. The thing is, especially in LA, everyone is always asking asking asking. Rarely do people give here. Even when you take a friend to lunch, they ask for something, they rarely offer. It has to do a lot with our culture here, people have false expectations and demand from others things which they cannot offer. I’ve always been a giver and seldom ask, but at time, we all need help, guidance, leadership, mentorship, etc. whether in life or in business. People need to give not only in business, but in life in general. Then, we’ll have a better society.

  • http://www.makementionmedia.com/ Jen Havice

    This is why so many people run into trouble with social media. They don’t seem to understand that it’s all about relationship building. Simply broadcasting a message without thought to creating a dialogue is akin to shouting at someone. Build community first, ask later.

  • Elizabeth Kraus

    Great post! But I’m wondering whether the “Give Before You Get” philosophy is also hurting our startup ecosystem and if so, what folks think we should do about that?

    When I started angel investing about three years ago, I always started my coffee meetings by asking “How can I be helpful?”. It was the best thing I possibly could have done and my reputation for being helpful has come back in spades. But….my reputation for being helpful is starting to suffocate me. I receive about a couple hundred emails a day, most of which are requests for help. I of course prioritize those who have helped me in the past, further illustrating the power of give before you get, but I am starting to wonder a few things:

    1) Is “Give Before You Get” a recipe for burnout? Brad
    Feld – case in point – struggles with depression and I do too. There is something emotionally suffocating about constantly receiving requests for help and trying to be helpful, especially when you are living the rat race startup life.

    2) Are we creating unfair competition for those who need to be paid for a living? I am fortunate enough to not have to work for a living, but because I am a full-time startup volunteer/angel, I don’t make an income. This limits the amount I can invest and in order to scale my “helpfulness”, I have recruited some very
    talented people who do need to be paid. So…..I’ve started charging for some
    events I do and some other helpful services that are not directly related to my
    investment activity, but are still providing value to the startup community. This has resulted in two things: 1) Backlash from the community for “taking advantage” of cash strapped entrepreneurs and adding a barrier to angel investors and 2) a great reduction in our audience size because there are so many people in our community (Boulder, CO) who are willing
    to do things for free. But the problem with most people who do things for free
    is that they either 1) don’t follow through because they don’t feel invested
    and 2) after a while, they get burned out.

    So, to all of the commenters, I am wondering: Is the “Give Before
    You Get” mentality sustainable and do you have any tips for preventing burnout?


    (BTW: I will retweet and like this post as a give before I get an answer)

  • petermengo

    Amen and amen.

  • marklanday

    Nice post. As an executive recruiter with near two decades of experience in the technology & startup market in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, it is not uncommon to provide potential candidate and market analysis to VCs and boards. It used to be, delivered in hard copy as part of the “pitchbook” from the firm. What you pointed out is now more common with the growth of LinkedIn. Todd is a good guy, but most retained executive recruiters provide this.

    Mark Landay
    Dynamic Synergy Executive Recruitment


  • RobertinSeattle

    Keeping a scoreboard on favors between real friends is the surest way to sour a relationship, old or new. Expect nothing in return when you choose to help someone and when good things come back to you, it truly becomes the pleasant surprise that it was intended to be.

    Like the old Stones’ song goes, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”

  • RV

    Wharton Professor Adam Grant has written an absolutely fantastic book about exactly this and I would encourage everyone to go read it, it’s called ‘Give and Take’.