Beware of the Dangers of Over-Networking
As a general rule of thumb in life, knowing the right people socially never hurt anyone achieve their dreams.
In the start-up world it may be more fashionable to discuss this reality using the framework of "community" rather than the suit-and-tie tainted term of "networking." But whatever you call it, a big pool of supportive connections is usually thought to be a good thing.
But perhaps it shouldn't be, or at least not always, Chris Savage, co-founder of video hosting company Wistia, argued on his blog recently. Social support is great, of course – who would be against friendship--but Savage believes that there is such as thing as being over-networked and that an excess of connections can hurt your fledgling company in four ways:
Problem 1: Honest feedback is even more rare than usual.
As anyone who has ever been pitched an idea will tell you, when an idea is bad, it’s really, really tough to give honest feedback. The incentive to give honest feedback and risk upsetting an overly networked individual is just not there. It's so much easier "forget" to tell a networker your true feelings about their product so you can stay on their good side.
Problem 2: People will use your product for the wrong reasons.
How many products have you tried because the person behind the product seems well connected? Have you ever tried a product that came out of Y Combinator even though you were actually pretty confused by the product's purpose?… I'm sure you can think of some startups run by networkers that never progressed because their fame brought them their users.
Problem 3: People will join your team because of your connections, not because of your ideas, execution, product, or traction.
This problem is probably the one that can go either way for you. Build a truly amazing team with your overly-connected network and you may still have a shot of building a great company. But build a great team for the wrong reasons and you'll soon have a group of people who are dissatisfied and disheartened with the lack of vision and lack of real growth once your networker bump disappears. Being able to convince a real human, who doesn't know you solely as a networker, that they should quit what they are doing and join you is a great sign that you may actually be onto something.
Problem 4: It can make it too easy to raise money.
If it's hard to raise money, and you raise money, then you're probably onto something! Congrats, you've been able to convince others that you are in a big enough market, studying an interesting enough problem, with the potential to create a compelling solution. The problem, of course, is that if you've networked yourself too much then you are going to have a slew of people that will recommend you, just because they know you and think of you as a great person, but that doesn't mean that your idea is any good. I see people recommending great, well-networked people all the time who are working on terrible ideas.
Your first reaction to this list may be that you wish you had these sorts of problems. Too much A-grade tech talent beating down your door? Where do I sign up? But there might be a lesson here for mere mortals who don't spend a lot of time hand-wringing about how their copious connections in the venture capital world will make fund-raising just too darn easy.
If you're not in that class of networker maybe you stress that you should be. And then maybe you devote a lot of time to cultivating connections. Maybe that time could be put to better use in the early days on improving your business. Or, as Savage puts it, maybe you should largely skip networking for now and "hole up in your dungeon and spend your time building something that is f***ing great."
Here on Inc.com, has Jeff Haden has agreed with this sentiment without the NSFW language. "You don't have time to nurture dozens or hundreds of connections," he reminds early-stage founders in a post on why sometimes less really is more.
Does your anxiety about networking ever distract you from the battle to build a great product?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.