The idea that business is "all about who you know" might just be the oldest cliché out there. But that doesn't make it untrue, exactly. Meeting the right investor, customer, partner, or potential hire can make or break your business, and often the best connections come through an introduction by someone you already know.
All of which adds up to the most well-connected guys, such as David Cohen, the founder of the TechStars incubator, getting asked for a lot of introductions. Recently he took to his blog to offer those asking him to hook them up with a potential business connection a piece of short but valuable advice.
Specific, it turns out, beats general.
Often, Cohen explains, people ask him: "Can you introduce me to investors that you think might be interested in my company?" But that's the wrong question, according to Cohen, who says these general requests are lazy, put him in a bit of a bind and end up undermining the value of his recommendation. He explains:
Let's say that I answer your original LazyWeb question above with, "Why yes, Jeff Clavier is someone who comes to mind."
You are now very likely to reach out to Jeff Clavier and say "David Cohen told me I should talk to you." Now I've created an *obligation* for Jeff. Because of his relationship of me, he may feel that he almost has to take this introduction. While you might think that's good for you, it's not and it's also not so good for Jeff or me. Further, in this situation Jeff is going to ask the inevitable question of whether or not I'm investing in your company—and if the answer is no, the introduction now has no power at all. In fact, it may have negative power.
Now contrast this with you asking me for an introduction to Jeff Clavier. You asking me allows me to reach out to Jeff (I never do blind introductions that are not double opt in) and explain to him that YOU thought of HIM for a specific reason, and are requesting that I introduce you to him. In this case, I’m merely facilitating an introduction that you requested. Socially, it’s pretty much expected of me that I would do this, and doing it as a double-opt in literally has no "cost" in terms of social currency associated with it. And, as a bonus, in the case where I’m not an investor this doesn’t hurt you because you’ve asked for the introduction regardless, for a specific reason relating to Jeff and not me.
So next time you're looking to ask a well-connected associate to help you connect, think about having a specific target in mind and a compelling rationale for targeting that person.
Interested in more of Cohen's ideas and advice? Check out Inc.'s April 2012 cover story on the application process to TechStars New York City here.