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Why You Should Give Before You Get

Professional relationships are a two-way street, says noted venture capitalist Mark Suster.
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I have a motto in business and life, "give before you get."

It’s a philosophy, really.

And it applies to business relationships and 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 was:

"The most successful relationships I have built are with people I do more for than 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 them 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 and start-up market in LA. 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 four 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 psyche is wired with 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 percentage 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.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Jun 13, 2013

MARK SUSTER | Columnist

Mark Suster is a two-time entrepreneur who has gone to "the dark side" of venture capital. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a general partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies. You can find him on Twitter @msuster.




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