There's no doubt in my mind: Building meaningful relationships is the single most important skill for any entrepreneur. Our relationships--with investors, advisors, partners, employees and early customers--can make or break our startups.

It's hard to quantify the value of relationship skills, though a Harvard Business Review study reported that "interpersonal skills" were among five common traits found in serial entrepreneurs. The article called them "the glue that holds the other four skills together."

I enjoy building relationships, and I encourage my interns and venture capital portfolio companies to do so, too. Through my career--successively as a CEO, founder, investor, and board member--I've come to realize that a few timeless principles are still the foundation for creating and nurturing successful relationships.

Investing the time in creating quality relationships--rather than "spraying and praying" is not easy. As a founder, it's almost impossible to not feel that there is never enough time.

I strive to understand the true nature of connections between people. In the age of social media, we need to examine the reality and closeness of apparent connections. The strongest relationships aren't built with a "this for that" short-term transactional approach. It may be weeks, months, or years before the virtuous circle plays out, but it almost always does.

That's why I get excited about tools that can find the information I need, allowing me to focus on how I can use that information. It's also why I get frustrated when barriers--technology or otherwise--make it more difficult than it should be.

Finding people is harder than it should be

One of my favorite all-time stats comes from McKinsey, circa 2012: Workers spend 19 percent of their work week searching for information. Put another way, if you fill five new jobs in your company, one of them will be lost to simply searching for data.

Six years after the study was released, a fundamental challenge persists: The amount of digital data continues to grow while our human capacity to sort through it is fixed. We still have 24-hour days, after all.

It's sometimes difficult or time-consuming to find the people with whom I need to build relationships. In 2009, when I was starting Illuminate Ventures, I wanted to create an advisory council of top corporate executives and successful entrepreneurs working in areas that aligned with my investment strategy.

It took me a year. I burned countless hours searching the web to identify people with the right backgrounds and then asking for introductions through layers of my personal contacts or shared social media connections.

Fortunately, things have changed since then. We all now have access to amazing products--Crunchbase, for example, has become a great resource for understanding the connections between investors and startup companies. I've started using a new free search engine called Findera, which is very fast and easy to use (disclaimer: I believe in it so much that I'm an investor in the company). And I've found that Twitter can be surprisingly helpful at times to connect with people who would be hard to reach otherwise.  

We can always choose to not be found online. However, it's very challenging to build new relationships without a digital presence. I'm excited that many companies are focused squarely on helping professionals find one another and make valuable work-related connections.

Technology to the rescue

"When our tools are broken, we feel broken. And when somebody fixes one, we feel a tiny bit more whole."--Jonathan Ive.

Every day, I think about what makes great products and services in this information age. The job site Indeed, co-founded by Paul Forster and Rony Kahan in 2004, often comes to mind.

Indeed, thanks to clever search technology that aggregates job listings from all over the web and a brilliantly simple interface, is now the No. 1 trafficked job site in the world according to eBizMBA research. It's a one-stop shop--and a huge time-saver--for those trying to make their next big career move.

This is exactly how technology should come to our rescue. Recent advances in machine learning and AI--paired with a simple search interface--can help filter out the noise on the Internet. We can find just the information we need, when we need it.

Some tools and even social networks add paywalls and overly complicated features that make finding people expensive and time-consuming. Still, our current resources are constantly improving. The next generation of services will do a better job of serving up answers--without the friction.

As we reap those benefits, let's not forget to reinvest the time savings wisely and carefully think through the best possible long term "win-win" outcomes for both parties--before reaching out.

Published on: Aug 29, 2018