When you're successful, everyone wants to be your 'friend' -- and if you're struggling or failing, people avoid you as if your work woes were a contagious disease. Based on my own experience and my interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs, it's safe to say that most successful entrepreneurs feel highly isolated during their times of struggle.
It does not surprise me to learn that successful entrepreneurs feel a sense of resentment when people who kept their distance when they were struggling want to be their 'friends' when they're riding high. I put friends in scare quotes because these people are misusing the word -- to them it means you give them something of value in exchange for which they give you nothing.
One successful entrepreneur, Tope Awotona, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Calendly, a scheduling service, had the courage to come out and say that this is the thing he likes least about being a successful entrepreneur. The worst part of being successful is that it's the only thing he's known for, according to.the Wall Street Journal
When he's in a restaurant, he can't enjoy the meal in peace. Instead, when he meets people, he said, "I'm very reluctant to let them know what I do because too often the conversation turns into an impromptu interview, pitch or plea for something. People will ask things like, 'Can you hire me, or can you hire my friend?' 'Can you give me advice on a business idea I have?' 'When will you build this feature?' 'Can I sell you this?' 'Can I introduce you to this VC?'" the Journal reported.
I don't blame Awotona for his desire to enjoy doing normal activities without being bombarded for favors. Yet I can understand why many people would think that he somehow owes them a little help in their own ascent.
I think there is a middle ground here between ignoring everyone who asks him for help and spending hours meticulously responding to every single request he gets from strangers. Here are four steps to finding that middle ground.
1. Construct Your Personal Indifference Curve.
One of the best things about being a successful entrepreneur is that you have more control over how you spend your time. When a stranger approaches asking for a favor, that entrepreneur may ask herself the following question: Is there anything that this stranger could say to me that would be worth the same as me continuing to do what I was doing before that stranger approached?
The answer to that question is what the concept of an indifference curve is all about. To create such as curve, you must think about how much value a stranger could provide you to make it worth giving up a piece of your free time.
2. Assess Whether a Stranger's Request Can Make You Both Better Off.
If your company does not need new employees or has all the capital that it needs, then spending time listening to a stranger explain why you should hire them will have negative value to you.
However, what if you had just left a meeting in which you had decided you were going to fire one of your salespeople because they were consistently falling short of their goals? In that case, if a stranger was pitching you on hiring a star sales person who had just quit because the company was downsizing, you might both be better off were you to take the time to listen to the stranger.
3. If Not, Tell the Person That You Can't Help.
If the stranger asks you to do something that will clearly make you worse off, tell them that you wish them well, however, you are not in a position to help them.
4. If So, Ask for More Information.
If you think the stranger might be able to make you both better off, ask the stranger some specific questions that will help you assess whether their claims are likely to be true. If so, provide them with a way to get in touch and send you more details about their proposal.
Do these four things and you can make the best of strangers asking for favors -- in a way that make you both better off.