Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Five Networking Tips from the "Secrets of Silicon Valley's Master Networkers" - Courtesy of Auren Hoffman

For anyone who doesn't know, Auren Hoffman is Silicon Valley's uber-networker, though he doesn't like to be known as an uber-networker, so giving a talk called "Secrets of Silicon Valley's Master Networkers" may have been counterproductive for him. He's also CEO of Rapleaf, an online reputation system for online buyers and sellers, kind of a Better Business Bureau for individuals.

Auren is seriously connected. Everybody I've met in San Francisco's tech scene knows Auren. I'm sure that I'll eventually know Auren, too, whether I like it or not. Fortunately, he appears to be a very good guy.

I'm not going to cover everything from his talk, just the stuff I found most relevant. If you want more, he's posted the slides from the presentation on his blog. so without further ado...

Auren Hoffman's Networking Secrets

Help People.
Auren believes that the best way to make connections with other people is to help them. He's a big believer in karma, the idea that good things that you do will come back to you later on. Of course, a belief in karma is necessary for the CEO of a company whose product requires people to take reputation seriously.

My cynical take: When you help someone, they feel indebted to you. In general, people hate to feel indebted to anyone. As a result, they'll try and pay back that favor as soon as possible.

Find your unique value. You need to know how you can help someone if you're going to be offering your assistance. Simply put, what are you an expert in? Auren offered the example of a woman whose passion for dogs resulting in her becoming the go-to person for people looking to buy new pets. As a result, she found power brokers in the Valley cold-calling her for dog advice. Obviously, everyone out here in the Valley is a technology expert, so the key is to identify your other non-techie skills.

Spend time doing what you like and you'll meet valuable contacts. Out in the Valley/San Francisco, I know this is true. If you live in Peoria, IL, you're probably out of luck. For example, if you're into kite-surfing, you'll probably run into Google founder, Sergey Brin. I agree with Auren, you'll actually connect people on a personal level if you're both passionate about the same thing. Auren claims that he doesn't even attend networking events.

Unfortunately, if you enjoy sitting in your house all day in front of your computer you're unlikely to meet anyone, well...unless you're playing World of Warcraft. Joi Ito wrote an article about how Warcraft is the new golf, i.e. the place for high-powered networking.

Respond to emails within 24 hours. Start doing this today. If Steve Ballmer can do it, so can you. Not only will it help you with your networking, but it'll help you stay productive. I've read that nothing ages you faster than the stress of having an unfinished task hanging over your head. I think this applies to unanswered emails, as well. I always feel exceptionally awkward about replying to messages or phone calls after more than a week has passed, it's akin to the stress of calling a new girl for the first time, a roiling in the stomach.

I was talking to a CEO of another internet company a couple nights ago, and we both agreed that we had missed opportunities from not staying on top of our emails.

Spend time maintaining connections, not just building them. This point is directly connected to the last one. Auren points out, and I believe it's true, that maintaining relationships is much harder that creating new ones. Never rely on the other person to contact you, you have to be the one sending that "I haven't heard from you in month" email. Someone in audience, suggested sending out a New Year's Eve newsletter to all your contacts as a way of keeping in touch. I actually do this, but I find that after a brief flurry of email, all the connections go dark again until the next year.

The truth is that you could easily spend every day emailing or calling contacts and have no time for anything else. My advice is to prioritize your contacts to highlight the ones that are most important in the short-term and contact them more frequently. Sure, this probably means that your best friend from high school is going to get neglected, but they'll forgive you. The head of acquisitions of Google will just write you off.


Basically, one can sum up Auren's advice like this: be a good, interesting, happy, diligent, and thoughtful person.

Yep, it's going to be hard for me, too.