13 Think you’re good at networking? Properly following up (especially with a VC)

“I use LinkedIn to keep track of my professional network, and would like to add you.”

Let me start this with a true story: Two years ago I mentored startups at Seedcamp. My group of mentors consisted of VCs from the largest European firms and top-notch technologist from companies such as Amazon and Microsoft. We ended up talking to at least 20 entrepreneurs from all over Europe. We gave each and every one our business cards. None of them followed up, nor at best send out a LinkedIn invite with the standard invite text. First I thought “…it’s just me”, but after asking my fellow co-mentors, it turned out this was true for them as well.

I was baffled – as an entrepreneur you are in the business of relationship-building (and if you think otherwise, you better rethink your approach). You should see every interaction with someone who might be helpful to you and your business as a golden opportunity. Not making use of this opportunity in the best possible way is not only wasteful, it might be the make-or-brake moment of your company.

So here it goes – my personal tips on how to properly followup.

The Why

I guess by now I don’t need to tell you that you should always follow up. No exception. If someone spends time with you, listens to you, probably gives you some advice or helps you in any other way, you follow up. A follow up is not only an act of courtesy, but your opportunity to build a long-term relationship, ask for a favor or simply say thank you. Its the good manners that your Mom taught you.

There is a ton of research which shows that people are very inclined to help you if you just ask. It’s engrained in our nature. We want to help. It makes us feel better and boosts our own ego. And on the flip-side – who wants to be the Scrooge who didn’t help someone (if asked nicely)? Finally – don’t hesitate to followup just because you think the person is too busy or too important. We are all humans – we all work the same.

The How

Now that we’ve established that you always follow up – make sure you follow up properly. Send a short email thanking the other person for his/her time, and do ask for something specific. Yet think about keeping your early demand small, you don’t want to overburden your newly established contact. Remember, always ask – it’s your golden opportunity to build a working long-term relationship.

This is all pretty much a no-brainer, right? And people seem to grok it when it comes to email (minus the “ask for something” part). But once you get into the wonderful world of social networks, all this seems to fall apart. Never (and I mean never) send out an invite on a network such as LinkedIn using the standard invite text. The signal you are sending me by doing this is: You are not worth the time for me to change this text and I just want to connect with you to add you to my collection. In my eyes this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, and a surefire way for me to permanently ignore you.

Here’s how you do this properly – don’t leave the standard text in there, write a short, personal message which sells the other person on the idea to connect with you. This is usually best achieved with a small ask – e.g. “I would love to stay in touch with you and ask you every once in a while (not more than once every couple of months) for your advice on XYZ”.

The What’s Next

Don’t trick yourself into believing that it ends here and all will be good. This is only the beginning – granted you got it of a good start, but now you want to mature your relationship (think long term, not short term again — no-one likes to feel used). Send an email every once in a while, pointing out some interesting news or research which is relevant for your contact. Ask for the occasional coffee to compare notes. Get creative and add value for the other person – trust me, it will pay back twice over.

With that being said – go and network. Make new friends, allies and partners. Don’t be shy. Ask for help. And always follow up!

About Pascal Finette ()

Pascal is the Director of Mozilla Labs, where he works with an incredibly talented team of engineers on inventing the future of the Web.

He loves technology and believes that the Internet is deeply impacting mankind. He got started on the Net before there was a web browser, founded a couple of companies on the Internet, led eBay’s Platform Solutions Group, consulted a bunch of entrepreneurs on their strategy & operations and invested into startups.

But most of all – he simply loves to do cool stuff on the Web and work with great people.

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  • http://www.bestengagingcommunities.com Mukund Mohan

    What about the flip side Pascal? Every person I meet at conferences usually gets an email or a linkedin invite, but I get about 30% responses or acknowledgements.

    Think about the other 80% of people (VC’s included) who dont really want to connect with folks they meet for 2 minutes at a conference.

    It takes 2 to tango.

    • http://twitter.com/pfinette Pascal Finette

      Fair point Mukund.

      And I agree – if you meet someone for for a few seconds and don’t get any further than the handshake and the ritual of exchanging business cards, then you might not have a lot to start with. And yet you still seem to convert 30% of those interactions into something more meaningful – so I would keep doing it. But yes – the post above is geared toward the slightly more meaningful initial interactions. :)

      Happy networking!

      Pascal

  • http://www.ikbear.com ikbear

    It is useful.