The importance of “the introduction” to modern business, let alone the history of the world, cannot be understated. Putting together two individuals who benefit mutually from their connection can mark the start of a company, the beginning of a lifelong relationship, or, more commonly, a massive faux pas resulting in incalculable annoyance.
Like all things in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way to introduce two people to one another. If you nail it, you build a reputation as a convener and curator of helpful talent. If you blow it, you set off a chain reaction of confusion and hurt feelings which reward your efforts with nothing but the slow and inexorable loss of your social privileges. In this post, my own personal therapy session, decades of pain and suffering — as both the introducer and the introduced — will be turned into the definitive guide for introductions.
Public Enemy #1
The cause of 100% of introduction failures is a misunderstanding of power balance on the part of the connector or one of the connected parties. Power is a nebulous concept which has never been tougher to speak objectively about than in the Fall of 2019. For the purpose of this post, the party holding the power imbalance is the one with money to spend (not take), status to bestow (not accept), or time to be guarded (not expended on this interaction).
Plenty of well-meaning people make introductions on the fly after hearing two acquaintances discuss what they believe to be synergistic ideas. And sometimes, when both “introducees” are power-balanced and the introducer intimately understands their motivations and those motivations fit together perfectly with what each has to offer, these ad-hoc introductions work.
I said sometimes. But how often is that really the case?
More often, the introducer has a skewed sense of power balance (Why wouldn’t this investor want to be connected to this CEO who’s fundraising? She’s an investor, it’s what she does!) or has missed small details which make the introduction an exercise in time-wasting (Pete runs the Save the Foxes charity, you’ll love Steve from PETA. What’s that Pete? It’s the Fox Hunt you run? Oh, my bad…).
The easiest way around this, and the most universal method of introduction is what’s known as the double-opt-in intro. This is a cumbersome process, befitting the enormity of the proposition — taking two people’s time and suggesting what they do with it. You reach out first to the lower-power individual “Y” to find out whether they’d like to be introduced to people like “X.” They say yes, provide you with context, and empower you to mention their specifics to people like “X.” You reach out to X, and ask if they’d like to be introduced to Y, with context. Once both parties have opted-in, you craft an introduction email, ask to be moved to bcc, and wish them the best.
3 Grey Areas to Sidestep the Double-Opt-In
I get that the double-opt-in method is time-consuming and asynchronous by nature. It is the only 100% safe way to go, but there are times when its limits decrease its usefulness. There are other ways to thoughtfully introduce, and they require some work ahead of time. Here are a few ways around the venerable double-opt-in:
Pre-Approved. When I make a new relationship, I come right out and ask the person what types of introductions are useful for them. It’s something I learned from the original author of this Letter, my father. As a conversation piece, it beats the heck out of “what do you do for work,” and it places the focus in the right spot — helping people you care about by connecting them with others who will benefit mutually. Once you know what kind of introductions are useful to your new friend, you can ask which types they’d like to be opted-in for, and which they’d prefer to confirm individually. This is less complex than it sounds, and a very human way to avoid constant opt-in checking.
Power-Assumed + Time Sensitive. When a friend is raising, I assume they want to meet investors. When an investor expresses interest in their space, and I believe there’s a fit, I’ll only check opt-in with the power imbalanced party, the investor. I recognize that there are some scenarios where this fails — as with investors who an entrepreneur has already pitched, but those are easily sidestepped. Failure is graceful- another positive word from a respected (hopefully) friend is not a negative.
Hunting License. Even those at the high end of the power imbalance spectrum can still choose to trade their time for opportunity. Some NGO leaders want every grant proposal sent right to them if they come through a trusted party like you. Some investors want every CEO intro when getting acquainted with a “new” field like AI. Some reporters want every story within a set of parameters sent to them. Just set these up in advance, as you would an opt-in rule with anyone else.
CAUTION: These techniques do not give one carte blanche to be a self-dealing profligate. Those who fling introductions around, whatever their methodology, without sufficient relationship to the connected parties, will not be afforded the privilege of introducing for very long. Introducing for the purpose of advertising social connections, or associating with power, is a transparent and short-term practice that is woefully common in salesy circles. I’m certain no Letter readers stoop to this level, but it’s always useful to consider how a certain introduction will be perceived, regardless of its good intent.