Founders are really bad at asking for introductions.
On a daily basis I get a request that looks something like this: “Hey Wil, I see that you know (some investor), would you mind introducing me to them? I just had this idea 9 seconds ago and I’d love to see if they’d invest in me!”
Now, mind you, I make a living by helping Founders (my dream job) so making introductions is a huge part of my job. The problem isn’t my willingness to make them, it’s the inexperience of Founders in how to ask for an introduction.
As Founders, our ability to get introductions is the lifeblood of our growth. Here’s how to do it incredibly well — and what to avoid like the plague.
Understand what Social Capital is
Every time I make an introduction to someone, I’m using “social capital” — a currency of favors that’s insanely hard to accumulate and ridiculously easy to burn through.
Let’s say over the past 10 years I’ve built a great relationship with a partner at Sequoia Capital. Everyone in the world wants an introduction to him, and he’ll listen to my introduction, so long as every time I make the introduction it’s a win for him.
Each time I make a good introduction, I earn $1 of social capital. But each time I make a bad introduction, I burn $10 of social capital. So every time someone asks me for an introduction, I have to worry about whether I’m earning $1, or burning $10.
The difference in that calculation is in how well someone prepares their ask for the introduction.
A Good Ask Makes the Asker Look Good
When asking for an introduction, we should first ask ourselves “How will this request help the person asking on my behalf or the person I’m trying to get introduced to?” That’s generally not how people formulate asks. It’s more like “I need this and that person can give it to me, so introduce me to them.”
Think about it like setting someone up on a blind date. If I’m introducing you to someone and say “Hey this guy is super lonely, saw your picture on Facebook while searching for a job, and was hoping to have you come over to his apartment” — that’s not exactly an appealing offer, and I’m going to feel like a jerk even making it.
Think about what would make the offer feel compelling to the recipient and what would make me as the “asker” feel like I’m doing the recipient a favor. I want to send something that looks more like “Hey my friend Chris Hemsworth called me from his private jet and asked if you’d be OK with him picking you up to head to the Oscars.” Basically, figure out how to be Thor.
An Introduction is a Favor, and Favors have Value
We also have to understand that an introduction has real value. It’s not just the cost of social capital (which is very real) it’s the exchange of value, no different than trading cash. If someone does me a favor by way of an intro, I immediately think about how I can repay that favor. I feel indebted, even though I never make introductions to other people with the intent of debt.
However, when looked at as value, it implies that we not only meter how often we exchange that value, but we look for ways to repay that value. It’s just good karma. A good Founder won’t just say “Thanks for the 3 intros” they will then, without prompting, think “Hey I should probably send that person a bottle of their favorite beverage as just a good karmic ‘settle up’ with them.”
The benefit of being good at asking for introductions is that people will be far more likely to offer more of them, sometimes without even having to ask.