J: “Alright you booked a meeting with X, you a little nervous?”
K: “You kidding, my stomach has been flipping over all day, how do I even say hello?? They’re gonna think I’m such a pleb… I’m going in at such a disadvantage. I’ll never be able to sell them…”
J: “Nah just be yourself, I’ve met X, they’re great — they’ll love what you’ve got to say…You’ve done this a dozen times.”
K: “How can I chill, I just saw an article that they just closed a 8 figure funding round and she’s on the forbes 30 under 30 this year…”
Woah, does that conversation seem familiar? It’s one I’ve had many times, having been on both sides.
Social hierarchies are inevitable. With a common goal it makes sense to put the most competent player at the front. As it goes with the lobsters, our nervous systems are wired to regulate serotonin based on our status in the hierarchy. This creates a spiral in either direction, increased status means better mood regulation, creating more opportunities for success and vice versa.
Putting people on a pedestal is such a commonly-used adage that it’s pretty much the cliche. What is the specific key problem with it, though?
When you put someone above you, you are putting yourself below them…
So by looking up to them so steeply you are forcing them to look down on you.
I was lucky enough while working at muru-D in Singapore, and going to Silicon Valley, to be exposed to some really big names in the startup world. General partners of the biggest VCs, Sand Hill Angels, founders of unicorns and the people running the most famous accelerators in the world.
I was young.
Thus, at first you hear you’re about to meet Y and you go “GULP”.
You treat them like a god and they have no choice but to treat you like an ant.
When they are that exceptional and well-known, everyone is giving them that reverence. You will be purely background noise to them.
How do you differentiate yourself, especially if you feel you’re at the bottom of the pyramid right now?
The turning point was at a networking event, I had my muru-D tshirt on, with my name on the sleeve. They commented on it — asking me what AEIR stood for (printed on the back like a soccer jersey)—it was an in-joke that gave them a chuckle.
We went on to have a great conversation, I told them about the projects I had been working on, the teams in our cohort, our plans for the South-East Asian roadshow that I had been helping to organise. Then I started returning fire, and it quickly became apparent I was speaking to the GP of a big VC. But backed by the confidence from the muru-D brand and the established rapport we kept talking.
I make an introduction to someone there I knew would be valuable to them based on their vertical focus and made my exit. That was a turning point.
I learned a number of valuable lessons in that one interaction.
- Treat everyone with respect. You never know who you are speaking to, and it just pays to be a respectful person. Not even for any self-serving reasons, just for your own mental health.
- Don’t ‘talk up’ to people. As long as you are following point 1 you can open yourself up to actually get to know them as a person. Not just as a name. This will likely be refreshing for them because it must get annoying having people fanboy/girl over you constantly. A founder is more than their company, a VC is more than their chequebook.
- Bring value to everyone you speak to. Everyone you speak to knows something you don’t, this reflexively implies you know something the person you’re speaking to doesn’t. Live a life of giving to create meaning in your actions. Give and you shall receive.
- Actually care. It is so obvious when you’re a leach just there to get value from people and hand out business cards (that they’ll never look at again). This serves no one. Don’t do it.
These 4 basic principles are common-sense. But check yo’self next time you’re being introduced to someone new.
There’s a big difference between showing due respect and stumbling over every second word, boring the hell out of them, because you think you’re talking to the Queen.
This is all encompassed in my ‘friendship-first networking’ paradigm. It is so important to get to know someone first before entering into business with them. Plus you make friends who have similar interests and personal drives as you…
I’ve seen sales get made over beers in the office because two people brought along their friends and they hit it off.
I’ve seen people get hired because a friend vouched for them.
I’ve seen investments get fast-tracked because you get deep into a conversation about your values with the investment associate who passes a recommendation along to the partners.
Worst case you make a new friend.
And we all need friends.