Author: Martin Trust Center

This is part of an ongoing series of posts by our Entrepreneur in Residence, Kosta Ligris, focused on guidance for the student teams taking part in our MIT delta v accelerator.

“Your network is the people who want to help you — and you want to help them — and that’s really powerful.”
Reid Hoffman (Co-founder of LinkedIn)

Harvard Business School did a case study on a woman named Heidi Roizen (HBS Case 9-800-228, revised, April 2010). Heidi is considered by many people in tech and Silicon Valley as one of the best-connected executives. Her case is used by business schools across the country to evaluate how Heidi has built and used her vast and powerful network to help herself and others.

Heidi not only appreciates the power of the social capital she possesses, but knows when and how to use it to benefit all of the parties that she is connecting. I distinctly recall studying her case in an elective at MIT Sloan. Heidi doesn’t make a connection unless she believes that it can create value for both parties, and she deals with social capital as her currency. The reason powerful people embrace her connections is clear: she won’t make connections that don’t make sense for all stakeholders. 

Heidi talks about how Networking Is More Than Collecting Lots of Names. She says, “Connections don’t just happen… Don’t believe [that] you don’t have to work at it; you have to make it easy for people to connect the dots.”

“One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.”
–- Reid Hoffman 

You are surrounded by people with vast and powerful networks. What are you doing to leverage this resource? And how are you building your own network? These are questions that each of you need to have in the back of your mind during every single interaction. 

Tips on how to create and establish a powerful and dense network: 

  • Leverage the networks of the people around you.
    LinkedIn is such a powerful networking tool – see who can connect you to a contact that you are trying to meet. If you have not connected with all of the cohort, staff, guests, speakers, and your board members at the Martin Trust Center and delta v, respectively, shame on you. 
  • Networking is a two-way street.
    You have to be willing to reciprocate and, to take it a step further, you should be offering the same to people that help you.
    “Thank you for making this connection. Is there anyone in my network that you could benefit from knowing?”
  • Think before you ask … and think before you make the connection.
    Consider Heidi Roizen’s currency. How is this connection going to benefit both parties? If you are always creating value just for yourself, you will quickly run out of capital. 
  • Make the connection meaningful and keep the introduction short, but customized.
    A LinkedIn request to someone you recently met is much more likely to get accepted with a short personal note on how you met, why you want to connect, etc. The same rules apply for an email follow-up. 
  • Take notes and remember the little things.
    I store details about my network in my contacts. What is their spouse’s name? Kids? How did we meet? What do they like? Bill Aulet loves basketball. Do you know that? Will you remember it? 
  • Emails are great, but handwritten notes and calls are much more personal.
    I like to send a thank you note on a card or stationery when someone goes above and beyond. 
  • Don’t just reach out when you need something … stay connected with your network.
    Send people a birthday note, share an article that you think they will enjoy, suggest a book or a movie. Don’t be that person that only surfaces on someone’s radar when you need something. 
  • Be genuine, be sincere, and be authentic.
    People can sniff out the difference quickly. 

“Your network is your net worth.”
–- Porter Gale 

Check out this interesting TED Talk by Tanya Menon from Ohio State University called “The Secret to Great Opportunities? The Person You Haven’t Met Yet.” 

Get outside of your comfort zone and diversify your network. Use your current network to connect those dots and don’t forget to give purpose to your connections. Help others connect dots and always stop to think about how you are creating value for everyone involved. 

“Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.”
-– Michele Jennae