Networking is not an art form impossible to learn. It has basic principles that are covered by people who understand it far better than I do. At some point, please read them. Or don’t. Here is my quick guide to networking “popcopy” style. Whenever you find your self at conference, event, show, etc. follow these basic principles for a surefire way to not do business or burn a bridge. Remember, your network is important.
1. Ask questions. But instead of listening to my answer, wait until I finish (or better yet – interrupt me) and tell me your answer to that question.
2. Shake my hand like a 7 year-old while you’re looking over my shoulder.
3. Give me one of your self-made, crookedly cut business cards.
4. Immediately tell me what you/or your company do(es). Even when you absolutely know there is no way we would ever do business.
5. Lie to me. Assume that I’m pretty much an idiot and that I was born three days ago. This is obviously my first attempt at a business. So please by all means lie to me about your business and how much you know about “X”.
6. Stand really close to me. I love speaking intimately to people I’ve just met.
7. Want to know a great way to my attention? Comment loudly during presentations as if we’re at a open mic night at your local comedy store. Heckling at professional events is always classy.
8. Ask me how much money I’m making. Other possible topics to discuss with me during such events: religion, politics, sexual orientation, age, weight, ethnicity, et, al.
9. During a five minute conversation ask the same question two to three times then wait for my answer (or don’t) but don’t listen. Nothing makes me feel more important when you ask the same questions over and over again.
10. Ask me what I’m doing “at an event like this” with scrunched up face. Our conversation lacks irony and self loathing anyway.
11. Continue talking to me even when there is a line of people waiting patiently and please continue talking to me especially when I’m ready to leave.
12. When you find out what it is that I do and you see no possible business relationship in our future, walk away in the middle of a conversation.
13. Have a smug smirk on your face when other people are talking. Your intelligence must be superior and this is how you nonchalantly display your fast array of knowledge.
14. Tell me you would like my help and ask for my business card. It is important that you seem really interested when doing so. Proceed to never contact me.
15. When someone introduces you to me, seem really disinterested because I’m either younger than you or presume we would never work together. Don’t even look at me while you’re being introduced… until you find out what it is that I do. When you do realize that your business could be of use to me then follow 1 – 14.
For more etiquette rules watch this video and good luck networking.
I’m going to start a series called, …lessons I’ve Learned From….
Since this is the first one of my series (hopefully many to follow), it is only right that I start with Hiten Shah, cofounder of KissMetrics.com. Why? Because I don’t know him personally. I have no affiliations with him other than using KissMetrics and CrazyEgg.
I met Hiten in 2011 briefly the night before a conference. There were only 4 of us getting a bite to eat. I admit, at this point I had no idea who Hiten was other than his involvement with KM. At one point, Hiten turned to a programmer at the table – we’ll call him Mike – and offered him a job. On the spot. Mike had recently (and successfully) exited from his startup. I’m not sure what the etiquette is for offering a person a job who just had an exit. In fact, at one point that night Mike had explained, that he was there to figure out his next startup. Contrary to your perception, Hiten’s question was not contrived or pretentious. He asked it in a very serious and a matter-of-fact manner. What was interesting is that we were also looking to hire a developer. So I was very intrigued by Hiten’s question.
Mike said “no thanks” and the night continued. But the question always stayed with me. Why would Hiten offer a job to someone who labeled himself an entrepreneur. Nothing about Mike’s professional pedigree hinted that he would be an employee. Mike and I became acquaintances and every once in a while we email each other about life, business, etc. About a year later, Mike did indeed take a job a different startup. I reached out to him to find out why he accepted a job offer. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with working for someone else. Mike said after living with the challenges of running a startup he realized he would rather program than to deal with payroll, lawyers, employee issues, etc. People who run startups know that a bootstrapped life can take a toll and every founder (now-and-then) fantasizes about not having the weight of the world on his/her shoulders. I now realize that Hiten may have picked up on subtle clues. He may have realized that Mike was yearning for the next startup and not necessarily his own. He may have intuitively picked up on Mike’s demeanor.
The last day of the conference we all hung out again and Hiten and I struck a conversation about Ties.com. I told him about some of our marketing challenges, our future aspirations, and our build cycle. What was amazing is that he listen intently and was genuine in his conversation. He told me of a similar situation KM had faced and what they did to overcome the challenge. After some trial and error my team and I were able put together awesome solutions (our “change agents”). Here, Hiten was helpful in a practical and tangible manner by being transparent about his own experiences – we were able to use KM’s experience as a roadmap for overcoming our obstacle.
Months later we were implementing KM on one of our sites and I needed his help to activate a code. We ended up getting on a phone call. He remembered exactly our past conversation. What struck me was how many details he remembered. Some of the things he remembered were completely unimportant to him. But he remembered them anyway. This left me with a lasting impression of the kind of person Hiten is.
From then on, I’ve been a huge fan of Hiten’s work. Admittedly KM was really not a good fit for us at that time and we stopped using it, but never-the-less he made me a fan.
Image courtesy of http://blog.bombfell.com/
Everyday, it seems, a new startup (that I’ve never heard of) has raised money for a service I did not know existed. Some startups are doing great things. KissMetrics and Moz are services I have personally use that profoundly shape the way we are able to understand our customers. Coincidentally, they both raised large amounts of money last year. To them, tip of the hat. They have an awesome scalable business, their teams are headed by intelligent people and their product timing was just right. And then there are other startups that I can’t for the life of me fathom their intrinsic worth. What alarms me is that these startups are able to raise money AND/or get acquired.
First, some startups that are getting funded/acquired, make no money – frankly they’re not building anything worth using let alone owning. Second, how are the valuations for these startups being determined and justified. Third, how your company might be hurting as a result. Those are very broad generalizations and moot questions, so let me explain.
As long as I can remember I’ve been a motoring enthusiast – Bavarians know how to build cars. Naturally, I was fully aware when Audi purchased Ducati for $1.16BB.  Ducati, a formerly-Italian owned motorcycle company is famous for building super bikes. Their bikes are considered the Lamborghini of the crotch rocket world. These bikes are not only known for their beauty but also for their power, acceleration, handling and safety. Over the years Ducati’s motoring accomplishments in the cycling world have been unmatched. 
I use Instagram. I like the novelty of what it does. But when it was launched, I could not understand how it was ever going to make money. Henry Ford said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business,” but I wonder what he would say about a business that makes no money and gets acquired for an astronomical amount. Even by the current Silicon Valley bubble standards the Instagram purchase was an eye-popper.  Instagram had a revenue of $0 when it sold to Facebook. I understand the reasoning why Facebook needed/wanted to acquire it, but is the amount Facebook paid, justified? So, how is it that Audi is able to buy a company that generates €480MM (roughly $656MM) selling 42,000 units for $1.16BB and Facebook spends the same amount on a company that monitizes nothing? Is Instagram that good? Is Audi that much better at negotiating? Or are we asking the wrong questions? Maybe it’s our market value for products.
Soccer holds my heart, namely the Brazilian national team and Real Madrid C.F. from the Spanish La Liga. I’ll use Real Madrid to emphasize my first point. I grew up in the Netherlands and football was my life – And I’m known to kick it like the captain of a soccer team. Real-Madrid entertains billions of people every year. To date, they have developed and retained some of the best football talent in the world. They have made millionaires out of thousands of players, coaches, owners, investors, etc. Amid the world’s most popular sport (there is no argument for this), in popularity, Real Madrid ranks at least in the top 5 teams.
Domestically, Real Madrid has won a record 32 La Liga titles, 18 Copas del Rey, 9 Supercopas de España, 1 Copa Eva Duarte and 1 Copa de la Liga. Internationally it has won a record nine European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles and a joint record three Intercontinental Cups, as well as two UEFA Cups, and one UEFA Super Cup. 
Snapchat was apparently being courted by Mark Zuckerberg himself. Facebook reportedly offered Snapchat $3BB, and Google countered the offer at $4BB.  Granted, nothing has been confirmed by Snapchat, Facebook or Google. All this could be an amazing PR campaign for Snapchat’s next fund round. And to be fair, there are strategic business cases that can be made for Facebook and Google to vie for Snapchat’s users, IP, trademarks, patents, technology stack, talent, etc. But for one moment compare the accomplishments, history, influence, future viability of a Snapchat to that of Real Madrid. Ought we, as business community, place higher value on Snapchat than Real Madrid?
Over the last 4 years we’ve been quietly and **sustainably** rebuilding our company. The sustainable part is hard! Sustainability is at the top of our list of must-have’s when prioritizing projects. This is hard to achieve. It’s even harder to run a competitive business with slim margins and no outside funding in a shitty economy while maintaining margins (and integrity).
@randfish It’s all good. Agree sustainable growth is what matters. Few know as much about it as you. Thanks for sharing tips!
— Sean Ellis (@SeanEllis) January 28, 2014
During the same time, sales have grown year-over-year. We have strategically added incredible people to key positions. We have introduced new products and new sites. We are successfully maintaining a [paid] mentorship program to benefit local college students. We have designed and built beautiful offices for our employees to enjoy. We have indulged in highs and lows of a small, scrappy startup. Never-the-less, we have not really made a fuss over this. No major PR pushes. No major outreaches. We have not touted ourselves or yelled from the mountain tops about our feats. Perhaps because our accomplishments are not worthy, or perhaps because we are building for the long term and not drinking from the alluring vanity-metrics-well. Or as Muhammad Saleem puts it, we are not building an exit strategy.
Great call with @OmarSayyed. Love talking with people focused on building businesses rather than exit strategies.
— Muhammad Saleem (@msaleem) January 21, 2014
If we change the units of measurement by which we judge companies to be objective, constant, and relevant then some companies may NOT be worth their sticker price. Those companies while good, are not great. The variables by which we measure their success then become an entrance criteria and not an excellence criteria. As a business community, if we’re not honest and open in that vanity metrics is a poor indicator for creating a viable business, then we’ll always have a Snapchat that will be valued higher than Real Madrid.
Focusing on how many Facebook likes you’re getting or other arbitrary metrics is misleading. As an investor, why do I care how many followers you have for your e-commerce site, especially if that growth has been fueled by paid campaign and NOT organic? As a business person, why should your company hit the front page of every major blog or new site for building nothing of real value?
That’s why your company is better than Instagram and Snapchat.
Firing someone sucks. When I joined Wild Attire Inc, my now partners Morgan and David asked “what is one thing you absolutely hated doing.” I remember this question vividly as I was staring into the eyes of 15 department heads. I hate firing people. I hate it only when it has to be done [justifiably] to great people.
1. When you’re downsizing or outsourcing (this is obvious).
Sometimes shit happens. Your investors pressure you. Sales dictate it. Workload does not justify salaries, etc. In mid 2013 Fab.com fired more than 50% of its staff right after a successful round of raising money. But Jason Goldberg knew that the survival of his company was dependent on making very tough decisions. He fired friends, great employees and even parted ways with a co-founder.
Take-away: sometimes tough decisions must be made for the greater good of your company.
2. Pivoting your business.
When a business pivots, usually the core and the peripheral team members are able to transition to the new business. In the early 90’s when Quepasa.com transformed itself from a website development company to a hispanic search engine, most of the developers, marketers etc. came along. As they morphed, new talent needed to come in to help the business grow. During a pivot, often major shifts happen to your product, customer base, etc. and sometimes the people you hired for one job may no longer be the right fit to do the new job.
Take-away: an insidious but inevitable byproduct of a business pivot is that some of your employees cannot make the transition. It is up to you to determine who can make the transition and to measure their new success. Just because Johnny was a great growth hacker with your SaaS it doesn’t mean that success will translate when your selling scarves.
3. They outgrow you.
This requires a little more explanation and may not be as straight forward. Often times, founders or employees [should] leave their companies. Why? Of course, there is no simple answer to this question. Individual circumstances change. There are a myriad of reasons but one thing that all these individuals have in common is that they need a new challenge. So, they leave – or should be encouraged to leave. Sometimes it’s because Jillian wants to start a family or Jacob wants to stay at home more with his family. Other times, it’s because your business does not have the same appeal as it once did. I call this “the new song” effect. When you hear a new song, you love it. You play it all the time. But when you’re tired of it, yes, you may like hearing it from time to time and it may even conjure gezellig feelings. But you are no longer as enamored as you once were.
Take-away: identify patterns with those individuals as early as they happen AND act on them. Your job as the the CEO, is to identify those individuals (or yourself) when they (you) display patterns of fatigue or disinterest. They may still love your company, they may still complete their projects but their heart is no longer into it.
1. Can you eat last?
Like being a good mother, you eat last or don’t eat at all. While I didn’t grow up destitute, my mother would constantly take food off of her plate and put it on ours. Growing up, I thought this was standard-mother-practice. Like my mother, a good leader knows when his/her team’s needs come first. It’s not only about getting paid less, not taking a bonus, not taking that vacation (which you have to do sometimes) but it’s literally almost about not eating that last piece of cake.
2. Do you have nerves of steel?
Being a leader means being the bearer of all brunt. Employees are not getting along, you deal with it. Money running low, you find more. Sales are low, you’re responsible. Marketing not working out, you’re not doing your job. Projects falling behind, you’re not inspiring enough. You get the picture. If you can keep your cool dealing with all of these issues including your personal stuff (bring home milk, your wife’s birthday is coming up, you need to new tires for your bicycle, need to get your teeth cleaned, etc.) you have the makes of a great leader.
3. Can you get over yourself?
“Pride is the crutch of the insecure” so check that ego at the door. When it comes to your company there is a difference between having pride in your work, your company, your product, or your team. As a leader, you ought not to feel ashamed or feel bested when someone disagrees with you… right or wrong. If they’re right, great. You’ve just avoided a potential cost or opportunity loss. If they’re wrong, use it as an opportunity to mentor them – privately if appropriate.
4. Do you trust people you hire?
Hire the best people and get out of their way. If you’ve done your job right and hired the right people, stay out of their way. Don’t micro manage. Don’t analyze mid project. Don’t constantly ask for updates. Just let them do their magic. Your trust cultivates and ensures your team’s creativity, success and viability. If you’re not in charge of hiring, open a dialogue with your manager or someone who does the hiring. Share your concerns.
5. Do you have an innate sense of duty?
Have you ever wondered who puts on the events, puts up the Christmas tree, picks up paper, cleans up after a party? Often it’s one of the company’s leaders. If you’re a true leader, you find this kind work liberating fulfilling your sense of duty.
6. D1cks and b1tches run companies!
All idioms aside, can you be tough when needed to encourage your team to finish projects? You often have to be assertive and prioritize projects based on company goals rather than departmental needs. Remember, you goal is not to make friends. Sure, your team is filled with nice, talented folks and you sometimes hang out with them after work. But your responsibility is to their future, to your company. As a leader, your goal is to always keep your company’s goal on the horizon.
7. Would you mentor me?
Are you willing to teach someone so they can learn your skills and learn from your experiences? Every good leader is always willing to help fellow team members. You should be walking around offering your expertise to people on your team or even outside of your team. Arun Ajar from Zappos and One King’s Lane got on phone calls with my dev team to help on projects. He has no vested interest in our company – but he paid it forward.
A while back I was emailing with Jason Spievak who arguably is one of the best recruiters I’ve come across and our conversation really got me thinking. Everyone – including me – always talks about what you should or should not do during a job interview. But here are actual reasons why you probably will not receive a job offer from our company.
1. Em… did you really forget the question?
This might be silly to even mention but answer the question you were asked. Some of you like to sit across from me and tell me more than I need to know. I like when candidates elaborate if it’s related and when it’s appropriate but please stay on point. More importantly, please answer the question I asked and don’t make me repeat it. I once had someone take notes when I was asking questions. Great. At least she was answering my questions.
2. You didn’t do well on the assessment.
We all submit to a “test”. For every department it’s different, but usually, it’s to see if you can really walk the walk. Everyone hired here must take some form of a test that allow us to gage your knowledge and experience. We make everyone (from director levels to warehouse employees, to interns) take an industry specific “test”. Usually, it’s something basic but again, this is one more way for us to see if you can do what you said you could do.
3. You seem confused by that question.
I’m amazed at how many candidates will answer questions without really understanding the question. First, don’t be afraid to ask me to repeat myself. I’m sure I can ask the question more clearly or put it in different words. Second, why would you answer a question you didn’t understand or don’t have an answer to? If you don’t know the answer, say, “I don’t know”.
4. You had no questions.
You have no question? Really? So you’ve just sat through a 45 minute interview, conversing, answering questions, learning about our company but you have no questions at all? This is something that always makes me wonder how interested or engaged candidates really are. I don’t care what situation I’m in, I always have questions. AT&T at my house installing cable, I have questions… Getting new tires put on my bike, I have questions… friend is getting a storage space, I have questions. Be curious – ask questions.
5. You have no etiquette.
Our office is super busy but mellow. In fact a few minutes ago, Lil Wayne was on the speakers. Yet we still adhere to some basic etiquette. So until you’ve earned it, don’t be cavalier or nonchalant in anything you do. Remember, you’re still being judged. It’s basic common sense.
I hope you find this helpful, more importantly I hope you read this before you come into an interview. I want to hire you. I really, really want to hire you.
Unless you’re in grade school learning about a science experiment, in real life, there are wrong questions. I’m sorry. I know this will upset some people who carry their emotions on their shoulders. Oh’ well.
Last night, while having dinner with my wife, the topic of asking questions came up. My wife is a practicing Clinical Psychologist so I’m always curious to get her take on things. Are there really no wrong questions? Is this axiom true and incontestable even in a business environment? I don’t think so my friends.
You can ask as many questions as you want. I’ll answer them all day long – if I have the answers (and I often don’t). Some of our team members ask a lot of great questions which make us rethink a strategy or a project. The right questions force you to think outside of your comfort zone. I encourage you to be a critical thinker and question the status quo. I’m not going to placate you however. In a business setting there is a threshold of how many stupid questions you can ask. If you’re new to the company, new to a project, new to a department, you get a few passes. But I can promise you after a while even the most understanding manager will raise his/her eyebrows and wonder how you were put on that project.
Wrong questions do a few things for a manager. A good manager will allow you to ask all the questions you want. But you’re always being judged by the kind of questions you ask. Because, you may have asked that question before, or it was explained to you a few weeks ago during a training session, or it may make you look like you’re not resourceful, or even worse these wrong questions may oust you. They may make you look unintelligent. You may not be, but odds are if you keep asking bad questions one of three things are happening. 1) You are not thinking critically and comprehensively about the task at hand, or 2) you are just not being resourceful enough, or 3) you are simply not grasping the project.
If the issues are number one and two, that’s easy to correct, albeit you should not ever let it get to that point – but that’s another post. The third one is tricky because it shows that you are either not intelligent enough and that the project is outside of your capabilities. If you are not resourceful enough to learn what you need to be a player on that project, then you are not intelligent OR you are too lazy to learn. In either case, I don’t know anyone who would hire you or keep you for long.
I’m very compassionate, but I’m not very PC. Being PC forces you not to talk about things that are important.