A couple years ago (before AngelList acquired Product Hunt), AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant did an AMA on Product Hunt during which a founder (Brent Summers) asked a fairly astute question: “If you were just starting out again, what are 1–2 steps you’d take to surround yourself with successful people?”
In so many words, Naval had underscored what I believed in work as well as in life: that introductions and great networking are a function of good vibes and positive karma. “Paying it forward” as Naval articulated.
Confidence and Good Karma Beget a Good Reputation
Everything good that’s happened in my professional career has come my way as a result of being open and sharing what I knew with others. Most every paid writing job I’ve had came my way because I published freely and shared ideas with people who were then in a position to throw some work my way. When I got into tech, opening myself up helped cultivate a paradigm in which new and exciting opportunities came my way, sometimes serendipitously.
This is arguably one of the easiest things to learn and implement in your strategy as you build out your minimum viable network. When you know some something — when something is your wheelhouse and you can provide great feedback or ideas on something or to someone — do it, and don’t get caught up in the “what/when will you pay me?” question in the beginning. The good opportunities will follow, and compensation — monetary and otherwise — will materialize when the relationships have had time to germinate.
I’m not advocating for always doing work for free or selling yourself short. But this series isn’t about the hard realities of making money; it’s about how to put yourself in a position to cultivate long-term relationships that yield a broad, engaged network over time.
To Naval’s point, if you figure out something you’re really good at — something you know will benefit other people — then prove you’re the person they need to come to for that. How do you prove it? By showing people you’re confident and comfortable enough in your abilities that you’re happy to simply pay it forward. Project this confidence, and you will become infinitely more attractive as a prospective network connection. You create your minimum viable network one relationship at a time, by building your reputation as always being around, and always being the right person for “that thing.”
Transactional Relationships Are Short-Term Relationships
This is a solid example of what Chris Sacca calls creating value for others before asking for it for yourself. By going out and doing things for other people — in this case, sharing what you know — without being transactional, you begin to make yourself indispensable, and therefore attractive as a candidate for someone’s network.
Transactional relationships make for short relationships — they are expendable as soon as they outgrow their utility. Symbiotic relationships, however, continue to grow and evolve as the people do, and this is born out of an ease of interactions — free exchange of ideas perhaps — between the individuals.
Plant the Seeds of Value
The best example I can give at the moment is this series: I know that I’m good with people. I like people; I like talking to them and building bridges between them.
So this is an exercise in how to help others do it. You want to start to gain influential followers on Twitter? Share things you know and freely reference other people in your blog posts and podcasts — and always credit them, because that’s a wonderful back-street way of building credit for yourself. Highlighting others’ value highlights your own value.
When that value seed is planted, it continues to grow — one connection, one lukewarm intro at a time — until you look back and realize you now have a minimum viable network that can allow you access to almost anything.