It’s Time to Start Networking for Real


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new, year-long MTLC Accelerator Program. This semi-structured roundtable of founders and CEOs is designed to allow participants to learn from each other and make faster connections to the marketplace.

We also intend to collaborate with several other networking organizations in town to reach a wide base of people. Specifically, we are launching a new program called “Storytelling,” where we will partner with other organizations to bring leaders in the technology community to share their lessons learned, the ups and downs, and how they navigated challenges to find success.

You don’t have to wait for these programs to get on the bandwagon. You don’t need a button on your lapel saying, “Ask me whom I know!” When you run into a startup that you find interesting, just ask them, “What are your three biggest needs?” and see if you know somebody who is a good fit. A big name or your most protected contact usually isn’t the right answer; it’s somebody where there’s the potential for an excellent two-way relationship. It is a small expense of your social capital, and if the fit is a good one, you will gain way more than you spend.

As for me, I do this most days but have had trouble scaling it, particularly in areas with which I’m less familiar. My most recent examples of facilitating connections have involved a trio of impressive entrepreneurs, one creating high-end technology for financials services, another working on non-invasive medical diagnostics, and the third developing a new system in robotics. I know enough to see that each probably has a substantial opportunity in front of them, but they need just the right people and organizations as partners at critical phases of their company’s growth. So with their permission, I’ll tweet a brief description of what they need to see if other people might know the right person to connect them with or be a good fit themselves. So, follow @CommonAngels, if you don’t already, and be on the lookout for some cool people and opportunities. And think about doing something like this yourself. I’ll be on the lookout for your introductions, too.

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James Geshwiler is Managing Director at CommonAngels Ventures. He joined CommonAngels in 1999 and has been an active investor in mobile, cloud, consumer and business software as well as digital media companies. [Editor's note: CommonAngels is the lead investor in Xconomy.] Follow @geshwiler

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9 responses to “It’s Time to Start Networking for Real”

  1. Jules PieriJules says:

    Great post James. I think about this topic a lot. Most successful West Coast start-ups have a behind-the-scenes “godfather” or mentor helping to assemble capital and other resources. Not so much in Boston. A prominent VC in town told me last week, “The old guys around here never help anyone.”

    So I appreciate your post. One tweak: the mentor/godfather does not have to be old, and the entrepreneur does not have to be young for your model to work. We have plenty of successful young entrepreneurs who could also lend a hand. And you still need help if you are 40 or 50, if you are a first time start-up CEO. So let’s remove unintended age bias from the conversation..

  2. Jules: thanks for the comments. The mention of “barriers between old and young” reflected sentiments that were expressed to me about last year’s unconference. They were kind of in the same vein as your quote from the VC–a description of how things sometimes are, not the way they should be. You and I are on the same page: age isn’t an issue and, particularly in technology, doesn’t necessarily correlate to current market knowledge. The question is do we have something to offer each other, can we help, and if so, why aren’t we doing it more often?

  3. James, I enjoyed this post as well. I quit my job over a year ago to start my first company, and have been working hard ever since to cultivate a mentor network locally and seek out advice. I have been fortunate to assemble a great group of people around me to use as sounding boards and to help me avoid landmines (almost daily), but I have found that it has been a bit of an inefficient (ongoing) process to make that happen.

    There are tons of smart, seasoned people around to learn from, and it seems they all really want to help. It is the process of finding the right ones with relevant skills and interests that seems to take more time than it needs to.

    The strides that people like you, Tim Rowe, and Scott Kirsner (and many others) have been taking to try to centralize this process and remove friction from making the right connections is exactly what we need. I think it is less about a culture shift, and more about providing people the vehicle to facilitate this kind of behavior without adding extra steps or process to their already over-booked schedules.

    Keep up the great work! And although I’m still a first-timer, let me know if there is any way I can help the cause.


  4. Vinit NijhawanVinit says:

    Right on James. has an active mentoring program for startups and I have recently launched the BU Kindle Mentoring Program at Boston University:

  5. Tim RoweTim Rowe says:

    Right on, James. The unConferences (the two so far) have been amongst the best recent conferences I have attended. I especially like the quantity of real, 2-way conversation, lack of talking heads on stage, and ability to pick amongst a dozen or so sessions in every time-slot, so you are sure to land on a topic that really gets you going.

    Another that really stands out is Shayne Gilbert’s Nantucket CEO Conference that happens in the Spring. While it is a conference that follows the traditional format of a pre-set agenda and talking heads, it is very intimate, and there is a spirit of familiarity and candid sharing that is unusual. And nothing beats being stuck on an island for several days to help people connect.

    Anyone want to make the case for their favorites?

  6. John Poole says:

    Great newsletter; just hope I am on the mailing list. May be one area to include is the academic communitiy as many colleges and universities are trying to get the entrepreneurial band wagon, as you know. I’ve even been asked to teach a course for seniors at Thayer Academy in Braintree. My question is how to organize so much information into something of real interest to teenagers that they can understand and for it to be inspiring for them.

  7. Ed says:

    James – Great to see that folks like you are stepping up to encourage the start-up eco-system in Boston. Of course the very first comment mentioned CA vs. Boston. One of last year’s MTLC experts asked if we need to import start-up VC’s. Interesting to note that if you do a search by state on exhibitors at the upcoming CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment, focused on a hot emerging market sector, 7 companies are from MA, and over 67 are from CA. Granted, its being held in CA (not here?), but it is intuitively obvious to most people that care that we in Boston still have a long way to go. I found a community incubator in San Diego that may be a good model for you and your readers to review:

  8. KeithM says:

    Bravo, James, and great work at the unConference! I’ve made it a policy for many years to put new contacts in touch with others who I think would make for a good 2-way fit, but I love your explicit question of “what are your 3 biggest needs?”

    I’m adopting that as of today, and I already volunteered myself for the Connectors list. :)

    Keep supporting us serial starters–we need all the help we can get!

    To John Poole’s question above, one thought is to explore one of the many inspirational and educational stories in the startup world…perhaps talk about the experiences of an innovative company that has developed something close to the hearts of teens. This can be a platform to explore whatever aspects of entrepreneurism one wishes to touch on.