Asking for Introductions

I get asked to make many introductions. I’ve noticed a trend lately, which is that more and more of them go something like this:

Hey David, can you introduce me to investors that you think might be interested in my company?

To me, this is the lazyweb version of asking for introductions, and it has many associated problems which will prevent you from reaching your goal of having valuable introductions. This is something we teach aggressively at TechStars. I’ll explain.

First, it flips the social dynamic. Let’s take a specific example. Let’s say that I answer your original LazyWeb question above with “Why yes, Jeff Clavier is someone who comes to mind.”

You are now very likely to reach out to Jeff Clavier and say “David Cohen told me I should talk to you.” Now I’ve created an *obligation* for Jeff. Because of his relationship of me, he may feel that he almost has to take this introduction. While you might think that’s good for you, it’s not and it’s also not so good for Jeff or me. Further, in this situation Jeff is going to ask the inevitable question of whether or not I’m investing in your company – and if the answer is no, the introduction now has no power at all. In fact, it may have negative power.

Now contrast this with you asking me for an introduction to Jeff Clavier. You asking me allows me to reach out to Jeff (I never do blind introductions that are not double opt in) and explain to him that YOU thought of HIM for a specific reason, and are requesting that I introduce you to him. In this case, I’m merely facilitating an introduction that you requested. Socially, it’s pretty much expected of me that I would do this, and doing it as a double-opt in literally has no “cost” in terms of social currency associated with it. And, as a bonus, in the case where I’m not an investor this doesn’t hurt you because you’ve asked for the introduction regardless, for a specific reason relating to Jeff and not me (e.g. you love his experience with Fitbit, and you think that’s relevant to you).

Hopefully this example makes sense. It’s easy to overlook the other side of the introduction equation. The only introductions that truly work are those that are win-win-win, so it’s best to set that dynamic up with a) specific asks to specific people, and b) a specific reason why you want to be connected to them.

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About David Cohen

Geek. Hacker. Investor. Founder and CEO of TechStars.

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  • http://flavors.me/nicholasrivadeneira Nick Rivadeneira

    I’ve never asked for an intro before (nor given an intro), so I’m curious as to how they work. Do people that you have just met (such as at a networking event) ask you for intros or is it usually people you already know?

    If it’s the former, then can you please introduce me to one of your wealthy friends who likes to invest in other strangers? ;)

  • http://www.ashimmy.com Alan Shimel

    but Dave even in the case of this “double opt in” intro, the fact that you did not invest in the company still has negative connotations to the investor you are introducing to, doesn’t it? It would just seem that it takes you and the person you are introducing to less likely to feel obligated

  • David Cohen

    alan – less so, because the person wanting the intro actually has a reason for having it. they’re asking me to facilitate, and the social norm would be to try to facilitate it. sure, the target of the intro may still ask that question, but it’s not me who recommended them and so it’s less relevant.

  • http://www.EarthTechling.com Patricia Marchetti

    Every entrepreneur raising money should do their homework – particularly if they are raising money from institutional investors like Jeff Clavier. I know I have a list of folks and I ask for specific introductions when I can.

    But one of the challenges I’ve found is that if you’re raising angel investment… knowing and finding the angels can be more challenging. And suggestions are always appreciated because I may not know of everyone and you might know more angels than I do currently.

  • David Cohen

    patricia – angellist is the way to go. angel.co

  • http://www.cruxly.com Aloke

    angellist works if you have someone in the angel group sponsoring you and recommending you; the probability of connecting with an interesting angel who you have not met is very low. you’re better off making the connection personally.

  • David Cohen

    aloke – angellist absolutely works best when you have some committed investors promoting you. however, it works all the time to create new connections both in that case and in the case where you have none. having taken a bunch of intros off of angel list with no connection, i know this first hand. many of the others who are active investors on there will tell you it happens with regularity. great resource. but yes, most effective when starting from 1/3 to 1/2 of your round already committed, vs starting from scratch, for sure.

  • http://culttt.com Philip Brown

    Hi, David, how do you advise people to make connections with the specific people who are outside of the 2 degrees of separation? I assume you only make introductions to people you know really well, so what do you think would be the best way for an entrepreneur to reach a very specific person outside of their advisor circle or circle’s circle.

  • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

    It’s the in person version of reaching out to a big influencer online and asking them to retweet your blog so you can suck up some of their audience. It’s a lot more work, but why not try and make yourself known by adding so much value that they notice you…and it’s so much more rewarding when it’s their idea to retweet or introduce you than when you have to beg and make everyone feel obligated (which rarely ends well anyway).

  • David Cohen

    philip – find out who in your circle is most closely connected, and work through them.

  • Ram Das Khalsa

    I think this topic is similar to that of the age old play of social engineering. Regardless of the measure, communication that comes from a place of “Here is what you can do for me” doesn’t create a mutual positive attitude. If you can’t reach the stage of “Here is what we can do for each other,” it is at least better to come from a place of doing your homework and asking for a favor while showing just that.
    I think this is a really interesting topic–my main question would be: For someone interested in observing patterns in successful start-up behavior–where is a good place to show what you can do?

  • http://www.mindazetlin.com Minda Zetlin

    So…another tactic might be well in advance of asking for an intro: “Can you suggest people, or places to look for people, who might be interested in my company?” Then when you suggest names or groups or websites, I go research them, see if there’s a good match, and THEN ask for the intro…WDYT?

  • http://techstars.com David Cohen

    minda – you’re missing my point i think. if you end up saying the truth, which is “david thought of you” then it flips the social dynamic into a bad place. YOU have to generate the list, not the introducer.

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  • Guesty McGuesterson

    I had an odd experience with an introduction a while back. At a networking event, I met guy1 who (after chatting a bit) offered to introduce me to guy2. I said that sounded good, so we waked over to guy2.

    Guy1 proceeded to introduce me to guy2 but with a series of disclaimers: “I just met him a few minutes ago, I haven’t worked with him…” It set me wondering why guy1 had offered to do this introduction at all, since he seemed to be going overboard to distance himself from me.

  • Brad Bernthal

    My calculus:

    Safely in bounds: “Is there anyone else I should be talking to?” Open ended question. Fair to me. I can identify people if I’m comfortable with the connection.

    Seldom appropriate: “Can you help me reach XX?” This turns someone into a referral service. In my head, 92% this makes the askee feel used. If you absolutely must do this, leave the askee an out — e.g., “Feel totally free to say no, but I’m having trouble reaching XX — any chance you think you could assist . . .”