Better Together: Connections are worthless; community is priceless

A bi-weekly column exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship and community by Sam Davidson

I’ve gotten more LinkedIn requests in the last nine months (since I started in my current role) than I did in the prior nine years. I have accepted very few of them. 

I have a general rule of thumb: if we haven’t met each other, I’ll delay or deny the request. It’s not that we can’t ever connect there, it’s just that I keep that network secure, so that when someone asks for an intro I can actually make it happen. 

And while that track record isn’t perfect (I do make some exceptions), it’s largely true and has mostly provided maximum benefit. Why? As Antonio Neves says, “It’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you want.”

Meaning, in the world of social capital, introductions can be the deposits we make that yield big returns over time. The stronger and more specific the intro, the bigger and faster the upside. 

Case in point: just today I’ve brokered six introductions. One between a startup founder and a potential funder. One between that same founder and future key vendor. An intro between a startup and two possible advisors. Another introduction between an entrepreneur and a program manager here at the EC. And finally I introduced two rock star founders to each other. 

And this was a slow day. 

At the EC we’re wanting to create serendipity, these generous moments of collision between members of the ecosystem where the resulting reaction is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. And the only way to do that is to start with an introduction and see where it goes from there. 

But it can’t stop there. 

An introduction leads to a connection. A connection creates a conversation. And a conversation has a chance at creating community. 

Rinse and repeat and eventually you’ll have a rich ecosystem that gets entrepreneurs the resources it needs faster than ever to create more wins than ever. 

But too often we stop at the intro (if we don’t fear it entirely). We think that the first coffee or connection didn’t get us what we needed so we sell our position. We pick up stakes and move on to the next shiny, promising connection. Request and accept. Amass connections and move on. And we’re surprised when we have nothing to show but a community that is a mile wide and only an inch deep, where nothing of substance can grow. 

While there is certainly power in connections, there is promise in community. That is why we don’t just consider the connection a win; we follow up and circle back to see the result of that connection. 

The intro that became the key hire. The intro that led to the other intro to the investor that closed the round. The intro that led to the advisor who then later led the board. The intro that led to the investor who said no but still offered the intro to the advisor who made the intro to the acquirer. You get the picture.

It’s not the amount of people in your community. It’s the amount of community in your people. 

Push through the connection tally and its vanity metric. Then you’ll find yourself on the other side, in a rich community where everything is better. Together.

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