Harnessing the power of people: 5 ways for founders to supercharge their networks
By: Atli Thorkelsson
Ask any founder about the reasons for their success, and it’s a good bet that they’ll credit the people they surrounded themselves with as a deciding factor. Of course, it’s not just about surrounding yourself with high-caliber people, but about being deliberate, flexible, and reciprocal in how you work with them. We think about this edge-maker all the time at Redpoint, and it’s a big reason why we focus on “network” rather than “talent,” which tends to over-index on hiring instead of the full scope of harnessing the power of people.
Now, to some, this might seem like semantics. My background, too, was in recruiting before I joined Redpoint — so I’ve seen firsthand how getting the right people in the door is challenging (and critical) enough at any stage. But limiting ourselves to focusing only on hiring specifically would cut ourselves off at the knees. After all, there are so many more ways to work with people, and only viewing talent through the lens of hiring is like putting blinders on to other ways — from actually working with them once hired to simply partnering with them for advice, and so much more in between. One powerful component of one’s network that I’ve seen people forget about is the power of the extended network of those with whom you’re close.
Given how critical this approach is, we wanted to share some best practices and clear tactics around how to make the most of your network.
- Aggregate your network. To operationalize networking, you’ll want to take an approach like you would any other funnel. The first step is reminding yourself about whom you know and getting organized with a personal CRM of sorts. Flip through your emails, your Twitter, your LinkedIn, your texts, etc. You can use something like this coda doc or a template you build yourself in Google Sheets. Categorize people by their function, their industry, and their experiences. Take notes and revisit regularly.
- Focus on converting acquaintances into real relationships. One tip I really like is remembering to record a voice note after you meet someone. This will take 45 seconds but can pay real dividends later. Just say a few things you want to remember about them or action items, and then you can weave that into a brief email in a day or two.
- Map your network against your own gaps and future opportunities. As much as you can, try to plan ahead by considering how you can engage with your network down the line. This entails not only considering their skills, but also how you provide value back to them. For example:
- Maybe this person is a friend who occasionally offers advice on GTM today, but could they be your Head of Sales once you’ve gotten a few customers on board? That VP Finance that took a risk on your beta product — would they be willing to interview the finalist for your own VP Finance role?
- Mapping this out will also help you understand the gaps in your network. Be deliberate about filling those. If you’re technical, chances are good that a lot of your network is technically oriented too. Lean into the opportunities that arise to build relationships with operators and GTM leaders. If your whole network is in fintech, make an effort to broaden that. And, just as importantly, if your whole network is people who grew up with similar life circumstances and experiences, diversify that too.
4. Pull a subset of your network into your VIPs. Cultivate those relationships deliberately, and be thoughtful about how you provide value back to those people. Some of those may be valuable formal advisors, who are worth compensating directly.
- Look for touchpoints. Put those people on an email list where you share quarterly updates on your company’s progress. Set reminders to check in with them 1:1 on some regular interval.
- Follow up! This should be more than a LinkedIn request, but you don’t have to overthink this. This alone will put you above most new professional connections.
5. Make the asks. Include important hires you need to make in your quarterly update emails. Look for people with similar experience and send a JD their way for a high priority role. The same goes for early customers or advisors — do you know anyone that might be having this problem? Who’s the best marketing leader you know? On this score, utilize your investors, too. Be open about types of people it would be useful for you to connect with, and proactive about surfacing those asks.
Once you’ve set the foundation for yourself to harness the power of your network, start to teach your early employees to think along the same lines. Many of your early employees will come through the networks of your employees. Have them think through the top performers from their last company or their college class, and remind them to check-in and start to cultivate a relationship. At the same time, it’s critical to be mindful that an approach that leans on networking calls on everyone to broaden their networks: The best teams, after all, are diverse teams, and working with talented people should be on everyone’s mind, not just your recruiting team.