The Ask -- How to Make the Most of Networking
Jory Des Jardins: Even if you aren't getting funding you want to understand how these things are funding.
When I started BlogHer, I wanted to understand how that happened. I was just a writer. We want to delve into how that starts and the subtleties of networking.
My first questioning is how women network, and when it comes to venture funding there are more men VC's.
Is there a difference in the way men and women network?
Photo Credit: Danielle Tsi
Cindy Padnos:The interesting thing is to listen even how you said what you said. You said you were just a writer. You were a talented entrepreneur. Men are more comfortable with what they bring to the table. Here's what I do and why you should care...they don't feel they are bragging.
Here's a little the pot calling the kettle black. Been on both sides of the table. I went into a meeting with a VC. He said, "Let me show you what the business plan should look like."
Jory Des Jardins: You had a great story. Talking about men not needing to feel quite as qualified to deserve capital as a woman feels she needs to be. Do you think that is the case?
Cindy Padnos: That would be a broad statement.
Jory Des Jardins: Women feel they have to have more behind them.
Cindy Padnos: I know that was true for me. I went from largest company in America on down until smallest company in the world which was mean. then said you have a great product go do it. I did not have the contacts and connections to go do it. I did not have three people to do it. I had a Masters from Carnegie Mellon. Not from Stanford, which is where most founders are from here.
Jory Des Jardins: Alicia how about you.
Alicia Morga: Men have "the bullshit gene." They are more comfortable doing it. Women want to be more comfortable and qualified. One of my first jobs was at Goldman Sachs. My boss had me and a colleague present to a bank CEO and tell him the valuation of his bank. Afterward my boss said everything the colleague said was wrong and everything you said was right. But who do you think came off better? He came off better. He had the belief in himself.
My first big lesson was if you are going to represent yourself you have to pull up your panty hose and have confidence.
S3: Really know...
Jory Des Jardins: We want to talk a bit about tactics. Shelly you are in corporate settings; you have had to be approached and approach others. What are the tactics..the first things you do to build confidence to properly network.
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: Do the research. Know your industry. Know the people, the players. Have something you can speak to. In the networking, know who you want to meet. Make it a point to speak to that person. My third point, when you start a conversation, it's not "here is my big idea"; it's about having a conversation. Contribute.
Jory Des Jardins: Having something to say when networking goes a long way. There was someone who reached out to me and wanted to get her business going. She wrote to me; I'm having a hard time on WordPress. Can we get on the phone. I'm thinking, I wish she hadn't asked that; she wasted that opportunity.
There are different types of networking opportunities...there are educators, inspirers, sponsors, funders, connectors. When you don't know the role of the person you are asking, it leads to a muddled experience.
Do you have any advice.
Cindy Padnos: When you have a contact you can make, you have to make the most of that contact. Contacts and connections are precious resources. There is nothing I value more than #1 my family and #2 my time. When you ask someone for something make sure it is appropriate and that it is the highest thing you could ask them to do.
Alicia Morga: Show some interest in that person. Men tend to be more transactional. I write a column for Fast Company. I get a lot of pitches from people wanting me to cover them, to write about them. I like it when someone makes it clear they have researched and show that they know what I need. Don't just ask cold.
Cindy Padnos: There's something about the appropriateness of what you're asking. I'm on an advisory board at a school. Students will ask me broad questions about their careers. There isn't an answer to those questions. No right or wrong. I don't know them. I can't add value.
Jory Des Jardins: Shelley. How do you add value when you need something?
S4: When I approach someone I value and want to work with, I do my research. when I have opportunity to speak with them, I am not just looking to learn more about them. For example, I serve on a board as director of programming, I'm looking for talented speakers for member base. When I research folks, I'm meeting them to know more about them and to see if they would speak for the organization. There's a tie in to the organization.
Cindy Padnos: For me there isn't always a tie in. I like the emails where's they say, "Here's the impact of what you said to me."
S4: If I give someone a reference, I love to hear that someone got something out of it. Everyone wants to make an impact.
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: It's so rarely done. You'll stand out just by doing that.
Audience Member: I think payback is cultural and where you are. Obviously we are here in SV and you expect a faster ROI on someone saying thank you for what you did. It doesn't happen that way in other cultures. My mother is a classical storyteller in another country. To this day she gets mail from around the world the difference you made when I was 6, 8, 12, I now have a collection of... Don't expect people to send it immediately. It might come later.
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: I don't think these ladies were saying to expect it immediately.
Jory Des Jardins: In the context of asking for funding or advice, in that context, I would argue that you do want to follow up and give the person "this is what I got out of that." There is an obligation of the networker; the other is trying to bring something of value.
I want to address being approached by the brain-picker. Does that bother you? Do you pick brains.
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: I do both. I don't have enough time for it, so I'm selective. It comes down to when you catch me. If it works out, Great. One of my pet peeves is, when I tell them what I can give them...for example, someone wanted to have coffee and pick my brain, I said I could do it over the phone for 10 minutes and the person said no she would wait until we could meet in person. I will probably not meet her ever.
Jory Des Jardins: If you pick brains, make it easy.
Cindy Padnos: If you are going to pick brains make it easy and relevant.
Jory Des Jardins: Beyond brain picking, someone wants you to advise or fund them. Is there a criteria when it is appropriate?
Cindy Padnos: Approach someone when you are ready for funding or before. The strategy for entrepreneurs is that you know I'm the right investor for what you need. There is no investor that is any good that will change their investing strategy because they see a good deal. I've passed on something that could be a home run because it's not the kind of deal we do.
Also get an entree that is not a cold call.
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: I'm often used as the entry. If you want me to refer you to the VC, show me what it is [that you have -- your business]. Give me the elevator pitch. Don't assume I'm going to refer you. You have to make it easy for whomever you are asking.
Audience Member: How do you say no?
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: this is how I say "no": "No." What is the hangup around "no"? You are protecting your time; it's just your own story about how you will be perceived.
Cindy Padnos: As an entrepreneur, it's so much better to get a quick no than a strung out maybe. When I moved to to the other side I found it hard to just say no. A way to say no is to say, "I'm the wrong person, but here is the right person."
Jory Des Jardins: BlogHer's first round of funding was, "No, I'm the wrong person, but here is the right person." You do get better at saying "no" over time. I was asked to appear at an event and each time I said something other than "no" they came up with some other options.
Audience Member: I got criticized for being a bad connector. I connected someone and the person was angry.
Cindy Padnos: Don't make inappropriate connections...network without really knowing someone. The world we are in makes it so easy. But people are still people. When people make bad referrals it makes you look bad.
Alicia Morga: We all get request for introductions on LinkedIn, for instance, and I have to feel comfortable before I do the referral.
Jory Des Jardins: Many of us are in the position of asking. Ask them to review executive summary or something. You are asking them to vouch for you. Help them feel comfortable. I ask them "tell me what your business plan. If I don't have time for that, then I decline.
Shelley Taniguchi-Sabol: People who have strong special connections. Those who contact these people have to think: Is this person going to reach those for you? No.
Cindy Padnos: It's hard for someone from the outside to know what the connections are.
Alicia Morga: If you are asking to be connect to the managing director at Goldman Sachs, that's one thing, or the head analyst there, that's another.
Jory Des Jardins: Make it easier for someone to refer you by telling them exactly what you want them to say. Give them as much as possible to go on and to pass along.
We want to talk a bit more about examples about how men and women approach things differently and limit themselves.
Cindy Padnos: I'm staying overnight at an all-men's club at a Midwestern town where I'm scheduled to speak at an event. I meet someone for a drink. At a men's club you can't pay for anything if you are a woman, but I have a card so I can pay since I'm staying there overnight. He says he'll pay for my drink. He isn't a member, but he has his buddy's number at the club, and his buddy is a member.
I would be writing a check to the friend to pay for the drinks the next day and putting it in the mail. I have no doubt, thought, that the guy will not do that, and that it is some sort of collegiate support of each other and that the other guy feels like a big shot that his friend gets to use his membership in that way.
It's interesting to me that this is a team-based approach. All for one and one for all. Our team is going to win.
Here's another story: I have a friend whose husband has a group of buddies. They go to Pebble Beach together each year. They golf, wine, dine, shop...run up a huge bill and at the end of the week they draw straws to see who will pay.
Here's what would happen if a group of women did this. We would drink cheap beer, eat cheap meals (no steak)....for fear that one of us would get stuck with the bill, for fear we would feel guilty that one of our friends got stuck with the bill.
Audience Member: Be aware of cultural bias. That story will vary based on race and gender. It's about how to read who you are with.
Jory Des Jardins: Let's talk about VC. There is a way things are done. Is there a nuance that women may not get immediately?
Cindy Padnos: Go do it. Make a decision. One thing that troubles me is how many women have a success and then hang up their coats.
The successful women don't go out and become VCs.
Alicia Morga: Too many women don't speak the language. What's the return? If you aren't prepared to have that conversation, you are missing the boat.
Jory Des Jardins: If you have a track record, we had some revenue, but it was more about our growth, they are all ears. We knew our industry. We had a track record and that did it.
Audience Member: What is the biggest thing in the beginning that was your fear...success or failure.
Alicia Morga: Running out of money...failure, I guess. I had a successful company, successful exit, and I realize that the fear never goes away. You have to work with it anyway. It's about your courage muscles. Work with it even when afraid.
Cindy Padnos: When a founder I was afraid of losing other people's money.
Audience Member: Earlier we heard that a single entrepreneur may not be the best presentation. If that is the case, what is the better picture?
Cindy Padnos: Depends on what you are trying to achieve. For me, it isn't which of the roles is filled but that you can look at a cohesive team and that it is an A team. An A team attracts more A people. B level teams attract C-level people. Also having the right advisors around you.
Alicia Morga: you can get funded as a solo founder. You just have more to prove.
[Editor's note: The transcript above reflects what the liveblogger heard, to the best of her ability, but is not a verbatim transcript of the session. As such, it may contain abbreviations or paraphrases.]