#GiveFirst

The energy of accelerating others is unmatched.

When talking with others, forget potential transactions. Instead start by focusing on how you can help. People gravitate toward those who choose genuine selflessness over their own interests.

Showing you care can be as easy as a quick thought to help someone else take their next step. Perhaps there’s a helpful introduction you can make? It can even be as simple as showing you care enough to listen.

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Early in my career I was told that everything felt like a one-way street with me. From then on, I made an effort to listen first and talk less. This is difficult when all you want to do is invite people to your next event or sell whatever it may be. Be willing to show up, stand out, and follow up to seal the deal, but pave two-way streets that allow your relationships to flourish by pulling as much as you push.

However you choose to contribute, the trick is not expecting anything in return. This benevolent attitude has been encapsulated in the hashtag #GiveFirst. Here is a Techstars podcast that explores this mindset. Brad Feld also wrote this book to highlight the #GiveFirst philosophy.

Maintaining a #GiveFirst mentality will spawn meaningful discussions faster and more often. This happens because without ulterior motives, you’re able to explore anything without remorse. Over time, this allows more meaningful connections to evolve, versus contacts without context. When you play the long game of investing in the success of others, the real fun begins.

Concerned you’ll never achieve your goals if you’re always trying to help others? Don’t be. If you relentlessly #GiveFirst, you will earn the attention of people eager to return the favor. You’ll also get asked about your own work more often. That’s when you spark intrigue by saying it’s a secret, before shifting the discussion back to them. They’ll laugh, love it, and come back for more.

Mentor Madness

Mentors help entrepreneurs without asking for anything in return.

These diamonds in the rough may be hard to find and the vulnerability to ask others for help can feel heavy, but don’t be afraid. Most entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs enjoy helping others. Not everyone is graced with extra time, but there are good mentors in every community. Local mentors provide huge in-person value and the online universe offers infinitely more ways to find good fits. The wider your engaged network is, the more strategic you can be when selecting mentors as well. Even with a wide spectrum of options, take time to consider whom you trust and who will trust you in return. Be respectful of everyone’s time, but don’t be afraid to approach the giants you admire most.

As an entrepreneur talking with potential mentors, be transparent about your situation, concise with storytelling, and clear with specific needs. Spell out your vision, the current state of your business, what makes you a pain reliever vs. a vitamin, and how this mentor’s experience could help you navigate the fog.

As you explore mentor relationships, it’s unlikely one person can support you on all fronts. This means you must get comfortable working with multiple mentors.

The more one mentor can help, the more attention they deserve. When you give a mentor more attention, it should not feel like they need to do the same. Approach each exchange with composure. Make it convenient for people who aren’t required to care. Go out of your way to be effective and efficient. Learn how someone likes to communicate and make detailed emails concise. Answer questions directly and find ways to keep connecting new dots. Think about deliberate deliverables. As things come together, slow play the delivery of assets and things you want to discuss. This will keep progress from feeling too heavy. It also creates space for concentrated feedback on more specific topics. A mentor who helps you in a meaningful way will rarely disappear, so there’s no need to overload them with too much at once. This practice helps you stay on top of ongoing conversations, while also allowing mentors to add more precise value. Optimizing mentor relationships this way will inspires trust, action fueled by accountability, and solidify a lasting sense of accomplishment for everyone interested in your success.

Along with learning from mentors, consider being a mentor yourself! Success (and failure) leaves clues so no matter what you’ve achieved in life, you have wisdom to share.

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Interested in mentorship? Here are characteristics to consider.

If you decide to offer your time in this way, be generous, but also realistic about how you can help. Mentoring can become a nagging task if you’re stretched too thin and the moment you feel resentment, the quality of your support diminishes. To avoid this pitfall, be upfront with the time you’re willing to commit and deliver whatever is promised. When volunteering a significant amount of time, be sure to feel at peace about the impact you’re making.

Your time spent mentoring should feel easy, efficient, and fun, yet challenging and rewarding as well. A #GiveFirst mindset paired with an authentic connection to founders you care about creates space for honest feedback and a magical experience for those who learn, earn, and then give back.

Bookmarks

Anticipation, fear, and excitement. These are healthy sensations that emerge as we create bookmarks in life by experiencing new things.

It’s easy to forgot for those who often look forward, but we are blessed by many renewing moments throughout life. The start of a new day, first dates, holidays, weddings, vacations, the arrival of a child, birthdays, the first day of school, a new job, the launch of your own company, and perhaps when you fully accept that we may only have one life to live.

This reflection on fresh beginnings and how we’re invited to create bookmarks in life spawned as I embark on my expanded role with Techstars. As a tech founder and entrepreneurial ecosystem builder, Techstars is an iconic organization I’ve always admired. They support entrepreneurs with education, resources, and mentoring that is exponentially compounded by a global network. What started as exploratory ecosystem building, quickly transcended into a more involved role with the Techstars Iowa Accelerator.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to be the entrepreneur in residence focused on ecosystem development. As you hear me often say, the energy of accelerating others is unmatched. Supporting more inspired founders while connecting a community of remarkable mentors is such a gift and yet another bookmark I’ll always appreciate.

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Visualizing your career portfolio as a dynamic pie chart is something I write about in YDNTB. Along with this healthy exercise to reflect on your own personal bandwidth, having this graphic on your phone adds a quick reference for introductory conversations as well. Here’s a peek at my current career portfolio.

As you marinate on your own state of now, be thankful for the bookmarks in life that you’ve established by exploring something new. Think about what you started and how’s it’s evolved. Remember everything can change so if it’s time to create a new bookmark in life, avoid the natural temptation to wait.

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Someday is dangerous. Today is all you have. Start.

Follow Up

As you continue to show up and stand out, it’s important to wrap a bow on your interactions by following up. Why? When creating connections, a single encounter is rarely enough. Whether it’s an email, phone call, social media connection, or handwritten note, follow up.

These tiny touch points can root a relationship. Even if there’s no obvious ways to collaborate right away, take a moment to say you enjoyed meeting that new contact. If possible, include something memorable from your encounter to personalize the message. This is also another chance to ask if there’s anything you can do to help, then close by sharing how you look forward to staying in touch. Whether they respond or not, this follow-up will increase the chance you’ll be remembered.

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The moment you meet is an effective time to connect on social media.

As you meet more people, it can become hard to maintain this habit without support. Don’t be afraid to use relationship management tools to keep conversations organized. Hubspot, Airtable, and other free CRM tools may be a good place to start. These platforms can automate your communication efforts, but play it cool. This is not the time to sell or bombard someone’s inbox. Instead of a pre-determined cadence, make a simple note to follow up. Use this reminder to comment on a social media post, share a quick idea, suggest a meaningful introduction, or invite your new contact to an upcoming event. While these follow ups are unscripted, it doesn’t hurt to internally track how many times you’ve touched base.

This balanced, friendly, and ongoing effort to stay connected will separate you from the pack and keep you on that person’s radar. Business may not spawn from these touch points, but there will be fresh context the next time you see each other. If opportunities to collaborate emerge, you’ll have a channel of communication already in place. Either way, showing up, standing out, and following up makes it easier to explore engaging ideas with your evolving network.

Stand Out

Being remarkable in a networking environment is not rocket science. Be friendly, vulnerable, funny, curious, and eager to help without getting stuck in one place.

As you continue to show up, you’ll learn from others and also learn more about yourself. You’ll be able to ask great questions and be adaptable to any conversation. You’ll need to share your work less, which will allow you to make more introductions. This will make you stand out as a connector.

Ready to shake things up? Avoid the temptation to ask the most common question at networking events: “So, what do you do?” Instead, consider more interesting ways to get people talking.

– How are you feeling?
– How do you like to spend your time?
– What does a day inside your office involve?
– What mindset inspires your best work?
– What’s a recent project you enjoyed working on?
– Are there any roadblocks you’re working through?
– Is there anything I can help you with right now?
– Would you do this work if money weren’t a factor?
– What did you do before your current role?

You only have a moment to make a good impression. It never hurts to throw in a specific topic to help people remember you. Avoid small talk like the weather. Also, family means everything to most people, but avoid going too far down that rabbit hole. Here are a few creative conversation starters to sprinkle in.

– What are your superpowers?
– Where did you travel to last?
– Have you ever been a mentor or an advisor?
– What are you reading or listening to right now?
– How would you describe the internet to a child?
– If you’re a pro wrestler, what’s your entrance song?
– Is there anything that may surprise me about you?
– What’s an interesting paradox you‘ve answered?
– How do you define success? How about happiness?
– Have you ever regretted not doing something?

When it’s time to move on, there is also an art to exiting a conversation. This is handy when conversations have gone on too long. One tactic is to bring more people into the conversation. Kindly introduce everyone to each other. You then have the option to stick around or excuse yourself. Even if you leave the chat, your energy will remain a part of that new conversation as you mingle elsewhere. If you’re at a networking event, another approach is to joke that it’s time for both of you to go meet more new people. This lighthearted suggestion eliminates any awkwardness.

If you’re the one holding conversations too long, you’ll know it when people try similar exiting tactics on you. To improve your relationship-building skills, stop draining the energy from each interaction. Be cognizant of how long you hold onto each conversation. Abandon the idea that everything must happen in one exchange. Even if it feels abrupt, don’t be afraid to move away from conversations before they feel complete. Ending interactions a bit early leaves room for more conversation next time. This creates a subconscious gap to fill and therefore more reasons to reconnect.