Networking: Humanizing vs. Being Human

I like small groups and feel most comfortable when talking to my wife.  Honestly, I’d rather talk to her than anyone else.  Large social situations are intimidating to me and I sometimes have a hard time getting involved in a conversation when I’m around people that seem to know everything.  I grab lunch with someone new every week.  I engage with people on social networks regularly, and I have gained many friendships in the last couple of years that really surprise me.  Nope, I’m not a walking contradiction.

I find human interactions to be fascinating.  In fact, my wife and I spend a large part of our time out discussing how people around us interact with each other.  I’ve seen all kinds of different human interaction styles, as I’m sure you have.  While some styles are definitely bad - think of that person that flipped you off then got out of their car to scream at you - there are many different normal styles.  Sure not everyone’s a Gary Vaynerchuk, but that’s okay as long as we’re human (by the way, here's a great article by @garyvee about networking).  Here’s the crux of what I have learned over the last couple of years as a co-founder trying to get customers, investors, and make meaningful relationships in business… Real human beings acting like human beings are great networkers.

Bad Example

Just last week I got a message from someone that wanted to connect on LinkedIn.  Apparently they had been following my company for sometime and were interested in connecting.  I’m fine with that, but my requirement is that I have to personally speak with everyone I connect with on LinkedIn otherwise my LinkedIn account loses its value, so I told him that.  We arranged a phone call and everything went fine.  He was a bit salesy, but we were still okay.  I connected with him on LinkedIn and felt comfortable with the relationship.

A few days later I got a message from him.  It was the same message he had sent before, but it didn’t make sense because we already knew each other.  I replied and called him out on it.  He apologized and said it was something he had setup to run automatically on a an interval.  I thought “#FAIL".

There is a big push for humanizing automated things.  You might get away with it as long as you don’t fail like this guy did.  If you do fail like this you lose a lot of credibility.  By the way, in my experience trying to make automated things not seem automated usually fails.  I’d love to see more real life networking going on.  

Good Example

Around the same time I received this email:


I hope you had a great 4th of July weekend.  It was probably even better with the Seed Round news, so congrats on that!  I wish Comfy was around when I went to CU Boulder.  We would literally have to start looking for a place for the following year in the Fall when we just moved into our current place.  Most rental agencies wouldn't give you information until later on, so we would go walk around to houses we thought looked cool, and ask the tenants if they would be living there next year.  It was such a mess.  Anyways, I work at Stack Overflow and wanted to see if our Careers platform would be a fit for Comfy as you look to hire developers…

Josh W.”

I responded to the email and told him I appreciated the personal touch but that we weren’t hiring at the time.  He responded and thanked me for being courteous.  I then went onto twitter and tweeted about how I never even knew the Stack Overflow careers service existed but thought it was cool.

Some people say that this approach is not scalable.  To them I say "Good luck 'humanizing' to the generation that just wants people to be real."  They are going to eat your feigned personable emails alive.  

How I Network

In January of this year I moved to Austin, TX from Salt Lake City, UT.  I really only knew one person in Austin, a friend I hadn’t seen since high school.  During the months leading up to my move I asked nearly everyone I spoke with if they had any good connections in Austin.  One of the many people I asked said he would send a few email intros for me.  I didn’t have high hopes, but thanked him.  He sent eight emails that evening to people in Austin telling them about my upcoming move and my desperation in the friendship department.

I followed up with each of those emails and ended up grabbing lunch with almost every single one of them.  Who did I meet?  An investor turned argentine tango dancer, a tech CEO turned cowgirl, a partner at Austin Ventures (AV), the CFO at BazaarVoice, and a few others.  The argentine tango dancer was my first meeting.  He was absolutely hilarious, but had made some big career moves since my friend had known him as an investor in Austin.  The cowgirl story was similar.  Then I met with a partner at AV.  Two days later AV said they would invest.  One week later the funds hit our bank account.

I could go on and on about the people I met with from that single connection in Utah, but that’s not the point of this.  When I met someone that I thought was interesting I asked them who else they knew that I could meet with so I could get to know some other people in the area.  Many of them then connected me with at least one other person, and from those connections I asked for more.  It’s great to play the “I’m the new kid in town” card, and there are many similar things you can try that are totally legitimate and human.

I am still meeting with people that I can trace back to those original 8 emails from my friend in Utah.  I try to schedule at least one lunch per week to meet with someone new.  Like I said, I don’t like big social settings.  I feel like I shine in smaller groups, so I play to my strengths.  Maybe you’re the life of the party and make 20 good relationships in one evening.  Not me.  I’m lucky to remember a single name at events like that given the unending barrage of introductions, so that’s what I focus on.


LinkedIn plays a vital role for me in how I network in general, but especially at large events.  When I meet or get introduced to someone I like I invite them to connect with me on LinkedIn so I can remember their name and keep tabs on the exciting things they are up to.  I send them an invite right then and there.  When I get a notification that the person has accepted my invitation I thank them, research them and their company a bit more, then send them a message asking if they want to grab lunch sometime soon.  Literally every single person has accepted my invitation to grab lunch together.  

Lunch is a great time to get to know someone and make a friendship.  If you cover the cost of the meal it’s even better!

What am I trying to get at?  Once again, let’s be human and not try to humanize non human interactions.  As technology evolves we can be getting back more of the things we really value in life, like good relationships with real people.  Social media platforms can be excellent mediums for strengthening relationships and building communities if we let them.

The strength of my network is gauged on my ability to go to it when in need and get what I need out of it.  In order to have a good social network I have to give back to others.  They will most likely return the favor when I am in need later.  Technology should make our lives easier so that we can engage more meaningfully in the things that really matter - people.

Take aways: give without expecting something in return, be real - don’t pretend to be real, and engage with people in meaningful ways.