Written by Csaba Konkoly, Co-Founder and President, Hum Capital
I’ve been in the business world for over 25 years. As I look back on the work I’ve done and the path of my career, I’ve noticed that there’s one factor above all that has gotten me to where I am: Relationships.
This is not traditional networking. It’s not about who you can claim to know or who you’ve spoken to a handful of times. I have thousands of contacts in my address book, but it didn’t take thousands of people for me to get here. It all comes down to about ten key relationships in my life: ten critical people who were the catalysts for my career, opening doors, giving me a chance, and allowing me access to the opportunities that shaped my path.
Who Are My Keys?
While I was still in Hungary at the start of my career, I met an expat who had just returned to Hungary after finding success abroad. At this time, Hungary didn’t have a wealth of opportunities, and going abroad required getting a visa — which was almost impossible.
Connecting with him was an incredible opportunity. He hired me to go to Moscow to work in capital markets, then went with me to London to start a new business together. That ultimately allowed me to get my work visa for the US and, eventually, my green card. Now I’m the president at Hum Capital, a New York City-based startup.
I’m here today because of that one connection.
Another is meeting my co-founder at Hum Capital, Blair. We met through a mutual connection at an ideas dinner. After an evening of talking and connecting intellectually, we exchanged numbers and kept in touch. Whenever I was in San Francisco, I’d meet him for coffee and we’d talk about work, ideas, interesting things we had learned. We never met with a goal in mind.
Three years after we got to know each other, he came to me with the idea of what would become Hum Capital.
Hum Capital exists today because I did more than meet Blair once at an ideas dinner; he and I both cultivated that relationship over the period of several years. We never met with the goal of doing business or getting something from one another; we were there to connect and share knowledge. That it led to starting a business is wonderful, but was not — and cannot — be the goal of building authentic relationships.
So why should we do it? And how is it better than traditional networking?
Relationship-Building Versus Networking
The goals of networking are twofold: make as many connections as you can, and get the most out of them that you can. It’s shallow. You’re focused on how you can meet specific people to achieve specific goals, not getting to know those people.
Building key relationships is different. You’ll have very few keys, but deep relationships with each. Your goal is not to get anything from them. What you gain from key relationships will be spontaneous and rooted in the connection you’ve built. When a relationship is genuine, you’re more committed to each other’s success and are more willing to let each other into your work. You’ll share important information, create access to important contacts, and build each other up more so than in a superficial networking relationship.
As the cofounder of Hum Capital, a company focused on using data instead of networking to bring investors and founders together who make a good fit, this might seem like odd advice to give. But there is no data available to evaluate personal relationships. We can look at the numbers to decide whether an investment is worthwhile or not; but when it comes to people, no data can predict whether or not we’ll get along with someone. The perfect match on paper might completely lack chemistry, which is an unpredictable force that investments don’t have to reckon with.
With investor-founder matchmaking, data can help ensure both parties are aligned without the “who you know” and “where you hang out” biases. From there, it would be entirely up to the two to see if they also connect on a personal level and to determine whether that is a significant factor before signing term sheets.
What we do with our money should be backed with data; what we do with our time and our relationships is far more personal.
How to Cultivate Key Relationships
The first step in cultivating key relationships is identifying which relationships to give your time to. Not everyone you meet will be a perfect connection. It’s vital that you know when to keep investing and when to cut your losses.
Good key relationships will have an immediate spark. Is it easy to keep the conversation going? Do you feel you’ll never run out of things to talk about? If you schedule a 30-minute meeting and find yourselves still chatting three hours later, you have the foundation for a key relationship. Keep in mind that a good key relationship also can’t be transactional. If the other person is focused on selling you something or getting you to introduce them to someone else, they might not be worth your time.
Once you know what to look for, cast a wide net. There’s no way to predict who you’ll have chemistry with, so connect with as many different people as you can. But make sure that the people you connect with have a common goal, industry, or focus. Without this, you might make wonderful new friends, but they won’t turn into professional collaborators. Anything that moves quickly and has a spark is worth investing in; anything that doesn’t, isn’t.
To cultivate your best connections, find ways to add value without being asked. Give freely and without any strings attached. Offer to introduce them to relevant people or send them interesting articles in their field. So many people are focused on what they can take, so finding ways to give will set you apart. If they reciprocate, be sure to respect their time and generosity.
The goal of meeting new people in business isn’t to fill your address book; it’s to build genuine relationships that will lead to long-term success and support, focusing more on how you can give than on what you can get. No one succeeds in business alone, but it only takes a handful of people to get you anywhere you want to go.
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