"The best advice I have to give you, is to find someone a few steps up the ladder from you. Grab on to their coattails and let them pull you up."
— My buddy’s grandfather
Building relationships with founders that are more successful than you is huge. Their advice and mentorship means the world. But they have to buy into who you are if they’re going to pull you up the ladder with them. When you meet a founder like this, they take a quick look at you and decide: Is this person a founder or a phony? Being perceived as a founder can open serious doors for you. Being perceived as phony can freeze you in your tracks.
Luckily it’s your choice which bucket you want to be thrown into.
What is a phony?
Let’s consider the question that an someone “higher up the ladder” asks themselves when you’re introduced.
1) Is this person worthy of my attention or are they wasting my time? Lots of people want to help, but they want to help the right people.
2) Will they help me or harm me? Are they an asset or a liability? Is this person going to throw my name around like we’re BFFs? Will they call me every fifteen minutes looking for advice?
These questions are answered by passing you through a few filters they’ve come to rely on. They’ll want to know, are you a first time founder? Have you raised yet? Who do we both know? Are people talking about you? Are people talking about your product? In other words, they can make a pretty good decision about which bucket you fall into in about five minutes.
For some reason, I see a lot of people who mess this up. Here’s a few phony smells:
- You pitch at parties. “I noticed you were talking about email. I’m building a brand new email platform that blah blah blah.” Come on bro let me drink this beer.
- You ask for investor intros prematurely. “Nice to meet you. Roger invested in your company? Nice! Can you intro us? I’m up for a call right now.” Come on bro you gotta be kidding.
- You’re not full time on your product. “I’m waiting to raise my first round before I jump ship.”
- You brag about insignificant accomplishments — “My codebase has 150k lines!!!” That sucks man.
Why does it matter?
Here’s the bottom line: influential people have to separate signal vs noise. They can’t help everyone that needs help, and they want to be responsible for backing winners. If you’re noise, you’re going nowhere with these people. It’s not that you’re a bad person, you just don’t have the prerequisites.
And this sucks because connections make the world go round. So here’s a tip if you’re getting thrown in the wrong bucket: Step down a few rungs on the ladder.