No hustlers and no connectors – the psychology of tech email intros

by Ivan Mazour on April 5, 2014

IntroductionA few days ago, I found myself with a familiar sense of annoyance that normally leads to the word “muppets”, followed by me writing posts like this one. This time the topic was the response to an email introduction.

Until about three years ago, I had no idea what an “email intro” was. My businesses at the time were in real-estate, an industry split entirely into two camps. One camp would try and charge a percentage on every single thing they came across. No introductions would ever take place without a contract in place for a 2% commission on whatever would come out of it. The hustlers. The other camp would introduce absolutely everyone to everyone, constantly, independent of whether there was a good reason to do it. The connectors.

It was, looking back at it from the outside, an interesting ecosystem. The connectors enjoyed the feeling of knowing everyone, and optimised for that. The hustlers wanted money, and so optimised for that. The symbiotic relationship allowed both groups to get what they wanted. And, of course, a third group was needed – the people worth connecting, the people who got things done. The connectors got to go to lots of parties, and say hi to lots of people. The hustlers got to get 2% of huge deals. And the people who got things done had this huge support infrastructure, improving market information and liquidity for them.

For several years, I would sign non-disclosure agreements, and consultancy agreements, before being able to speak with people, who then turned out to waste my time. Or I’d be introduced to someone “because you are both Russian”, since that seemed like a good enough reason. This absolute lack of process, or efficiency, made no sense to me, but that was the way the industry operated, and I didn’t see an alternative.

And then I discovered tech. Stepping foot into the world of technology (I mean professionally – I’d been a geek for decades..) was like a breath of fresh air. Everything was different. Values were different.

Firstly, no one valued making money out of the success of others. The few hustlers that tried to do that were not welcome, anywhere. Secondly, no one, except for Doug Scott, who we’ve grown to love, made introductions randomly just for the hell of it. There was a process. People took it seriously. Introductions were a currency, a gift. A well-placed introduction would deliver value to both individuals, without anything specific being asked by the introducer. If it went well, they would both be grateful, and that was sufficient. It would put an unspoken obligation on those people to help some other people in the same way. And as the whole community continued to do this, the whole group would rise up. It was self-perpetuating.

A bad introduction, however, would annoy everyone, and annoy them a lot. We are all so time-limited, and simply can’t afford to have meetings that don’t go anywhere. A random introduction places an obligation on the two people to get in contact, as otherwise there would be a risk of them coming across as rude and affecting their reputation. So bad introductions are not tolerated, and because of this, are simply not done. Every single introduction is carefully thought about, carefully worded, and carefully monitored.

So a few weeks ago, I was asked to meet with a company, and to put together a small group of angels to invest in their round. The meeting went well – it was a great team and an interesting product. I mentioned that I was interested, and that I’d make introductions to a few other angel investors who I knew. After the meeting, I did just that, copying in the CEO with a few individuals who invested in Ometria, clearly mentioning that they had done so.

The response came back. “Thanks for this. Just before I reply, are you referring James as a potential investor, or an interested 3rd party?”. The wave of annoyance started to swell, as I stared at the screen. For years, I had enjoyed the ability to connect with people in tech on a higher level, through a shared understanding that didn’t require words. This was the exact opposite. I quite literally took offense at the question. We’d clearly spent time talking about their sole priority – raising a funding round. I’d clearly told them that I would make introductions to investors. And I clearly said in my e-mail that this person was an investor. I’d both made, and received, introductions of this sort many times, and there is a very clear, polite, professional and friendly process to follow them up. There was no ambiguity here at all.

But then I realised that this person was probably new to tech. His use of the word “referred” probably meant that he was still used to the world of hustlers, and connectors. This may well have been one of the first times he was getting a proper “email intro”. The first time I got an email intro I was almost certainly totally confused as well.. It was a reminder of how the tech community lives in its own bubble, with its own rules that others outside probably consider ridiculous. But I couldn’t imagine going back. I love the fact that there are no hustlers, and no connectors. I love the fact that everyone succeeds through their own achievements. And I love the fact that when I get an email intro, I know it will be to someone extremely relevant to what I need right now.

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Carl Thomas April 5, 2014 at 9:53 am

This is an interesting post. Coming from the telecommunications industry, where due to the collaborative fabric of the Internet, most people naturally tend to be a connector. This probably stems from the mindset that to run a resilient physical network, you need to physically ‘connect’ to other networks. Hence you need to know a number of ‘network operators’. I’ve personally found that there tends to be more ‘due diligence’ done in the tech world, as people are more mindful of their reputations.

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Ivan Mazour April 5, 2014 at 10:17 am

Spot on Carl. The reputations take so much longer to build, and bad introductions can affect them much more than in other industries. And indeed, there are always network operators – the core nodes who know everyone – but the thing is that they will always have something specific that they are doing. They are not simply a connector, they are just very well connected.

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Doug Scott April 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Ha ha Ivan

When people ask me for introductions I am very conscious to make sure that both sides I think will gain something from the meeting.

As you say for the hell of it I do random introductions, but I think very carefully to try to match the random parties. I try to find people who I doubt know each other, but maybe should know each other, may get on and hopefully each will learn something from the other. I hope it is working.

Doug
Ps. Do not try to recruit the latest introduction:)

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Ivan Mazour April 6, 2014 at 4:54 am

If I didn’t get a comment from you Doug I’d have been deeply disappointed :)

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Dudley April 6, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Interesting thoughts Ivan, im in the marketing and PR game but have recently started working with tech guys and am amazed by the openness of the introductions i have been given. I had put it down to the tech guys making more money, being on the crest of a wave and generally feeling more secure in themselves. Your reasoning is more erudite and a more interesting analysis of this somewhat simple reasoning.

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Ivan Mazour April 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Thanks Dudley! There’s certainly an element of being on the crest of a wave, but I guess staying on that crest is a constant competitive challenge, and that’s why although the introductions are very free and very open, they are also very carefully calculated and managed.

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Richard Lucas July 5, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Good article..

I particularly like the recognition that the person you are dealing with may not be at the same stage in life and awareness as you are. Sometimes you have to give people time to learn a new modern way of operating,

It takes time to build trust based eco system where people do not expect an “introduction fee” cut from their network.

At the same time when I am thinking of starting a business with someone new I send them this. …..
http://richardhlucas.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/letter-to-a-new-potential-business-partner/

The last thing I want is to invest a lot of time negotiating with someone with a great business idea only to discover that we don’t fit on fundamental character or values.

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Ivan Mazour July 6, 2014 at 11:43 am

Thanks Richard. I like how you clearly set out your values to anyone you work with. No doubt, many will not yet be used to this modern way of operating, as you describe it, and will be somewhat confused and put off when you present them with that list. But then again, those are the people you don’t really want to go into a long-term professional relationship with.

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