How Super Connectors Are Changing the Tech World

June 6, 2013

3:54 pm

Social capital — and the ability to form real relationships — is more important for tech entrepreneurs now than ever before, thanks to two developments: (1) the myth that we’re more “connected” through technology and social media, and (2) the explosion of new startups.

Enter the super connector — someone whose main talent isn’t coding or building things, but introducing people. Fast Company recently shed light on how important super connectors are becoming behind the scene, particularly for time- and resource-strapped entrepreneurs.

“Meaningful relationships come from meaningful connections,” said Scott Gerber, founder of the invite-only Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). “You can’t cheat the system, and it’s not a game. You’re dealing with people’s lives and time. When you deal with those two things, you better be genuine.”

So how are super connectors changing the tech world as we know it? Let’s take a look:

We’re both more and less connected than ever before

Technology, particularly social technology, is bringing us together in ways we’ve never been able to connect before. Thanks especially to the proliferation of real-time social media channels, any entrepreneur with a Twitter account can connect to peers and industry thought leaders instantaneously. But are those real connections, or just the illusion of a meaningful relationship? Or a little bit of both?

Dawn Barber, co-founder of New York Tech Meetup (NYTM), saw firsthand how the tech community rallied around the idea of a more personal connection. At the very first NYTM meetup in 2004 — which was more of an informal get-together engineered by Meetup cofounder and CEO Scott Heiferman — Barber was the only one to show up.

But the group (today a thriving nonprofit organization) would quickly grow to encompass more than 30,000 members and easily pack sold-out, 800-person auditoriums. Today, demand for tickets is such that they also simulcast their meetups live.

Not bad for the New York tech community that referred to itself as “Silicon Alley.” Yet Barber still marveled at the yearning for personal connection suffusing the tech community that had grown up around her.

“Even now that it’s simulcast, and you could go watch it at home, people go to different venues to be with each other and watch it together. It’s more than just the screen — it’s about the people you’re sitting next to,” Barber said. “Even just in a room, people want to somehow be connected.”

Tech has made it easier to both start a company and to get lost in the crowd

The same technology making it easier to start a business is also making it harder to stand out from the competition. Anyone can start a tech company from a dorm room or basement, at least in theory. That’s great news for innovation in general, but the proliferation of new startups can make it much harder for important new voices to be heard over the din.

“These days it’s really cheap and affordable to build a company, which means you’re going to have more competitors than ever before,” said Neil Patel, founder of Crazy Egg and KISSMetrics. “Because startup culture will only become more competitive, the people with the right connections will end up winning.”

When Patel was starting out, he emailed entrepreneurs and popular bloggers and offered to help with their marketing needs. He worked for free, but the dividends his self-investment paid back were priceless.

“People do a lot based off of reputation and introductions. If someone really influential and powerful vouches for you, people are at least going to listen,” Patel said. “Help influencers out with whatever problems they have and they’ll help you.”

Tech innovators need to step outside their niche to grow

From data-driven fashion companies to fields like biotech, many of today’s most exciting “tech” startups are inherently multidisciplinary.

“Because of technology, people are able to go into multiple industries easily, where in days of yesteryear you were lucky to be in more than one industry in a lifetime,” Gerber said. “Truly great networkers bring multiple worlds together. This allows entrepreneurs to expand their network horizontally rather than vertically.”

Barber says many of the venture capitalists at NY Tech Meetup will stage events where they bring together all their portfolio companies. To be a successful entrepreneur, says Barber, you can’t get caught up in your own personal silo (especially in the tech world). You have to get out and meet new people — and super connectors are leading the charge of cross-industry pollination.

“It’s the tension between leading and listening that you have to live within to be successful. Listening is being open to people, and being open to people is connecting,” Barber said. “And the more you do that, the more you learn.”

Super connectors help cut through the clutter

“There’s nothing to hide about it, entrepreneurs waste a lot of money, working with the wrong people or on the wrong business decisions,” said Ilya Pozin, CEO of Ciplex. “Getting advice from people that have done it, made mistakes, and are telling you the right way to do something is priceless.”

But even as technology makes it faster and easier to connect, it also makes it harder to cut through the clutter. Super connectors can bridge that gap (no thanks necessary).

Ultimately, it’s this selfless approach that makes the super connector such a valued resource. Although they do see a return on their investment of time and energy, it’s often not immediate. Instead, they’re driven by a genuine desire to help out the talented people in their circle.

“It’s not about trying to get some big win every time,” Gerber said. “Relationships take time.”

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Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010). Find Heather on Google+.

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