Take Breaks—Burnout Kills Networking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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As I’ve been writing this series, I’ve been reflecting on some of the most difficult things about networking, and one thing that always pops into my head is the reality that taking breaks is so important. We don’t really think about networking as something you should take a break from; after all, why would you ever stop networking? Ever stop hustling? How can you possibly build your minimum viable network if you’re not always grinding away?

The answer is because burnout is so incredibly detrimental, and burnout can occur so easily when you’re putting so much energy into meeting new people. Relationships take effort to properly maintain, and it’s easy to lose sight of the focus they take to build. Taking time to give your mind a rest and reenergize will do wonders beyond what you think. By giving your mind a rest and time to recharge itself, you end up sharpening it, and let new ideas sink in which you might then use for your networking thereafter.

It’s always worth noting that the reverse is similarly true: trying to talk to people when your head isn’t in it will tell the other party that you either 1) don’t take proper care of yourself, or 2) that the discussion and/or face-time really isn’t all that important to you. Even if neither of these things is true, the result is the same: you make exactly the impression you don’t want to make. Instead of coming across as gregarious and magnetic, you will not be persuasive, engaging, or opportunistic, negating the entire point of the networking.

Understand that taking a day off to not be on social media or be a face in the community is good. People will chalk up your absence to the normal things (work, family, health, etc.), and when you come back, you’ll project a more energized and engaging persona. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced milieu of networking, but don’t drive so hard that you burn yourself out.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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How to Piggyback Without Stealing Credit

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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In a previous post, I discussed how lurking can be a beneficial strategy to building a network because it enables you to absorb aspects of a topic of conversation before needing to jump in. Part of strategically lurking, though, is not only learning from others’ ideas, but using them to take the next step in the discussion.

There’s a precise way to do this, however. You don’t want to come across as someone who steals ideas or thunder from others; that will not endear you to the very people you want to be in your network. Constructing a minimum viable network means understanding how to use someone else’s ideas as a jumping-off point for your own without coming across as conniving or self-centered.

Understanding the Balance

Rule number one in this whole scenario is giving credit where credit is due. If you’re using someone else’s idea as a jumping-off point, then make that clear to everyone else. No one will think poorly of you for giving credit where it’s due, but you will absolutely self-sabotage if you look like someone who needs to control a whole conversation in order to get your point across. Worse, you don’t want to steal someone else’s insightful point and misrepresent it as your own.

In my experience, the answer is balance. Take all the time you want to lurk in a conversation, absorb new material and ideas, craft a point, and deploy it when the time is right. I’ve been in a conversation threads many times where I’ve seized on the specific point made by a VC or other founder, but taken time to craft a response. The feedback is almost always positive because a thoughtful response beats a quick response any day. The opposite side of the balance therein is making sure that credit for your thought or response goes to the right person; if someone’s initial message or point gave you a new idea or perspective, acknowledge that and run with it.

By taking time to examine conversations closely and add nuance, you do two things simultaneously:

  1. You validate the other person by virtue to referencing their point; you essentially show others that that person’s point is worth considering, and
  2. You show others in the conversation that you can be patient, sit and absorb information, learn new concepts, synthesize context, and use all of that to develop your own original points to share

Validate Someone Else, Validate Yourself

Show people that you can be patient and thoughtful. In the end, this will do the most for you because it’s a human calculation. When you validate someone’s point, you validate their experience and knowledge, and that has an endearing effect on people. People like to associate with others who are patient, who give credit where it’s due, and who can build on previous concepts to create new ones.

The goal is not to come across as the number one expert in that industry; the goal is to show people that you can sit back, be patient, learn from others, and use that to contribute meaningfully to a group dynamic. Done correctly, this tactic can open you up to numerous new conversations and fields, and has the potential to tell the successful people in those fields that you’re someone they should keep an eye on.

Anyone can go read a book and spit back information that someone else has already written. But it takes real skill to be able to synthesize knowledge from others and use it to take the next step while simultaneously crediting the appropriate sources. That is that skill that will tell an investor or other founder that you’re someone whom they should get to know and take seriously. This is how you will build your minimum viable network in all areas, even ones that are new to you.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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The Lucrative Strategy of Lurking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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There are many times I find myself lurking in conversations with topics I know very little about, but which I’m very interested in learning about. It can feel daunting to try and contribute something meaningful to a conversation when 1) you’re unfamiliar with the topics, and 2) it’s around other potential experts. The preferred strategy of many people is to avoid these situations altogether; after all, the last thing you want to do is look like a dummy in front of someone whom you respect and/or want to make a good impression on.

But this does a disservice to yourself in the long run. Intimidation is a normal and valid feeling, especially when you’re new to a particular community. But avoiding the situation entirely doesn’t solve either your goals of learning more about the respective topic or making a good impression on the people you want to notice you.

A Better Strategy

A much more lucrative strategy is lurking, something which I do continuously on community sites like Twitter and Product Hunt. For me, topics like music-tech and networking are my wheelhouse; I feel very comfortable discussing them and putting my two cents into discussions, even when the other participants are people that I might somewhat

For me, topics like music-tech and networking are my wheelhouse; I feel very comfortable discussing them and putting my two cents into discussions, even when the other participants are people that I might find intimidating by virtue of their success alone. When topics shift to other industries, though, like med-tech or AI, I feel less confident in my ability to contribute meaningful comments simply because I don’t know as much about those particular areas.

AI is a great example. As much as it intrigues me, I’m still trying to understand enough to contribute major points to a discuss. So I lurk; I sit back and read viewpoints from others who know more than I do about these things and then try to surmise my own original thoughts based on them. Then, when the time is right and the conversation is right, I try to add a new viewpoint.

The Benefits of the “Lurk and Listen” Play

This strategy has two major effects early on:

  1. It relieves you of having to come up with a bombastic and earth-shatteringly brilliant point under the gun, and
  2. It allows you to absorb information and knowledge from others in an unassuming way, learning from their years of experience and insights 

A third, possibly hidden, result of both points is that when you do feel confident enough to contribute a point of view to the conversation, you have time to carefully compose exactly what you want to say. Flinging tweets off left and right is for subjects which you’re very confident speaking about, not for new ones you’re trying to understand. Shooting from the hip on something you don’t fully understand can backfire dramatically.

Lurking is a great strategy precisely because it requires so little effort, except for focusing on learning from others. It teaches you how to receive information in an age when we’re told we need to be continuously providing it. Additionally, absorbing information at your own pace has the added effect of making you feel more confident about a topic.

It’s not a quick or flash strategy, but it works. Learn to lurk and listen, then move when the time is right.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Win Where You Win

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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When building out your minimum viable network, it’s easy to feel as if you have to be great at everything—or at least be good at the “right” things. This is something I especially struggled with when getting into tech; I felt that because I didn’t study engineering at Stanford—because I excelled in other areas—that I somehow had to shift my strengths to fit the “right” type of strengths for the tech startup scene.

Understanding Where You Come From

But I was wrong, and it took a lot of self-exploration to see that.

In the end, I know at least three areas where I excel that help me stand out from the crowd:

  • I’m a good writer/editor
  • I’m good with people
  • I know that the music industry is my wheelhouse

It’s important to know where you win, and be comfortable with that. There are tons of people who will always know more about SaaS than I will, who will always be more suited to design than I will, and who will always find bitcoin more interesting than I do. There will for sure always be tons of people who will win at engineering in ways that I won’t.

And over time I’ve accepted two things:

  1. I don’t need to be good at those other things to be valid and valuable
  2. By winning where I win, I can become the “expert” in those respective areas

Becoming an Expert in Your Field

Over the last few years, I’ve cultivated an image as being a good writer/editor, being a good people person, and knowing a lot about the music industry. And that’s mainly where I stick.

I’m always down to jump into a Twitter conversation music streaming because I have a decade of experience in music. I’m comfortable enough in my own viewpoints and experience to hear other’s points without feeling an attack on my own validation. This is a mix of confidence in my own experience and comfort in my industry.

The result is that I write and tweet extensively on music, and that people reach out to me when they want to understand something that’s happened in the music world. I love discussing royalties, licensing, artist dynamics, and content distribution.

Win where you win. If you know a ton about video and Snapchat, then make that your flagship quality. Run with it. Write about it, tweet about it, and take a stance on it. Even if you expand your quiver of arrows later on, become “the video guy” or “the marketing woman” that everyone has to know in that respective field. Developing that persona will tell others that you know much more than the average joe.

Keep in mind that it’s very hard to become an expert on something without taking a stance on something in your field. Being ambivalent will only take you so far, and might even tells others that you don’t know enough about it to make a definitive decision. This is not a perception that you want to promote. Be willing to put your money where your mouth is; people rarely remember when you write an article with a flawed thesis, but it’s very memorable when you write a piece with a new point of view that turns out to be right on the mark.

Which brings up the further point: be generous with your knowledge (to a point). If people in your network start coming to your for your expertise on a subject, give it to them. Prove to them that you’re priceless as an asset in understanding that industry. When you cultivate this persona, guard it with your life. You don’t always have to be right, but never let anything shake your confidence in your knowledge of your industry. Confidence grows over time, but the best way to help cultivate it within yourself is to put yourself in positions where your opinion and/or viewpoint are integral parts of the overall conversation.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Forget Building a Network—Build Relationships Instead

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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For many people, the prospect of building a network is daunting. It requires putting yourself out there, and for any number of people, this constitutes being confident in ways that may not come naturally. But because so much of life seems to depend on who you know and who you can get access to, networking seems to be, at the very least for some people, a necessary pain.

But in so many ways it need not feel this daunting and arduous.

Why Networking Sucks

Make no mistake, meeting people can be difficult if schmoozing doesn’t come naturally. But the mistake to avoid making is in the perspective of how you go about “building your network” as opposed to how you should actually perceive going about it.  

The fact of the matter is that “networking” as something we do—something we go to events for, listen to motivational talks on, read how-to books on—is presented in an overblown way. In so many words, it’s overrated and superficial.

AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant tweeted it so concisely just a few days ago:

Anyone who’s ever been to a networking event has more than likely experienced a similar reality: many of the other people there are there to drop titles, salaries, company names, and other supposedly impressive credentials. These, in turn, are meant to persuade other “targets” at the event that Person A is too important not to notice and/or connect with. It’s why so many of these events are dry, useless, and why so many successful founders, VC’s, and business operators simply forgo them.

So If Building a “Network” Doesn’t Work, What Does?

So what does work?

In short: relationships.

Where the act of networking fails, relationships succeed over and over again. Networking events feel transactional; relationships feel genuine.

Where networking comes across as superficial and self-serving, relationships immediately feel more symbiotic and mutually beneficial. And where the former requires a somewhat unnatural, car-salesman-esque confidence, the latter relies simply on one’s innate personality.

It’s a fair point to note that relationships require much more effort and more time than “networking” does; after all, networking is done by handing someone your business card, and relationships can take months, if not years to cultivate. Most people don’t want to spend the time or effort to do that kind of work.

And they only do themselves a disservice for their laziness.

Time Is on Your Side

The first basic thing to understand is that time is on your side when building relationships. Utilize it. Be willing to do the work that it takes, usually over a longer period of time than any “networking” event usually runs. Put in the hours—don’t be lazy.

Once you shift your mindset from transactional networking to focusing on long-term relationships, a lot of the intimidating—and therefore daunting—parts begin to take care of themselves. The prospect of having to prove to someone else that you’re worth their time works quietly in the background as the relationship develops. Instead of heading to a networking event and trying to get someone to meet up for a follow-up coffee (something VC’s especially seem to detest), understand that there’s no reason anyone should make time for you after 20 minutes of talking (unless you’re a really good talker).

Relationships happen naturally; they can’t be calculated to work in a specific time frame and they can’t be forced. Natural development—as slow and tedious as it might seem in some moments—actually helps to strengthen the potential relationships precisely because it doesn’t feel cheap and transactional.

I have never had good outcomes when I’ve tried to force relationships in the past. The best thing to do is make patience one of your virtues—things will happen in the right time frame. And I say this as someone who isn’t a patient person by default—I’ve worked very hard to become a more patient man. All of this, though, will yield a much better result in the long run than any networking event ever could.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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The Minimum Viable Network: Introduction

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A few months ago, I was discussing with my friend Jason Rowley how it seemed to me that so many people on Twitter talked about how to build and ship a minimum viable product, yet didn’t seem to be utilizing similar strategies to build their networks. A lot of thought appeared to be given to the prospect and process of building a product prototype, but little seemed aimed at cultivating the seeds that real networks take to germinate into robust synchronicities.

For those unfamiliar with it, the “minimum viable product” (or MVP) concept is a strategy for efficiently building, releasing, gaining feedback on, and improving a product and/or service with as few financial and personnel resources as possible. It’s become a mantra in the tech world, and there are whole books and courses dedicated to understanding how best to achieve this.

(Another friend, Andy Sparks, is currently working on a project compiling some of these great resources for founders.)  

During the course of our conversation, though, it struck me just how much people’s strategy seems to differ when it comes to building and maintaining one’s network. It occurred to me after some reflection that this is because building a network—cultivating relationships—is everything that the MVP strategy is not. Whereas the MVP strategy is barebones (bootstrapped), fast, clean, efficient, direct, and requires comparatively little personal nuance, building real relationships can be robust, messy, time-consuming, arduous, abstract, and doesn’t just require a human touch, but a touch all your own.

And as I thought more about it, I began to conceive of a new idea—a new strategy: the Minimum Viable Network.

How could one build a network without having the same benefits that others might have? What if you don’t have the “required” skills? What if you’re in a different city than many of the other people you want to connect with? What if you’ve studied something different in college? Or not gone to college at all? What if your passion and drive is in an industry that others already consider over? What if your overall strengths are different and sometimes hard to articulate?

A lot of these questions came from a place of personal experience. I’m in the startup tech industry, and yet:

  • I live in Atlanta, not San Francisco, LA, or New York
  • I studied history and art history at Brandeis, not engineering at Stanford
  • I’m a non-tech founder; I don’t code
  • My passion is music; my first startup was a music-tech startup
  • I still see huge signs that music—an industry many argue is already over—is still very much up for grabs
  • I don’t excel at code or designing, but I’m a good writer and I’m good with people

I began to think about all the strategies of the MVP process and how to augment them for the MVN process. Bullet-points and adages need to become more fluid—less rigid—and the length of time needs to extend greatly, from trying to build and ship within a couple of weeks to focusing on cultivating a persona and relationship over the course of a few years.

People, after all, are not products, and won’t act as such. They are irrational, emotional, passionate, driven, and abstract—everything which the MVP doesn’t account for. In the end, it’s all about the human calculation factor.

So this will be a continuing series on how to do just that: understand people and relationships, and how to build your own Minimum Viable Network.

Among other things, I’ll discuss:

  • How to approach people and broach new relationships
  • How to be valuable without being aggressive
  • The difference between reading someone and manipulating them (strive to understand the first, never do the second)
  • How relationships evolve over time
  • How to work with flighty or mercurial individuals
  • How to weigh potential relationships
  • How to match-make
  • How to create a personal brand as “someone to know”  

Life is relationships.

Let’s begin.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Be Stupidly Magnetic

Just about a year ago, Satya Patel posted a piece which I recently reread about raising money. His thesis, namely that making your audience really believe, is the key dynamic in raising funds. Among his main points, Patel points to the fact that emotion is a major factor for investing VC’s, and that emotional connection to a product, service or team can many times be what attracts their attention. This “emotional resonance” as Patel puts it, is what creates the belief; not only in VC’s, but I would venture so far to say in customers as well.

Emotional resonance is a human calculation. Despite the fact that some people like to think that they can “program” and predict the emotions and reactions of others, this is rarely (if ever) true. Humans are the very definition of unpredictable, and to think that you can “game” someone’s reactions is pure hubris.

Community Is the Angel of Loyalty and Second Chances

Patel’s post examines the “emotional resonance” dynamic from three angles within the context of fundraising, particularly at the seed level. The first, and by far most important of these, is the people angle. People are what your company is made up of, and what you build your community around.

Belief in a company’s prospects in the end comes down to the people running it and building it. It comes down to how they see (or don’t see) themselves and their customers. Community is the angel of loyalty and second chances; when something goes wrong (and many, many things inevitably will), community is the thing that will keep your wheels turning long enough to get past the potholes.

Arguably the best investment any team and/or company can make is in the development of their communal dynamics. In people-based industries like music, media, social, messaging, and even news, if your community sucks, you’re dead (Ello seems to come to mind here). When you’ve built a community that rallies around your team and your product/service, people take note, and it’s a lot easier to make them believe. Dynamic, loyal communities of people are magnetic, and groups of disengaged, fly-by-night users are not, it’s that simple. Be magnetic. Be so magnetic that people can’t stand not to be around you.

Potential Is a Human Calculation

The second point which Patel brings up is potential. Potential is a little more intricate because it’s based so much on the people factor. As per Patel’s argument, make VC’s (or anybody) feel that they need to be a part of the problem you’re solving. This in effect is an extension of the first point, as it’s a similar human calculation, understanding what types of things the VC/person identifies with. How do they see themselves outside the office, and what excites them? Identify the VC’s who will look at your company and get that fire in their belly. In the case of music, for example, find those people who are true fans. The ones who go to concerts, make musical analogies, and wanted to be rock stars at some point in their lives. Find the people who speak your language, that’s the real potential. Some people call this “targeting” but I just think of it as “who do I want to go to a concert with and introduce to the band afterwards.”

Proof and Magnetism

Proof is the last thing Patel brings up. He notes that as an early stage company you won’t have it anyway, so just accept that and move on. Proof is demonstrated by belief. Belief is exhibited less by numbers and more by people and emotional resonance. It’s a calculation that even if the numbers don’t look good, that person or team can figure out a way out of the quagmire. Magnetism is the child of positivity, vision, and tenacity. It is so attractive precisely because it creates in people’s minds a sort of fabricated exclusivity; a feeling that if they’re not the ones to surround you then it will be someone else, and that in itself is an attractive trait. Be stupidly magnetic, the rest will follow.