Building a World-Class Network
On the internet and beyond
Hey there my friend 👋 , Justin here and welcome to Just Go Grind, a newsletter for the ambitious (Just Go Grind is also a podcast and community for early-stage founders). Thank you to the 9 of you who joined since the last edition, if you aren't subscribed, and want to join 528 other subscribers, please subscribe below:
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Great to have you here and I’m glad you’re interested in a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about for the better part of the last decade.
That’s right, we’re talking networking.
But not like, boring, stuffy, here’s-my-business-card networking.
Not today, my friend.
Today we’re talking about how to build a world-class network using some of the amazing tools and mediums we have available today.
And, because I’ve been intentionally building a world-class network myself for the past 4.5 years, I can share with you what actually works as well as the approach I’ve taken.
We're going to focus on three things:
- Writing Online
- Joining Communities
Let's get to it.
The Value of Your Network
You’ve heard the clichés:
- “Your network is your net worth”
- “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”
Well, they’re clichés for a reason.
From what I’ve observed, most people are undervaluing just how powerful a network can be.
Through your network, you can:
- Land your dream job
- Find co-founders or business partners
- Raise capital for your startup or venture fund
- Discover potential customers for your company
- Get introduced to your life partner
- Make amazing friends
It’s not just about the financial upside.
And it’s certainly not just about the immediate returns.
Hell, it’s not even just about the intentional benefits you get by having a world-class network.
A world-class network can pay dividends for years and oftentimes serendipitously.
But it takes time to cultivate.
Let me explain.
Playing the Long Game
Building relationships takes time.
You know this.
I know this.
But it has to be said.
You can certainly shorten the time it'll take to build a world-class network and you can even reap some of the benefits early on, but the methods I'll go through next for building a world-class network don’t materialize overnight.
This is all about playing the long game, investing in relationships early on, well before you have an ask, and continuing to build them over time.
It also means building relationships with up-and-comers, not just the current big shots you think you need to know. Why? Because those up-and-comers go on to do amazing things as well. It's a mistake to be dismissive of people - that's shortsighted.
I know, this is tricky.
On one hand, you want to build for the future, developing valuable relationships that give you optionality and make your life better.
On the other hand, you don’t want to waste your time now, and you have needs today for getting new customers or raising capital or any number of things.
It’s a delicate balance.
This is why I suggest doing a combination of two things:
- Building assets that attract interesting people
- Being proactive in reaching out to people you want to know
We’ll start with what’s been most impactful for me.
Podcasting is one of the best ways to build a world-class network.
Three reasons why:
- It gives you a reason to reach out to anyone
- You spend an hour having a deep conversation with another human
- Over time, interesting people start coming to you, asking to be on the show
Through podcasting, I've interviewed the founders of multi-billion dollar companies, some of the best venture capitalists in the world, and even the founder of one of the world's best charities. I've talked with some of the kindest, most ambitious people on the planet, and I'm happy to now call many of them my friends. At the very least, I'm now able to easily reach these largely unreachable people.
And I started from scratch, with no network at all.
But doing one podcast interview is just the beginning.
I created an in-depth course all about it, way beyond the scope of this post, but the important piece to realize is that a podcast gets your foot in the door. It plants the seed for a relationship to grow and builds your credibility along the way.
Just look at Harry Stebbings, who started his wildly popular show, 20VC, as an 18-year-old in 2015, and was able to parlay that into becoming a venture capitalist himself:
6 years ago I recorded my first 20VC episode from my mother's kitchen and asked if we could unplug the home phone.
Today we announce two new 20VC Funds:
📈 Pre-Seed-Series A
📈 Series B-onwards
💵 $1M - $5M
— Harry Stebbings (@HarryStebbings)
Jun 16, 2021
He was able to build relationships with a number of investors and founders over time, eventually raising his funds from some of those same people.
For me, podcasting is also part of how I entered the world of venture capital:
The path to VC is simple:
- Start your career as a personal trainer
- Launch a blog, write 250+ posts
- Switch careers completely
- Create a podcast
- Get an MBA
- Switch careers again
- Release 239 podcast episodes
- Interview @galeforceVC on ep. 240
- Join her firm
— Justin Gordon (@justingordon212)
Mar 3, 2021
But as I mentioned, a podcast interview is just the starting point.
The follow-up matters if you’re trying to actually build a relationship with someone.
Start with the podcast interview and then find ways to keep in touch and add value:
- Connect with them on social media
- Engage with and share their content
- Meet them in person if you’re in the same city
- Send them career updates when you get a new job or start a company
- For investors (Specific to the VC world), send them interesting startups
- Schedule a follow-up call to talk further about something you discussed in the interview
One more way to stay in touch?
Here YOU are, right now, reading this sentence.
And maybe you’ve read some of my other writing - a tweet here or there, a previous newsletter, another blog post.
Don't you already feel like you know me just a little more than a random person?
Well, for some of you who already know me well (Oh hey 👋 ), of course you do.
But for those of you who are new to me, you’ve likely discovered me through my writing online.
That’s because writing online increases your surface area for serendipity. Props to David Perell for that one.
My writing journey started with blogging about fitness and writing a few hundred articles online which were read tens of thousands of times.
And guess what?
It helped me build a network of clients and other trainers.
But if you’re going to build a world-class network by writing online, it’s best to start by publishing where people already are.
For me, with the people I want to connect with and the industry I work in, that means Twitter.
In the last two years, by writing on Twitter and engaging with others, I’ve grown from about 1,000 followers at the start of 2021 to about 20,000 nearly two years later.
This has been a game-changer for me.
I’ve built relationships with some incredible people I’ve discovered on the platform, turning many of those interactions on Twitter into Zoom calls or in-person meetups, like the day I visited NYC and scheduled 8 coffee meetings in a day, all from Twitter:
4th of 8 coffee meetings!
NYC is fun 🤩 twitter.com/ZiqiDeng5/stat…
— Justin Gordon (@justingordon212)
Apr 28, 2022
And again in Los Angeles, where I now live:
Thank you everyone who came to the meet up today 🙏🏽
I’m planning on hosting more events soon to connect LA founders and investors
This was the first one I’ve done and am so excited for what’s to come!
— Justin Gordon (@justingordon212)
May 19, 2022
Most of my writing on Twitter is focused on helping founders, which in turn attracts more and more founders to my work.
How should you use writing to build a world-class network?
A few ideas:
- Ask questions
- Share your take on events
- Write about your experiences
Always keep in mind the people you’re trying to build relationships with and don’t be afraid to share more things outside of work.
While I mostly stick to writing about startups, I also occasionally mention my running and other interests and have connected with people on Twitter because of it.
Writing is a way to scale yourself and attract interesting people.
As you build an audience through your writing, it also makes it easier for you to reach out to people and get a reply, creating a network-building flywheel.
Podcasting gives you a reason to reach out to anyone, writing attracts more people to you, and joining communities puts you in a network-building accelerator.
There are communities for everyone, online and offline, and they present an opportunity to build a world-class network.
Want to get to know other angel investors? Join VITALIZE Angels.
Want to connect with other early-stage founders? Join the Just Go Grind community.
Looking for a community of people in NYC Tech? Attend one of Andrew Yeung’s events.
Or how about the largest community of women in tech? Check out Tech Ladies, created by Allison Esposito Medina.
One piece of advice: Lead with value.
Offering your time, providing feedback, and trying to be helpful in any way you can go a long way in making actual connections in a community.
But you have to be intentional, your time is limited.
Start with one community you think will be impactful and, if it's not for you, move on and find another.
Don’t see the community of people you want to connect with?
Start your own 😜
Begin by learning from some amazing community builders like Mike MacCombie and Rosie Sherry.
And, if you want to learn from a team that has built a world-class network, read No Small Plans about how Summit was started.
One More Thing
Are there more ways than podcasting, writing online, and joining communities to build a world-class network? Of course.
You can get an MBA, attend conferences and events, and optimize for building a world-class network by choosing a career where you'll be surrounded by interesting people.
And one last piece of advice on building a world-class network: Work on interesting projects and businesses - interesting people want to be surrounded by other interesting people and your work is one way to showcase that.
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