Both life and startups are not competitions in the traditional sense of the word. They are about growing relationships that matter and are less focused on trying to become the “winner” over everyone else. MassChallenge (an incubator the first startup I joined went through) slogan is, “we help entrepreneurs win,” and they truly do so by nurturing relationships in the ecosystem that create mutual value between entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and sponsors. I call this constantly revolving circle of value-creation the “wheel of reciprocity.”
Many use the term “networking” to describe when we mingle and interact with the desired effect of improving our businesses or discovering a new lead. While networking is certainly an important component of business, using the term as the main verb to characterize our interactions can impose the feeling of shallow relationships seeking nothing more than value extraction. The term “relationship-building” seems a better fit for when we seek to develop ties that are meaningful and value-adding for both parties.
Creating Mutual Value:
It is of no surprise that the most valuable relationships are those where both individuals feel they benefit and are treated with respect by the other. When we look at a loose connection simply as a person we can extract value from, we quickly create an imbalance in what would work best as a symbiotic relationship. Instead, we should create an opportunity to strengthen a bond by considering how to provide value for the other person.
There are few things worse than feeling like you are being used. There is nothing better than knowing you helped someone succeed so long as they have not abused your relationship in the process. As mentors and sponsors can attest, developing relationships with entrepreneurs and helping them win is highly rewarding. As entrepreneurs, we can put value back into our ecosystem and it has the potential to benefit everyone.
The most fascinating thing about entrepreneurs is that they are very difficult to lump together. Putting aside the general tendencies which are constantly trumpeted, entrepreneurs are a wonderfully diverse group with interests and knowledge ranging from computer to political science or any other subject imaginable. We all have something unique to offer. We can keep the wheel of reciprocity spinning If we continue to share and benefit from others doing the same.