Not Because You Meet the Same People on the Way DownBy Charles Cohon
Be nice to people you meet on the way up.
No. Not because you meet the same people on the way down.
Be nice to the people you meet on the way up because they are on their way up too!
It’s your opportunity to invest like a venture capitalist, except you are investing in your career instead of your stock portfolio.
Let me explain.
A venture capitalist invests in early-stage ventures with lots of upside potential. Many of these ventures fail. Some break even. And a very small percentage are so wildly successful that they make venture capitalists rich, even after they’ve paid off all their bad bets.
For example, in 2004 venture capitalist Peter Thiel invested $500,000 in Facebook in exchange for 10.2 percent of Facebook’s stock. Thiel cashed out his stock in 2012 for $1 billion. Regardless of how Thiel’s other 2004 investments turned out, that was a pretty good year for Thiel. (Today Facebook is valued at $350 billion dollars.)
Your opportunity to invest in your career like a venture capitalist is to invest your time with people who have lots of upside potential instead of investing your money in early stage ventures with lots of upside potential.
Who are these people with upside potential? Colleagues in your own firm who might need a mentor, perhaps a more experienced executive mentoring a Millennial. A promising manufacturer who has no existing business but who offers independent manufacturers’ representatives a contract that includes shared market development fees and/or “life-of-part, life-of-program” commissions. A startup rep who has the promise to do great things representing your manufacturing company.
Venture capitalists expect that some of the ventures in which they invest will fail. And you should expect that some of the people you mentor, some of the prospective clients you help, and some of the manufacturers of new products will never turn a profit for you.
But if you make a few Thiel-like choices, the big winners will more than cover your losses.
And, perhaps more important, it’s a powerful way to insulate your career and your firm from the commoditization of Internet selling.
Websites may be able to compete with you on price and delivery, but the one area where websites can’t compete with you is in the long relationships you have with important decision-makers — relationships based on the time you gave those decision-makers before they were important, and the trust you built when they were just promising beginners starting on their way up.
If you’d like to know important people who will take your calls and buy your products 10 years from now, invest some time with promising early-stage executives today. One of them could be your Facebook!