The Supremacy of Warm Introductions

Why learning how to initiate a successful introduction can make a big difference in your business.
Director, Columbia University Entrepreneurship
May 28, 2013

In the tech world, we hear the term “warm introductions” bandied about ad nauseum, often from the horse’s mouth—namely, that it’s the best and sometimes the only way for entrepreneurs to meet angel investors and venture capitalists. A so-called warm introduction occurs when person A introduces person B to person C with an express endorsement of person B. Person A is basically telling person C that they are vouching for the character and worthiness of person B.

That’s the explicit message, of course. The implicit message is quite powerful as well and can best be expressed by what types of behavior just won’t suffice when it comes to introducing yourself. The short list includes some or all of the following admonitions:

  • Don’t wait in a long line to talk to an investor after she speaks on a panel.
  • Don’t cold email an investor with a long email and business plan.
  • Don’t assault an investor in the hallway with a cold pitch of your business.
  • Don’t email an investor asking for five minutes of his time.
  • Don’t ping an investor on LinkedIn with your pitch and 18 hyperlinks to your deck and press coverage.

Any of these sound familiar? Well, you’ve probably been either on the delivering end or on the receiving end of some of these, if not both. That’s because this sort of behavior is endemic in the business world. These behaviors are all symptomatic of the root problem, which can be summarized as “being lazy and thinking short-term about your human relationships.”

Let’s go deeper.  Are any of these behaviors familiar to you as well?

  • You haven’t heard from someone in years and they reach out asking for you to recommend them to someone. Why? They’re looking for a job now. Typically their email begins with “Hope you’re well, it’s been too long since we last spoke.”
  • Someone you know pretty well makes email introductions to you without ever checking with you first.
  • You receive multiple emails and phone calls from someone you don’t know who insists on meeting with you.
  • They’ve never heard of or respected the habit of a double opt-in.

All of these behaviors are the result of deeply flawed understanding of how human beings operate and what they value. They also reflect a rather selfish and opportunistic way of looking at the world. In the age of the internet and social media, it also reflects an immense laziness and amateur approach to connecting with other people.

So let’s get back to this concept of warm introductions. Why are they the sine qua non of business world interaction and the supreme currency of all business networks? Well, at its core, a warm introduction is an endorsement wherein the one introducing is explicitly vouching for the value, authenticity and character of the person, and making an implicit statement that there is mutuality in the sense that he or she is worth the time of the person to whom an introduction is being made. If this currency is abused, the one making such introductions will no longer be respected, his judgment will be called into question, and his reputation in the community will suffer. That’s a pretty high standard indeed. 

To facilitate a warm introduction, first get permission from the person to whom you’d like to make the introduction via a short, crisp email that gets right to the point. If they are amenable to being introduced, here’s an example of what the actual intro could look like:

Liz,

Thanks so much for your willingness to be introduced to Arthur. As I mentioned, he is a veteran business development professional who is looking to join his next venture. Given that your company is right in his sweet spot of enterprise security, I thought it would be good for the two of you to meet.

I worked with Arthur for four years at -------- and can’t say enough about his effectiveness and work ethic.

Best,

Dave

Notice I asked for permission first in an earlier email, and then in the actual introduction I reminded Liz of some of the details about Arthur. I also expressly vouched for Arthur once more. I didn’t go overboard, but kept it short and sweet while still hitting all the relevant points.

So who are people that often receive and give warm introductions? Here’s my take on what qualities they typically possess:

  • They value human relationships and are in business for the long haul.
  • They are exceptionally thoughtful about who they introduce, how they introduce and to whom they introduce, always looking to provide mutual benefit.
  • They are open to helping out quality individuals and giving of their time.
  • If they want to get to know someone, they do it in an authentic way and are out to build a relationship, not just to consummate a transaction. This might involve spending time commenting on the person’s blog or Twitter feed, inviting them to an event as a speaker, or to a breakfast, lunch or dinner gathering that might be of interest to them .
  • They don’t finish every meeting they have by saying, “My takeaway is…” or “What are the next steps?”
  • They respect other people and don’t take advantage of others or of their time.
  • They don’t look at people as a means to an end.
  • They have integrity.

Apart from capital, warm introductions are literally the most important currency in business. They get people jobs, initiate partnerships, help people raise funds and can often make an extraordinary positive difference in people’s lives and the lives of businesses. When they are made carelessly they can literally be devastating. If you think about it, it was a warm introduction that probably got you into most of your jobs, most of the capital you’ve raised, and possibly even how you met your spouse. Treat the whole process with great thoughtfulness and care—it will make a huge difference in your career.

Dave Lerner is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and host of Venture Studio. He's also a professor at Columbia University Business School where he teaches entrepreneurship.

Photos: Thinkstock

Director, Columbia University Entrepreneurship