Your ability to galvanize the support of key individuals, build incredible teams that are relentlessly dedicated, and excite rooms filled with innovators and investors all depends on your ability to build powerful relationships.  If I believe anything to my core, it is this: Business isn’t business. Business is people. Everything an organization wants to achieve it achieves through its people. Below, I’ve included a list of what I have found to be the most important factors to creating these relationships. It may surprise you how much fun it is to network and how simple it is. The bottom line: forget most everything you have ever been taught: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The key to developing unreasonably powerful relationships is to be your genuine self.

The key to developing unreasonably powerful relationships is to be your genuine self. Tweet This Quote

I’ve never liked this age-old adage because it polarizes a phenomenon too complex to be black and white.  Really, it’s about how you treat the people you know and don’t know.  It’s about being excited and confident about what you do know and honest about what you don’t know.  And if you don’t know someone, ideally this blog post will allow you to approach and get to know anyone.

1) The Person You Are Talking To Is The Messiah In The Room.

Have you ever talked with someone whose eyes are constantly flitting around the room?  It’s awful. Why? Because as Robert Frost said, “We all have an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”  Looking around the room signals that there is something or someone more interesting than the person you’re talking to.  One of the most important keys to building powerful relationships is never to avert your eyes when you are talking with someone else.  Holding eye contact, even amidst a bustling room or people chatting nearby enables you to be fully present in your conversations and shows the other person how important they are to you.  You never know who you are meeting and who or what they may know. Assume, therefore, that the person you are conversing with is the momentary messiah. Focus in on them and allow yourself to be genuinely intrigued.

2) Listen & Learn. Then Speak.

You would be shocked at how common it is for people to jump headlong into their agenda in conversations without learning anything about the person they are talking to.  If someone asks me what I do, I immediately throw the question back at them with a comment along the lines of, “I’m excited to tell you about the projects I’m working on, but I’m much more fascinated to learn about what you do and why you do it…etc.” When you meet someone, never start by talking about yourself.  Ask them not just what they do (they always get asked that), ask them why they do what they do and how they got to be doing what they do (i.e. their story).  This will allow you to listen and to identify their interests, passions, and what excites them.  Inevitably, if they like you, they will ask about you.  Now you can speak to their interests and passions. You always want to connect on a human level (not just a professional level) and the key is to understand stories and interests.  Learn what gets them excited and then get them excited.  It’s just that simple.

It’s not only okay to be vulnerable, it’s crucial. Tweet This Quote

3) Be Vulnerable

Your greatest strength in establishing powerful relationships is to be honest about your greatest weaknesses. We have been socially-conditioned to worry about what others will think when we share our failures, sincere thoughts, and what we don’t know with them. The truth is that these moments of vulnerability are the very moments when we connect most with other people. We connect deeply with people who have struggled, who are insecure about something, or who have failed because we’ve all been there. People are also much more likely to find you credible when you’re honest up-front about the risks of your venture or when you answer “I honestly don’t know the answer” to a question instead of trying to come up with a clever defense on the spot. It’s not only okay to be vulnerable, it’s crucial.

4) Isn’t Networking Slimy?

When we think about networking, words like slimy often come to mind. We think of people who cleverly manipulate others to get what they want.  Instead, Keith Ferrazzi, who has been called the greatest networker in the world and is the author of “Never Eat Alone,” defines networking as “sharing my knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, and empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide value to others, while coincidentally increasing my own.” In other words, you should be seeing how you can help other people achieve their full potential. It’s not about what you can get from others; it’s about how much you can give to them. It’s not about asking “How can you help me?” It’s about the great scene in Jerry McGuire, where Tom Cruise is on his hands and knees, repeatedly asking a simple question, “How can I help you? Help me help you!” Relationships are built on trust. You gain trust by helping others, not by asking what they can do for you. Over time, your generosity will come back to you (but don’t keep score).

5) You Have to Make the Ask (no excuses):

One of the most important rules of building relationships and networking is simply to ask.  If this is hard for you, change your paradigm. A good friend of mine & Unreasonable Mentor, Bob Patillo, once told me that “our needs make room for other people’s gifts.” It all boils down to being truthful.  If someone can really help you with something, do not be hesitant to ask. Indeed, most people are reluctant to ask for money, for advice, or for anything that could help them to a realized dream. When you ask for help, and if you do so genuinely, the worst anyone will say is “no.” Then you are no worse off than if you hadn’t asked for help at all! Even if the person across the table from you can’t help, there is always one more question to ask (possibly the most important): “Do you know anyone who may be excited about what we are doing or who may be able to help in this regard?” You would be amazed at how many doors this simple question will open up. In short, get over your justifications and rationalizations, stop over thinking things, and just make the ask.

6) Follow Up and Follow Through:

When I was working on my first startup as a Freshman at the University of Colorado, I had lunch with a local entrepreneur and asked him one pointed question: “what will set me and my team apart from the rest?” He simply responded, “follow up and follow through.” After any great conversation, follow-up by simply letting the person know how much you appreciate their time and thoughts. And if you want to distinguish yourself from nearly 99% of everyone out there, follow-through on the promises you make.  The key to this statement is to make certain that when you tell someone you are going to do something, you will have the time to do it well. This will do wonders for building relationships of mutual respect and admiration.

The key is simple: be human. In the end, business is not business, business is people. Tweet This Quote

7) Conviction is Paramount

If you are going to get others excited about what you are doing you have to believe in what you are doing more than anyone else in the world… to your core you need to believe in the importance of it. Anything less and the person across the table from you may wonder: “why should I help them with this idea when they don’t even believe in it?” Don’t be afraid to express your excitement and your unreasonable ambition. Be bold and be confident. Remember though, you must be confident about what you do know, but equally important about what you don’t know. This level of transparency is key to building quality relationships and to networking. People are perceptive. If you aren’t genuine, they will know it.

So What?

According to Al Gore, there is an old African Proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  Whether or not the source is correct, I couldn’t agree more with the proverb. The moral of this blog is that if you want to create Unreasonable impact, you are going to have to be able to build unreasonably powerful relationships with your teams, partners, investors, networks, and friends. The key is simple: be human. In the end, business is not business, business is people.

Make an ask that is genuine but makes you feel uncomfortable. Don’t hesitate, go do it right now. Ideally this is something you have wanted to ask of someone for quite sometime but have always held yourself back. Whether this means asking someone you admire to be an adviser, asking an investor if they’d like to invest in your company, or asking the cute girl behind the grocery store counter out on a date… Just make the ask in a sincere and genuine way. Share the results of your ask in the comments below. And remember, if they say “No” ask them if they know of anyone who would be interested (note: don’t use this strategy on the cute girl at the grocery story… that would be rude). And no matter what, followup and follow through.


Update (May 2013): After traveling through much of the world on [email protected] and visiting startup communities across 13 countries, I’ve learned that there is a great deal of cultural sensitivity that needs to be taken into account. There are small gestures and polite nuances that you should always learn to make people feel that you care about stepping into their community, home, or culture. That said, I still feel strongly that everything in this post remains true. I’ve seen people change who they are, or at least the projection of who they are, depending on the culture of the poeple in the room and the status of the people in the room. Although this may sound foolheardy, I now, more than ever, believe that this is a mistake. To re-iterate the point of this post… If you really want to resonate with people you MUST be yourself (and certainly not the professional facade of who you think you should be).

About the author

Daniel Epstein

Daniel Epstein

Daniel has an obsession. He believes to his core in the potential of entrepreneurship to solve the greatest challenges of this century and he has dedicated his life accordingly. Today, he is the founder of the Unreasonable Group, of the Unreasonable Institute and a number of other "Unreasonable" companies.