The Collision of Networking, Ethics, Morals and Money

What is your network worth?

It’s an intriguing question, isn’t it? In the past few years, I’ve pondered it myself. I’ve had numerous conversations with friends about how they could “monetize” theirs. At speaking engagements and in the classroom, I talk about how one’s network becomes a valuable asset over time. It takes years to build, can produce tremendous value if leveraged well, and yet can disintegrate overnight with a single bad move.

So it’s one thing when you think about the question and talk about it. It’s entirely different when you do something about it.

That’s the discussion I’ve been having over the past six months about a new web-based service called IntroHub. It’s co-founded by a friend of mine, Rob Reynolds, a serial entrepreneur who I’ve known since my early days at the Coleman Center. While we’ve never done business with one another, our friendship has formed over time on mutual regard, healthy debate and discourse, and numerous interactions. In other words, it’s a meaningful relationship that’s taken years to build.

IntroHub effectively creates a marketplace with people’s professional networks, helping a “requestor” go through an “introducer” to get a qualified meeting with a “contact”. The requestor indicates how much s/he is willing to pay for a meeting with the contact, and the fee only kicks in when a meeting occurs. There is a detailed and well thought-out process behind identifying how close of a relationship users have with their contacts and why a requestor is seeking the meeting. Obviously, the most frequent use of this is likely to be for sales calls.

Rob reached out to me as they were launching and asked if I would provide some feedback. Because we’re friends, I did, sharing the uneasy feeling I had about the service: professionals making money off the relationships they have. On top of that, the closer your relationship with someone, the more money you’re likely to make. Over the next few months, we had several lengthy conversations about this, which he knows is one of the biggest barriers to customer traction.

But the reality is, he also knows that there’s huge potential demand. In fact, he shared the story of a requestor who paid a couple hundred dollars for a meeting that is now developing into a million-dollar deal. I also personally know a local startup that landed a meeting with a large, publicly-held company which otherwise would have taken weeks or months if they pursued it the old-fashioned way.

IntroHub innovators early adopters early majority

Like with all innovations (products, services, technologies), there are innovators…the very first adopters who are willing to take the risk that most of the market won’t. And like every smart entrepreneur, Rob knows that his challenge is to get to that huge potential demand by moving beyond innovators and early adopters, and eventually reaching the early majority: “crossing the chasm“, as it’s known.

But to do that, IntroHub must be able to find enough professionals who can overcome the personal/moral discomfort of making money off their relationships, most of which have taken years to build and have an impact on their reputations. Furthermore, Rob has to hope that the societal/ethical stigma of professionals openly monetizing their network starts to break down.

As an entrepreneur and entrepreneurial advocate, I tend to be an innovator and early adopter of a lot of products, services, and technologies. But in this case, I’m not so sure if I’ll fit into one of those segments. The question is, if the market gets that far, which one I’ll be a part of.

It’s a fascinating startup (and business) case study. And one that I’m most likely to be watching closely for some time.

4 comments

    • Raman Chadha

      Good question, Jeff. First, it is indeed an “entrepreneurial” ethos, representing one (small) segment of the overall business community. Second, from my experience, the majority of those intros are to develop relationships and a minority to develop transactions. In this case (IntroHub), it appears most of the traction will come from the latter.

  1. Rob Reynolds

    Raman – well articulated. I think you captured almost all issues surrounding my little start-up. There is one thing that might bear a little more contemplation. There are likely many CEO/CSOs that would eagerly want you and others like you to open up your “rolodex” to help them out. Even very good, very experienced ones. After all, we all want more sales. However, they have their own ethical quams about asking repeatedly for intros. Many, I would say most, business owners would feel much more comfortable paying you for your service to them. In fact, this happens all the time – when a company hires (and therefore pays) an employee/consultant because of whom they know. Only a frame-of-mind difference I would say.

    • Raman Chadha

      Thanks, Rob, you do make an important point and it is indeed a “frame-of-mind difference” (not to mention something that I don’t recall us talking much about).

      There are many people who would pay simply because it’s easier/more efficient for them to achieve their end goal (a meeting). As I referenced in my above comment to Jeff, those people are more transaction-minded. But the ones you mention – who would pay because they’re more comfortable doing so – are more relationship-minded. In other words, they don’t want their valuable relationships damaged because they do too much asking.

      Thanks for bringing it up!

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