Importance of Etiquette as a Savviness-Signal in Silicon Valley

I hear this criticism & complaint all the time. Mainly from people in media, or people new to or from outside of Silicon Valley. It’s so “unfair”, “it’s rigged”, this is an “insider’s game”…blah blah blah. While I do agree at a general level, my counterpoint is, most of us in Silicon Valley were outsiders once too. But we learned the rules, learned the culture and we hustled as well.

So let’s take the much criticized warm intro. Let me steal from Quora on why this is important.

Why are VCs so adamant about warm intros? (worth reading the whole thread)

As an investor I was speaking to the other day on this point put it…

I want an entrepreneur to show some hustle. If you can’t network your way to an intro, then how are you going to land that big contract when the time comes? Or find the right guy to speak to in that big potential client? Or convince an end consumer to hand over their hard-earned cash for your product?

In other words, hustling your way to a warm intro is a signal that you can go the extra mile to give yourself a better chance of success.”

This is why most investors and even prominent startups founders insist on warm intros. It’s a filter from the noise of all the poorly written cold emails, blatantly aggressive pitching at a conference, pings on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media you can list.

Also it’s a way to protect your network. If you are introducing someone, you are vouching for them. Your rep and name is on the line too.

So let’s say you do get a warm intro to me or some other investor. The worst thing you can do is try to hit me up for introductions. Especially when it’s the first time I’ve met you and are just getting to know you. I might offer an intro and that would be okay. But for the most part, even if I want to be helpful (I do), I also want to get to know people over some period of time. This is to make sure they are credible and aren’t sociopaths before I introduce them.

This happens all the time from overseas founders who ask that I start intro-ing them to investors or other relevant folks in my network on the first meeting or call. Talk about coming off as rubes. This act shows a lack of understanding and a very low base level EQ. And because it’s passive aggressive land in California, no one tells you either. (I will tell you but I am an anomaly. It’s probably also why people don’t like me here.)

Learning the rules & etiquette is an important signal that you have done your homework. It’s a signal you can learn and adapt. More crucially that you won’t embarrass us when we introduce you into our network.

As Alex Danco, wisely observed.

“If you’re too different, you won’t fit the pattern at all, so people will ignore you. (Did I mention tech has diversity issues?) And if you’ve been in tech too long, you’ll fit the pattern too well, so people will also ignore you. But if you’re a newcomer who speaks the language? Then you’re interesting. You have “Goldilocks novelty”: a valuable form of social capital, which you can cash in immediately. You’re different enough to have unique potential, but similar enough to fluently use all of the leverage that the tech ecosystem offers you.

Source: Social Capital in Silicon Valley — (seriously read this)

All cultures have specific etiquette and if you don’t do this, bad things happen. It’s like showing up in Thailand and saying bad things about the King or in China, Japan, Korea or Taiwan when you keep your shoes on when walking into someone’s house (It’s something considered VERY rude). This is exactly the same when you want to become part of the Hollywood or Silicon Valley scene.

As I said before, some of my best performing startup founders were outsiders (male/ female/ American/Int’l & very diverse i should add too). But they learned and navigated their way through this. Most of them also ended up raising from top tier angels and VCs. And they are now considered insiders.

I believe that in our present Pandemic world, it is now easier than ever before to break into the Silicon Valley scene. Almost everyone in tech is Sheltered in Place and working from home or remotely. So the home field advantage of being able to meet live in-person has lessened for people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now is the time if you want to become part of this world.

To further quote Mr Danco.

“The minute you acquire “in-group” status and establish a bit of social capital in Silicon Valley, everything about your career becomes easier. Introductions, advice, credibility and seed funding flow freely, hesitation and friction around new ideas goes away. It becomes easier to bootstrap something out of nothing, because you’re not starting with nothing anymore.”

Net net: Learn the frigging local etiquette and you will increase your chances of success here. This is a good place to start: Silicon Valley Etiquette. Manners Matter. | by Romain Serman

PS: there is a special place in hell for people who do NOT do Double-opt in Introductions

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything!

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