Networking advice from a legendary Silicon Valley networker, Heidi Roizen

Networking advice from a legendary Silicon Valley networker, Heidi Roizen

Heidi Roizen is known as the legendary networker of the Silicon Valley.  She is one of very few people in the world that is a personal friend of both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Imminent tech industry events are frequently held in her backyard.

She achieved amazing success as an entrepreneur in the tech world as a woman in the 80’s without a background in tech.  She founded T/Maker in 1983 which was later acquired by Deluxe Corp.  She later became VP of Apple, then Managing Director of Mobius Venture Capital (a $2B technology fund).

Today she split her time between her entrepreneur & creative endeavor: Skinny Songs, and serving in the board of TiVo, Yellow Pages and various non-profits.  This is an interview that I did with Heidi Roizen a while back.

Giang Biscan: Heidi, you are known for being very effective at giving insightful and thoughtful recommendations to people even with very brief contacts. What are some of the tips to get pass the superficial talk about weather in short conversations to bring values for others?

Heidi Roizen: It is important to remember that everyone is a person first of all – they have families, hobbies, they are psyched when someone knows about their accomplishments. So I stay up on personal accomplishment news (in my industry, for example, by reading venture wire so I know who has done what deals, who has gotten funded, who has joined what board, who has gotten some recognition from some industry group etc.) and also always ask people about their kids, almost no one doesn’t like to talk about their kids! Those are good icebreakers to get them comfortable and conversational.

This said, you can use these as icebreakers, but then quickly move into the ‘hey, I don’t want to take much of your time, but there is someone I think you should meet,” or “I’m working on a deal and I’d love to have you look at their website and tell me what you think’ – ie. a short and to the point, direct request, which I usually try to qualify with something that explains why I think it is useful to that person to do as well.

Honestly, 90% of my interactions are on email (and I will say that is the same for almost all highly efficient people I know) because it helps you cut the chit chat, deliver the ask efficiently, and supply backup material (such as the URL) in a succinct package.

Giang Biscan: Building relationships is about giving first.  So do you have advices on some of the way that we can evaluate ourselves, especially young entrepreneurs, to know our values that we can bring to our network?

Heidi Roizen: You always have something to give. At the bottom of the scale, everyone can do things as menial as fold papers, move furniture, sweep floors, man the check-in station – ie. do things for business or charitable events which might draw people you want to meet. Being someone who helps to create and hand out nametags is a particular favorite of mine!

Values are most easily seen in actions. So think about who you want to meet or what you want to learn, and then figure out how that translates into an action you can do. For example, someone wanted to get to know me better and they were a physical trainer, they offered to train me for free if they could talk to me while we were training – a win win!

And do your homework, for example if I am going to meet someone I don’t know, I do research on them on the net before I go to the meeting, so I can start by saying something like, “hey, you went to Duke as an undergrad! Do you know so and so?” This often leads you to find out their interests, like what charitable boards, or cultural organizations, they affiliate with. This is another point of entry where you can figure out something to ‘give’ if you can’t think of something that is in the direct line of their work.

Giang Biscan: Everything comes with a price, what are some of the downsides or cost of networking?

Heidi Roizen: You bet there are downsides! It takes a lot of time. It can impinge on your personal life (for example, I do a lot of entertaining at home. Sometimes my kids resent it when I have someone over for business on a night they just want to hang out with me.) In the last 14 days I have been to TEN venture or industry social events (of course, ’tis the season, but still, I am sick of even good food and wine, and talking.) And, people do ask you for favors that you cannot do for one reason or another, and you have to learn how to say no, because you can’t do it all (nor would you want to.) And, sometimes this busy a ’social/work’ schedule gets in the way of personal downtime (IE reading a novel) or personal health (IE I haven’t had a workout in a week, but luckily I have a meeting with Jen Fonstadt from Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 10 minutes, and we decided to meet on the treadmill and elliptical machines I have down in my basement! How’s that for multitasking.)

There you have it.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Stay wonderful!


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