The Role And Value of Connectors

Startup Babson launched recently and myself along with a handful of driven people from Babson are working to help create a more cohesive community. With the launch of our student (alum too) run effort, it’s had me thinking a lot about communities, the purpose they serve and the role people play within them.

As a founding member representing the two year MBA program, I look at my role largely as a connector. In the spirit of wanting to be a good connector, I wanted to break down what the role of a connector is and what real value connectors deliver.

Before I began my career in business school I worked as a marketer, and having read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, I’ve always regarded connectors as influencers. These are the people who stay on top of what’s new, what’s happening and can then disseminate that info to the next wave of adopters. But I wanted to expand on that so I asked the Twitterverse for some input.

Jason Evanish, co-founder of GreenhornConnect, had this to say;

“it’s the glue that holds the community together. Without connectors we are all the dorky guy at the middle school dance.”

My buddy and fellow Babsonite, Ryan Dawidjan, remarked that connectors should…

“Be the center or medium for the exchange of value between individuals/groups. The ‘pivot point’”

Two great answers. Ryan’s response speaks to the role of a connector while Jason spells out the value. Communities need glue. There are a lot of heads-down, hard working startupers who are too focused on shipping and are strapped for time when it comes to hitting the ‘be-seen’ events. In effect, they are the wall flowers at the middle school dance. Sometimes it takes a connector to refer the entrepreneur’s product or service to someone expressing a need. Or perhaps its a recruiting referral when the connector runs into someone with the right skill set. Business partnerships, investor tip, there are a tons of different ways to make a connection and help exchange value.

Ryan also nailed a piece of being a good connector. “Be the center.” Connectors exist in the middle, serving as a conduit to catalyze that value exchange. This made me think of the idea of synergy in that the combined effect of two parties is greater than their individual efforts. How many great companies would Boston be churning out if everyone was working to catalyze more value exchanges?

With that as a framework, I still wanted to think through what it takes to be a good connector. I don’t believe this is a role reserved for certain personality traits who were born networkers. With some effort and conscious action, anyone can do it.  After a little brain storming, here are a few points IMO that seem integral to becoming a good connector

  1. Keep on top of what’s going on:
    1. Read… a lot. Keep up to date with local journalists, bloggers and Twitter feeds who are plugged into your startup ecosystem.
    2. Attend events… as much as you can. Network and talk to people about what they’re working on. Ask about what has captured their interest lately or new companies they’ve heard of
  2. Build your network: Related to 1b, the more exchanges you have with people, the more likely you’ll be to successfully create a connection.
  3. Make introductions: Even if you’re unsure if there’s a potential exchange, no one will fault you for trying to help. But don’t start introducing a founder to your neighbor’s son because they have similar eye colors. Have a conception of a good fit. After a while when people recognize that you’re a person who makes connections and adds value, you will begin to become a source for folks.
  4. Anticipate: This is what establishes Jedi status connection skills. Try to anticipate someone’s inexplicit needs before it becomes explicit and make a connection to help serve that need.
  5. Read part 1 again.

What’s in it for me you ask? Good point. Altruism may be good for the next life, but we all have to eat in the here and now. The reality is, if you’re making valuable connections for people and are actively doing 1-5 above, it’s doubtful you’ll ever be left unemployed or unfinanced.

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  • http://www.GreenhornConnect.com Jason Evanish

    James,

    Good thoughts, but I actually don’t think the networking rules you outline is just one way to become a connector. I know a number of people that are great connectors that have more organically built their network through joining and taking leadership roles in specific organizations or because of their careers (usually sales or recruiting).

    The more we can turn Boston into a meritocracy, the better. In the end, all that really matters is getting everyone to buy into and embrace the #PayItForward mentality. Helping others isn’t a transaction; it’s a way of life.

    Thanks,
    -Jason

    • joconnor

      Good point and I agree 100%, Jason. The more connections and connectors we have in our community, the better I believe. And unless there is a profit motive of some sort, each connection made plays directly into the #payitforward ethos. But yes, there are other avenues to increasing one’s ‘connectivity.’

  • http://entrepreneurial-discovery.blogspot.com/ Oriana Torres

    James, had no clue you were behind START UP BABSON! Congrats!

    • James O’Connor

      Thanks Oriana. To give proper credit here, Startup Babson is Ryan Dawidjan’s brain child but I’m glad to be able to help get things up and running with him.

  • http://entrepreneurial-discovery.blogspot.com/ Oriana Torres

    Can I reprint this in the BABSON MBA Blog?

    • James O’Connor

      Go for it

  • http://www.facebook.com/supermitchell Andrew Mitchell

    Good stuff

    • http://www.jamestheiii.com/ James O’Connor

      Thanks Andrew! Hope all is well in your world.

    • http://www.jamestheiii.com/ James O’Connor

      Thanks Andrew! Hope all is well in your world.

  • http://twitter.com/AnaghaMahajan Anagha

    You guys are doing great!! Thanks for all the efforts you are putting in for the community. Let me know if you need another set of hands..