Ken Elefant is the Founder and Partner at Sorenson Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on software and security investments. Elefant has invested in security and software startups since 1999.
On the importance of networking for founders and investors
Networking can lead to many great things for investors and founders alike.
“My sense is that networking isn't for everyone. For me, this is my one superpower. Each founder and venture investor needs to figure out what they can do better than almost anybody else in the field.
If a founder is good at networking, it can lead to huge success. The biggest issue that startups have is recruiting the right people. Networking plays right into that. It's also getting your first three marquee customers if you're an enterprise B2B company, and a lot of that has to do with proper networking. and so on.
Same on the VC side. The toughest part about being in venture is sourcing high-quality deals. One way to source high-quality deals is to have a great network that gives back to you and refers high-quality deals to you.”
On if investors and founders can be successful without the ability to network
Whether it’s on the company’s team or an investment partnership, someone will need to be good at networking for them to thrive.
“It depends on what type of team the founder has created. Every team needs to be holistic across many different skill sets. You need to have an extremely technical team that can understand how to read market trends and develop differentiation. Also, at least one person on that team should be able to network because you will need that capability to bring in the best people into the company to get the right initial conversations with customers.
It’s the same thing with partnerships. You should have a diverse group of partners. Some of them can be good in some areas, and some of them can be good in other areas, like networking.”
On the purpose of networking
Networking should not be about trying to get something out of it.
“I don't think that networking is a means to an end. If you think about networking in that way, you're doing it for something in return. To do good networking, one shouldn't be thinking about it that way. It's all about building trust and building deep relationships. If you are giving more to the next person, they will hopefully give you back something in return over some time. It's not like there's a scorecard that's out there.
That dovetails into building trust. The only way to build trust is to give more in the relationship than the other person's giving you at that point in time. Over time, if that person is good, they'll find ways to help you down the line. It could be one week down the line, or it could be one decade down the line. Some of my best deals have come from relationships that have been over multiple decades.”
On what makes a great networker
Elefant shared his definition of a great networker.
“If you're an investor, hopefully, you have an area of expertise. Either a space or stage that you're very interested in. Therefore, your networking job becomes a little easier because it creates a smaller pond and makes it a lot more intimate. Networking is about sharing ideas and getting to know people from a business sense.
The next step after that is how you cultivate that relationship. Over time, there should be a give and take with every person in your network that's positive for both sides. If it's not, then you're not a very good networker.”