Episode 104 – Only Networking Beyond Your Peers Accrues Business Advantage

October 15, 2023


One of the signs of a totally dysfunctional voluntary association is that the experienced members only hang out with themselves and ignore the new comers. If you’ve been in this kind of situation before, then you are not alone. It’s left to the folks in the middle to exert leadership. Hah!


You will find yourself hanging out mainly with fellow newbs. Perhaps exclusively. 


If you’re being hazed into the group, then this makes sense. Otherwise, you’re probably just being used to bring in membership revenue or grow a list or something else that matters to those who control the group but who aren’t trying to build a community. To them, you are a well-behaved e-mail address.


You might have an awesome time anyways. I enjoyed my time in a Seattle mountain biking group, but I mostly had my own little network of intermediate riders who I bumped into and collected along the way. I met ‘leaders’ of the group on trail work days but they just didn’t give a shit about meeting me. They had their mission and vision and objectives and I was free labor. Whatever. 


This is often what advocacy organizations are like. The newbs are never pure or committed enough and so they are ignored. 


Switching gears to the ecosystem of consumer brands, I’ll be the first to say that if you can locate them, mentors abound. I mean people who have done what you’re doing before and understand the nuances, the pain, the ups and downs. 


But, if you go to ‘events’ you will be surrounded mostly by newbs, by peers who have not scaled much and who don’t have much more perspective than you. Again, maybe you can trade highly specific tips (e.g. how to work the best with your UNFI account rep). Or maybe it’s just a venting session. 


The reality is that you have to network way, way beyond your peers to gain social advantage in any industry or community that does not have formal mentoring embedded in it. Some examples of the latter are : architecture, the law, medicine…most of the highly regulated professions have very formula mentoring processes. 


But not entrepreneurship. Not writing. Not acting. Not marketing. 


You, alone, have to find your own Master. And, I’ll be honest, we live a society where most Masters don’t take apprentices. The experienced want to be left alone and hang with their industry buddies. It’s not a relationship most Americans value, in part because it involves a ton of obligation to nurturing talent, obligation that incurs a high cost of time and energy. 


I’ve been looking for years for my Master. I gave up and read books on self-mastery instead. I’m joking. 


You will most likely never find anyone willing to put that kind of time into your development as an early-stage business leader. There are too many of you for one thing. Far more Apprentices than Masters, because we let anyone start a business like yours. There is only a crude financial filter at best. 


The low barriers to entry mean oversupply of talent vs. the experience required to play the Master role. 


You can learn a ton of tactical and operational things yourself. Those who learn proactively tend to survive better. 


It’s when your business is in say the low eight figures, stable, break-even or close to break-even but not growing as fast as you want that the lack of available Masters becomes a problem. 


This is also around the time early-stage brands start bringing functional executives on board, the specialists. But once someone is reporting to you, there will always be a filter, the filter to keep their job.


Masters don’t filter with apprentices. They call bullshit. They don’t care if you’re offended by the truth. If you want to find this kind of value in a mentor, you’ll need to network upwards. Not among peers. Not at a trade show cocktail party. 


Do not think you’re investor is the person to Master you. They are not neutral, disinterested parties. You need someone who cares about your success and can spend time with you. 


I’m not saying everyone needs a Master in today’s business world. Nor is one available for everyone anyways. 


Just stop looking to your peers for advice on questions they know no more about than you. Just because your peers are more available to you does not mean you can go to them for everything. 


So, it’s critical that you network up the de facto hierarchy in this chaotic industry of overlapping insider networks. This is easier said than done without some kind of initial social proof that allows you get into this or that conversation and stay there.


What I suggest is that you research those you think you could learn from and meet them. Interview them. People love to be interviewed in America, especially when you’re not asking for a job at the end. 


If you want to trigger a free mentor, interview experts you could learn from and let it happen. You can’t force a Master-Apprentice relationship and the Masters don’t feel obligated to create academies of entrepreneurship. 


It’s the people ahead of you on the revenue curve that know what you don’t.


Go find them.