Legendary Networker – Heidi Roizen

Check out an excerpt from the transcript for The Social Capitalist interview featuring Heidi Roizen. Click here for the full transcript: Social Capitalist Transcript – Heidi Roizen. Access the audio recording here. Enjoy!

Tahl Raz:     So what are the big a-has and takeaway for people?  What lessons, both general ideas and concrete strategies, have proven over the years to deliver the most value and create the most change for other people?

Heidi Roizen:     I think that, first of all, just being given some guidelines and being told that you don’t have to be a natural.  That everyone can develop these things gives people some belief in their ability to go out and do things.  And I’m a big believer in, you know, the first step is you got to believe you can go make a change and you can make something happen.  I think the idea also that everyone has something to give.  What do you possibly have to give to someone else?  And by the way, the fundamental approach for me, if you want to boil this case down to one thing to takeaway, it’s don’t approach someone because you want something from them.  Approach someone because you have something to offer.  Now there’s no reason that offer can’t be a win-win for you as well.  But think in terms of what value are you bringing to other people because ultimately, that’s why they’re going to continue to connect with you and they’re going to answer your phone calls and your e-mails and your whatever, is because they see you as someone who can be helpful to them.  And I think that’s a very easy thing to learn, right?  And that’s a very easy thing to test and check as you go out and prosecute your life is when you go out and intend to form a relationship with someone, the first thing you should think is, what value am I to them?

Tahl Raz:     You know I’m going to push you a little bit later on the interview on the idea of this simplicity and that everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten because I think that maybe depreciates the idea of social capital versus these other forms of capital and how they are really sophisticated means to manage and organize and accumulate it like any other form of capital.  And especially in this era, when we start understanding the dynamics of networks, how they operate.

Heidi Roizen:     Absolutely, absolutely, and there are tools and tricks and things that one can do to build and maintain a social network.  Obviously, they’re available to us today that weren’t available to us in the past.

Tahl Raz:     So before I get to another question I’m thinking about, I want to get to some of the nitty-gritty stuff that you’ve talked about over and over again.  The first is credibility.  We define, you know we’re using social capitalist to define it.  It’s the information expertise trapped in total value that exist in the relationships you have and the social networks to which you belong.  Now to gain access to that capital, to those people and communities, you’ve made a point and we do as well that you need credibility.  By the time you were a VC, this wasn’t an issue, but it was in 1985 when you’re a 25-year-old woman, a Creative Writing major, launching a software company in, let’s be honest, a notoriously sexist industry.

Heidi Roizen:     Yeah.

Tahl Raz:     How did you establish credibility then?

Heidi Roizen:     Well, you know, I think that credibility, especially in Silicon Valley, there’s a large element of meritocracy here and the idea that you are credible if you set out to do something and you accomplish what you set out to do.  And so, starting a software company, you know, I started it with my brother who is a brilliant programmer but I being the English major and MBA, I was the everything-but-the-code person.  And it turns out, everything-but-the-code is kind of valuable to do as well and I was the CEO.  So I think part of credibility is getting out there, staking a claim in the market saying you’re going to produce a product, producing the product, handling the customers, doing what you need to do.  And I think whenever I run in to a situation where someone was not receptive to me because I was young, or I was a woman, or I was non-technical, or for whatever reason, my feeling was there was always someone else I could go to.  There was always another door I could open.  And as many times as being a woman hurt me, it probably helped me.  It probably made me stand out.  I know, for example, in the early days of the Valley, there was so few women to write articles about that I knew I would get more than my fair share of press, given the size of my company because people were looking for women to write about.  So there’s an example of, I wouldn’t call that exploitive, I would just call that a way that it might have helped me.  On the flip side, there were certainly times I would walk into a room or a situation where I did not feel particularly welcome.  I don’t think beating your head against those walls is a very effective approach, and I think I learned pretty quickly.  And I think, you know, tenacity and a good sense of self-worth and a sense that you’re going to accomplish something even in the face of difficulty, you know, those are all things you need to build in yourself and need to build with your small group.  You know, everybody starts out with a group.  I mean, even if it’s your mom, right?  At least, you got somebody who tells you your good and they like you.  You need to get some strength from those people and recognize that not everything’s going to be a win.  And if you don’t find the win, you need to move on and go somewhere else.

Tahl Raz:     Why, I thought that particularly helpful insight that I’ve seen you make with credibility is the importance of context.   And you have to be valuable for something or you don’t accumulate social capitalism.  You know, you’ve said you build a relationship in the context of working on something with someone.  Explain that in terms of your own career.

Heidi Roizen:     Yes, and I will tell you the funny side point when I go and teach the case.  And you know cases are always sort of a two-dimensional version of a reality intended to teach something.  The funny reaction I get is people say to me, “Wow, you’re like a real person and you have friends.”  And, you know, because the case has sort of created to say that everything I do is with this intent of building this network and, you know, if you don’t have value to me, I’m not going to be your friend.  And I don’t know it comes out a little harsher than the reality.  I mean I think the reality is, you know, we all have our personal and our social circles and I wouldn’t necessarily say that those are built on these same ideas as going out and building out a business network.  So, you know, I hope it is not perceived that way.  But I do think there is something truthful in any relationship you build, is what are you bringing to the table for that other person?  What is the context of the relationship?  What can you offer?  And everyone has something to offer and I think this is the thing that, particularly, people are starting out don’t realize that maybe – you know, for example, let’s take a situation where you want to get to know someone in your community who runs a company.  Well, maybe you can’t do something directly for them.  But maybe, they’re involved in a charitable organization.  And you can go volunteer at that charitable organization, and you can work to death, and you can help with membership or you can go do something.  And eventually, as I find in many charitable organizations, it’s pretty easy to work your way up the rinks if you devote some time and energy to doing it.  And eventually, you will end up in a circle with that person or have an opportunity to talk to that person.  So now, that might be a very methodical way to get to one person.  I don’t know if that’s necessarily a great thing to do.  But it is a tactic.  I mean I think, again, think about what do I have to give?  What can I do to create value with that person?  What can we work on together?  And it isn’t always, you know, your relationships are not always built in the business context.  They may be built in a community context, in a context related to other social activities.

Tahl Raz:     Well, you know, I thought it was interesting.  I mean that context creates intent; and not only for the other person, but in your own mind.  You tell a story about your first company before you started your own at tandem where you were the editor of the company newspaper which gave you a reason and a context and access to meet anyone in the company.  And what made me, you know, what kind of light went off is that as a journalist, one of the things you learn, no matter how socially awkward you are, is that, you know, you have that context just by virtue of being a journalist to approach anyone.

Heidi Roizen:     Yes.

Tahl Raz:     At any time, and it emboldens you.  And you learn –

Heidi Roizen:     And I think and you know to stretch it a little farther, I personally believe you have a context because you’re a human being to approach anybody else.  So I don’t think that there is – I think there’s an interesting thought to have.  It’s you could probably find a connection with every other person on the planet if you probe enough about what your interests, and your beliefs, and your style, and your passions, and you know what music you like, or what TV shows you like, or what do you like to do with your time.  I mean there’s probably a connection point because we’re all very complex beings.  I mean I think it is a little easier when you can construct something; and I do think having just said that, I don’t like when people e-mail me and they say, you know, it’s like will you be my pen pal?  You know, will you please mentor me?  Mentor you what?  You know, usually that just means will you look at my resume and help me find a job in the Valley.  But, you know, which is OK, I don’t mind that.  But I think it’s easier to have a context and that approachability and that comfort level for you.  One of the things I’ve done in my career and I think it’s been very effective and it’s been very enjoyable too is I’ve always gotten involved in the trade associations in the industries that I’m in.  So I became part of the Software Publishers Association when it was very young and I ended up, you know, getting on the Board and, ultimately, was elected President.  I was on the National Venture Capital Association Board.  I got elected to that Board.  I worked my way up the ranks and, ultimately, was elected Chairman of that.  You know, you can find places, and I think this is particularly useful when you’re a little bit of the little fish in the big pond, if you go work on the trade association or something else, you will make contacts and you will have an opportunity to connect with people and speak with people that maybe in your sort of regular professional life you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that.  So it’s another good way to gain access to people that you may not normally have access to.

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