Name dropping

I have a few signals I look for when evaluating tech entrepreneurs. One of them is how often they mention their relationships with high profile people. Sometimes these relationships exist, and sometimes they’re fabricated or greatly exaggerated. Whatever the case, I’ve discovered that frequent name dropping is a negative sign when evaluating tech entrepreneurs.

The reason is that tech companies succeed because of their product and distribution strategies. While relationships with high profile people may help you land a great deal in other sectors, they’re unlikely to get you any closer to building a great product or executing on a great distribution strategy in the tech sector. A tech company’s success depends on how engaged their users or customers are, and that’s a function of the company’s product and distribution. Users don’t use your product because of who you know.

This doesn’t mean that great tech entrepreneurs don’t recognize the value of relationships. They do. They often either have an existing supportive network or develop one during the course of their startup. However, they know that their company will win or lose because of its product and distribution strategy, and are naturally excited to innovate in these areas. This is reflected in what they prefer to talk about in conversations.

Counterintuitively, this very focus on product and distribution makes them more interesting to the people they speak with. This enthusiasm for what they’re doing is much more contagious than another entrepreneur’s¬†enthusiasm for who they know. By focusing and talking about what they’re doing, they become more likely to build a supportive network than a persistent name dropper.