VC:VC Social(ly Active) Networking

Continuing my sporadic VC:VC series of postings comparing life as a venture capitalist with life as a venture cyclist, here are some thoughts on social networking, and socially active networking.

Social networking is a term that has some academic background, but venture capital types know that it means the internet phenomenon that links people together according to something that ties them together: high school, college, employer, friend-of-a-friend, shopping preferences and so on. An early icon of this phenomenon was the six degrees of separation websites that allowed you to register and invite your friends, and for them to do the same. You could then see if you had a connection to anyone else in the network stepping through connections registered on the website. Linked-In seems to have become the most successful of the professional oriented sites that provides this service. I have over 100 contacts registered with my profile, and I can search to see, for example, if I could connect through a network of connections to a vice president at Google or a programmer at EMC. Facebook and MySpace are analagous sites aimed squarely at the hip young market with lots of features for sharing information about yourself, your favorite photos, music, videos, hangouts, friends and so on.

Many startup ideas now come with social networking features, either thinking they are de rigueur or that, no matter how irrelevant, they make it easier to get funding. Social networking is part of the cluster of ideas that have been rolled together under the banner of Web 2.0 (or for jaded commentators: internet bubble 2.0). If I had an idea to create an online business by selling accessories for cycling, I could add the ability to find other cyclists who like my kind of bike in my area, and I would have a social networking component.

In the venture capital world, we have been doing social networking without the internet for years, but it does break down beyond one or two steps. I might remember to ask my partners if anyone knows someone at such-and-such company for a background reference on an entrepreneur, but I don't know if lurking just one connection away is exactly the right person. When one VC meets another for the first time, we generally see whom we know in common based on deals we have worked on. Similarly, when one Jew meets another for the first time, we often play "Jewish Geography", looking for mutual friends (or relatives). The Jewish community is small enough (even though larger than the VC world), that we often find some connection that exists. This is yet another example of non-internet social networking (although here is the on-line version).
In her keynote address to the Hazon 2006 NY Bike Ride on September 1st of this year, Anna Stevenson concludes with a marvellous poem:

The Long Road
by Marge Piercy

Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
But they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other sane,
can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat a pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund-raising party.
A dozen can hold a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

This shows the power of socially active networking, which is similar but slightly different. When I meet you, my goal is not only to find out who we know in common, and to whom else we might connect each other, but it is also to enlist you in a cause (hopefully a good one). When I meet you, expect me to play some variant of six degrees, and also to encourage you to get on your bike and join me, join us, next year on the Hazon 2007 NY bike ride.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting comparisons! i am a grad student at parsons in nyc, and i have made a social network for cyclists as part of my thesis project. check it out if you have the time.