One of the best things – perhaps maybe the best thing – about Bend’s startup culture is how willing people are to donate their time, advice, contacts, resources and more. When my husband and I first moved here, we noticed this right away—you would email someone to ask a question, and they’d happily meet for coffee, give you their time, and connect you with another helpful person.
When it comes to the success of startups, this kind of generosity is just as important as other critical components of the ecosystem. In fact, people new to town or to entrepreneurship here often remark on this helpfulness and collaborative spirit.
But I’ve noticed recently a slight overwhelm among many of the people who get asked for things most often. The emails and requests are pouring in. People want to help, but as the community grows so rapidly, they can’t always take every coffee date and respond to every question—while still growing their own business, running their fund or working their day job.
So I asked several of these sought-after folks: How do we maintain our generous spirit without burning out? Their answers, on the record and off, provided some awesome guidance for both people on the receiving end of requests as well as those making them. Here are some of the key takeaways from those conversations.
You know Sponge Bob gets a lot of meeting requests.
Respect the double intro
“What I usually prefer is if someone who wants to make an introduction reaches out to me first to see if I have the time and/or interest to be introduced to a particular person. I really appreciate this! Then, it doesn’t become awkward if I say no. Especially if that person is looking for a job,” says Rita Hansen, CEO of Onboard Dynamics. She notes that there are cases where a good friend or colleague who she knows well makes an introduction and in those cases she always follows up.
By and large, most of the investors, founders, CEOs and others in our ecosystem noted that they like to be asked before being introduced to someone. I’ve found most often people say yes, but asking before certainly shows that you respect people’s time and gives them the choice.
Be cognizant of people’s time
Speaking of time, that’s at the crux right? People who give generously of their time so often are what makes this community tick. It’s part of why, to borrow a phrase from Dino Vendetti with Seven Peaks, Bend is able to fight above its weight when it comes to launching companies. Julie Harrelson, co-fund manager of Cascade Angels, uses a few time management hacks to address the increased influx of requests sent her way. If a coffee or longer meeting doesn’t work, she deploys the 5-10 minute rule and spends a few minutes to connect people, events and resources to build a stronger community.
Time is a finite resource, and it’s something to consider. If you’re asking for someone’s time, especially on a first meeting, try to keep it to 30 minutes. Robert Pease – Julie’s colleague and co-fund manager at Cascade Angels – says sometimes a phone call is what he can fit in most quickly. “Phone/video is easier than in-person for busy people,” he says. “An in-person costs 15-30 minutes on each end to get there so an hour takes two to deliver. Even in Bend it takes the before/after time to get to a meeting (and then back to the office), and it’s more in major metros.”
Ask, but also offer
To a one, the people I talked to about this noted that they deeply appreciated when a person who asked for their help, also offered them something. Sometimes it’s as simple as buying someone a coffee and saying thanks. Other times, they might just put it out there — “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” Julie noted that she’s sometimes sent someone a helpful article or resource they might find interesting along with a note of thanks.
Digging in here for a minute: It’s easy to assume when you’re in the asking position that you don’t have anything to offer. That’s a mistake. Regardless of who you’re meeting, you can likely provide them with something helpful, even if it’s later down the road. You might have a contact that your coffee date hopes to meet, you might someday refer them a job candidate or be able to answer a question about your industry. You never know, and offering truly keeps all this good mojo going. It’s like refueling the generosity tank.
On the face, this post feels a bit like a Miss Manners column (also don’t put your elbows on the table or wear white after Labor Day). But truly, it’s more than that. Our community is growing exponentially, and so many of us are new to the area and eager to meet people and dig in. It’s exciting and inspiring and from my perspective, our community excels at welcoming anyone who wants to participate with open arms.
But we don’t want those arms to get tired. So paying attention to this aspect of our community—its generous spirit and big heart—and caring for it like we would any other valuable resource is vitally important. We want people to ask for help and we want to keep giving it. That’s the Bend way.
Have other thoughts about how to keep our community generous? Send me an email or post a comment and we’ll continue the conversation.
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].