In 2011, Ankur Jain was credited with having the most robust network among all 21-year-olds. Today, Jain has built one of the more powerful networks imaginable--Kairos, a global community of entrepreneurs focused on solving the most pressing challenges facing our world. Jain founded Kairos while a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.
Jain then went on to found Humin and the VP of Product at Tinder. He has been listed on Inc.’s and Forbes’ "30 Under 30" Lists and named a "Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum last year. In 2017, he rejoined the Kairos as chairman. We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Jain in an inspiring conversation centered around relationship building and networking.
Jain owes much of his success to the strong relationships he’s been able to develop with members of his network. For Jain, there's an intricate art entailed in building strong relationships and networks. It's not a simple numbers game. Relationships require a certain level of human connection and are best fostered with personal face-to-face relationships. “You can’t fake real relationships.”
From Jain's vantage point, the most powerful networks inevitably involve relationships among highly diverse individuals. High diversity is especially critical for entrepreneurs. Without access to a diverse network, entrepreneurs are highly susceptible to creating "copycat" products and services that bear little fruit.
“If you’re surrounding yourself with the same people, you are hearing the same things and lose a healthy perspective on the world."
Jain explains that there are three primary steps involved in building a strong network.
Step 1. Know what you stand for.
“The best relationships are built on shared interests and shared values”. It's challenging to build strong and powerful relationships if you don't have a clear sense of purpose--a reason for existence. "A relationship with a small angel investor who genuinely cares about your work and purpose can be more valuable than a relationship with a top-tier VC who demonstrates little alignment with your mission and interests."
Step 2. Build or leverage an existing platform that facilitates interaction with others.
Kairos, for example, has created a platform that involves frequent dinner gatherings centered around a wide variety of topics and initiatives. This platform offers community members an "easy excuse to engage with each other."
Jain cautions that there's a real danger associated with carrying out Step 2 prior to Step 1. Building a platform without a concrete understanding of what you stand for will have little merit in terms of fostering genuine and powerful relationships. “You can't just bring people together and hope for strong bonds to form.” Without a clear sense of purpose, it's difficult to connect with people on a deep level.
Step 3. Follow up with the individuals most important to your network--but don’t force it.
We’re all prone to spreading ourselves too thin. Strong networks command a certain level of focus on the individuals that matter most. While it's critical to follow up with connections and nurture relationships on an ongoing basis, it should not be forced effort. It can be detrimental to schedule recurring meetings or follow-ups with your connections. Forced follow-ups are more likely to tax relationships as opposed to fuel them. With a strong awareness of the most valuable people in your network--the ones that share your same values and interests--engagement and follow-ups will transpire organically.
The Role of Technology
While Jain is a proponent of technology as a means of building and fostering relationships, he's quick to warn of the danger associated with an over-reliance on technology. Technology cannot replace the need for the human touch and face-to-face interactions.
Technology can, however, facilitate relationship building in game-changing ways. According to Jain, technology is important in two respects. First, it can function as an augmented memory. It's not feasible for humans to manually recall all of the many connections they’ve established over their lifetimes. Jain uses Affinity to effortlessly put contacts into context. When traveling to a new city, for instance, he’ll leverage Affinity to seamlessly and automatically inform him of the people in his network who live in the region. This latent knowledge allows him to take advantage of the coveted opportunities for face-to-face interactions.
Second, technology facilitates serendipitous connections. Because technology can process large volumes of data, it is much more effective than the human brain at identifying our second, third, and higher-dimension connections. "I'll often meet someone and later resort to Affinity to discover additional shared business connections that I didn’t initially know existed.”
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