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Car Calls, Signature Lines and Paying it Forward

For as far back as I remember, I have received a ton of help and guidance from more experienced people who have asked for very little or nothing in return.

I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, founders and early-stage folks. I’m an optimist and an extrovert. I usually want to help them if I can.

While I have flexibility in my schedule right now, I’m really trying to pay it forward as much as possible to hopefully maximize my potential impact on the next class of builders in our Philly startup ecosystem and beyond.

I have also found a ton of joy in all of this. The “helper high” is a real thing.

Many new people I meet immediately push to have coffee, dinner or drinks which, to their chagrin, I consistently turn down.

Sometimes I can feel their annoyance, but it’s is just too heavy of a lift given the flexible but still time-constrained nature of my schedule (family, other work, advisory etc). It’s also a big first commitment considering I don’t typically know them very well.

These days I shoot for a “car call” which I find to be a quick and effective way to help someone while also getting a low-risk moment to decide on the nature of our potential future relationship. We all click with some people, but not with others. If given the choice, we avoid the latter. I certainly do.

Lee Anne and I manage a constantly changing list of people who we think I can quickly help with some time on the phone. Usually, calls are are 30-60 minutes and loosely set up with an “I’ll call you Wednesday after 2 pm” or “Expect to hear from me late next week.” I fit the calls into remnant travel time in the car.

I’m always bummed when I find that moment to connect with someone, but then there is no contact number to be found in any of our previous correspondence. I just have to move to the next person on the list.

How is there no email signature with a phone number?

I think about myself in those early startup moments where I needed a time-sensitive life raft. Now I’m the guy potentially holding the life raft for someone else, but I have nowhere to throw it.

I end up having to send another email to track down a number and in a lot of cases, I don’t reconnect with that person for a week or so. Sometimes that week really matters to them. It’s a bummer.

A few tips for startup folk if we cross paths or you find yourself in a similar spot with someone else:

  1. Don’t take it personally if someone who wants to help you also has some specificity surrounding their workflow, the how and the potential when. There is probably a method to their madness. There is to mine. Sometimes the help comes with some scheduling strings attached.
  2. At the very least, have a short email signature line and make sure you have some phone number or direct method for realtime communication in it. Never give someone who’s committed to connecting with you for your potential benefit a quick excuse to move to the next person. Eliminate friction.

I know much of this seems so obvious, but I’m blown away at how many people miss on those two things. I see it all the time. It happens monthly. I’m just trying to help.

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