A beautiful thing about the startup ecosystem is the genuine willingness of people to help others. Profoundly smart, immensely successful, and insanely busy people helping complete strangers out of sheer generosity.
It is invaluable and fragile, and must not be taken for granted.
Some basic rules to help us protect it.
Don’t be afraid to ask. I once asked a very impressive founder why he’s helping me: “You remind me why I love my job,” he said. Many newbie founders don’t ask for help because they feel too insignificant or unworthy. Get over it, receiving help is invaluable for both the helpee and the helper.
No spraying and no praying. Target specific people for a specific problem. Don’t be afraid to aim high and don’t email 20 people. Many are going to respond.
Reach out kindly and gracefully. Nobody likes helping assholes.
Do the legwork. General feedback is useless. Come prepared with an agenda, a problem, and specific questions. Bonus points for also preparing something interesting to say to them. Make the best possible use of their time.
Invest time to save them time. There are numerous ways you can save the other side time. Flex to their schedule, come to where they suggest, show up on time, finish on time, and as mentioned above, come prepared.
Think of one way to return the favor. You might not find one, and likely your offer will be kindly rejected. Do this anyway.
Follow up. Sharing your conclusions, afterthoughts, and eventual outcomes with the person who has helped you are all immensely satisfying for them. Don’t deprive them of this satisfaction.
No excuses. Anybody can help somebody. You have unique experiences, skills, and perspectives. There are thousands of people out there that you can help greatly. Believe in yourself a little bit.
Do your part. Generously. Everybody needs to contribute to the ecosystem. It’s a net positive for all of us. Figure out how much time you can dedicate to helping others, then double it, then deliver.
No favors. Realize that by helping others you are learning, building a network, creating opportunities for yourself, and improving as much as that dude you’re helping. You are doing a favor to no one but yourself.
Put yourself out there. Make it easy for people to understand what you can help with, find your email, and reach out directly. Like this: firstname.lastname@example.org
Respond. Positively when you can and negatively when you have to. Never ignore anyone.
Do your part.