How to ‘Prime’ Your Next Event – because intro requests are so last year…

(A not very subtle way of priming your brain)

(A not very subtle way of priming your brain)


I’ve been transient the past few weeks, starting in the US (beautiful La Jolla, CA), then Italy, Ireland, and Spain, and I’m writing this on my way home from Germany.

As I sip my Easyjet tea and snack on some delicious popcorn, I’m realizing each of my trips was for a specific event. The largest being Web Summit with 42,000 other tech folks and the smallest was a group of potential Startupbootcamp program investors (1).

Yesterday I gave a talk to 20 startups about making the most out of mentor-focused events. One tactic I suggested is connecting with mentors prior to an event to increase their interest during the actual meeting (2). The word I use for this pre-event reach out is to ‘Prime’ someone (like priming a pump) – borrowing the term from the homonymous cognitive bias known as ‘priming’ in the psychology realm (3).

Prime on your own?

If you missed the shitstorm prior to Web Summit, it surrounded startups being told they ‘won’ exhibit space, while later being hit with a bill (I think €1,000 or so). Although Web Summit was called out by seemingly everyone (and Web Summit messy response) I generally think they run a decent show.

I joined in the conversation of course:

As you can tell, I’m a big believer in putting in effort to Prime. However, I’m just now noticing that during each of my recent trips the amount of priming SOMEONE ELSE did for me were my most impactful priming outcomes.

It’s like dating, for business

Not only did someone else priming for me lead to better results, I’ve found the best possible outcome was not directly connecting with someone prior to a meeting. Instead it was exponentially more valuable having the person primed by someone else LOOK FORWARD to meeting me.

Of course a friend saying to a contact “can I connect you with this this great person” has a bigger impact than introducing yourself. But taking this a step forward, even better might be “you’ll really enjoy meeting this great person tomorrow” without any offer of an intro.

It’s like word-of-mouth marketing (“you should really try this”) before meeting someone. Put In practice, instead of a typical intro request you might ask someone to speak favourably about your company to an investor… in hopes that the investor can’t help but reach out to you directly.

How to increase recommendations prior to an event where you’ll likely meet someone? Probably the same tactics work as asking for an introduction, the ‘pitch just needs to ask for an endorsement instead of an intro. Something like this may work for you:


I’m heading to <EVENT> next week, and I’ll likely bump into <CONTACT> who I know you’re close with. Any chance you could ping them a note with a quick endorsement like below? It would mean a lot and I’m hoping more valuable than me asking you for an intro.

A friend of mine <YOU> just mentioned he hopes to connect with you at <EVENT>. I just wanted to say they’re working on something really interesting and definitely going somewhere – I hope you two have a chance to connect.

Much appreciated!


Give it a try?

There’s no doubt in my mind that reaching out directly prior to meeting someone (i.e. ‘Priming them’) leads to more personal connections. Even better is having a mutual connection introduce you.

What I’ve experienced is that having someone speak favourably about you without an introductory offer results in the best possible outcome. Although I’ve never actually tried to ‘manufacture’ this type of endorsement, I’ll likely give it a try (what can it hurt?). If you do as well, I’d love to hear the outcome.

(1) The new program is still a ‘secret’, but let’s just say it was successful and we’ll be launching soon 🙂

(2) Instead of suggesting startups prime their mentors just before the event, I really should send that suggestion well before the event, so they at least have a chance to take my advice…

(3) I know, it feels a little dirty to exploit cognitive biases (aka mind loopholes) in business – but heck, it’s not the worst thing you can do!

What’s up with mentorship?

I’m a big fan of Bob Cringely’s blog – he’s been a writer in the Valley for years and witnessed the manic rise first hand. Bob recently wrote a post spurred by a student commenting on the lack of mentorship in their home country of Russia.

I rarely write blog comments, but this time felt obliged to share a few mentor/mentee thoughts since Startupbootcamp’s mentorship program is a front-of-mind topic in my daily life.

(my comment posted 14 Sept ’13)

Thanks for the post Bob, I’m a big fan of your blog.

As someone who runs operations for a large startup accelerator group, I’m in essence in the business of connecting startups with mentor’s (and investors, partners, etc). Here’s a few quick things that came to mind from your post:

1) The Russian student’s comment about mentorship being unknown in Russia is closer to the norm globally than you’d think. The US is truly unique from a mentorship standpoint. I’ve found mentorship does exist in Europe and Japan, but far less the US. I’ve had direct experience with mentorship being a completely new concept in many regions – Middle East, Africa, SE Asia. In fact how to tailor our mentor-driven accelerator model to markets outside the US/EU is something I consider on a daily basis.

2) Mentees must seek out mentors, but mentors need to be receptive. There’s no formal application process required – simply seeking advice and asking questions is the key. I wonder how many times the Russian student has sought advice of someone older and wiser? It’s hard to believe if they did their questions were completely dismissed. Human nature is typically more helpful than not.

My guess is a mentor had never directly come to this student with an offer to help, yet the student didn’t realize it’s their prerogative to approach first. Odds are the most successful Russians have mentors because they sought them out, yet proportionately fewer mentor/mentee relationships exist than in the US/EU so the ‘mentorship culture’ has not formed.

3) In my experience mentees have a common trait of considering advice but not necessarily taking it. No mentor wants a mentee who agrees with them all the time… hero worship works for an hour but doesn’t form a relationship. The mentees I enjoy being around not only consider my advice, but have smart responses that make me think. This is why I personally mentor – because I can learn something as well as help someone.