Imagine a venture capitalist giving entrepreneurs free advice as well as a chance to pitch their business idea. Or consider a person dispensing million-dollar advice – at no cost – about how to connect with the world’s most powerful and influential people. And then there’s the individual who offers valuable marketing guidance to anyone who asks – at no charge.
That’s exactly what venture capitalist David Hornik, author Michael Ellsberg and marketer Gary Vaynerchuk do.
They have totally flipped the script of what a successful businessperson does and in the process have upended and disrupted their chosen industries.
They are examples of generosity in the business world, a topic explored by Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant's 2013 book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, showing that those in the business world (and in life in general) who give are the ones that get ahead. While years ago, everyone believed that success results from willpower or drive, today it’s more often dependent on how people interact with others and how much we give them.
These three men choose to give – in very different ways. See if their stories resonate with you.
David Hornik is a generous venture capitalist. He gives entrepreneurs a chance to present ideas to him and if he’s intrigued, he backs the deal with his own money. Even if he doesn’t give them money, he tries to help these new buinesss owners in other ways. Profiled in Give and Take, Hornik believes that his posture as a giver has been the dominant reason for his success.
He personally responds to emails from complete strangers (indeed, he replied to me). He’s happy to help even if he won’t financially benefit from a transaction. Hornik believes that a successful venture capitalist is a service provider. To him, venture capitalists exist to serve entrepreneurs, not the other way around.
At his core, Hornik believes that success doesn’t have to come at another person’s expense. He openly shares information and helps entrepreneurs. He demonstrated this by starting a blog and telling all the dirty little secrets of venture capitalism so that novice entrepreneurs could benefit from his insider’s view. Hornik’s partners didn’t want him to give away trade secrets. But being a giver, he did so. Hornik routinely pays attention to what other people need and then provides it. For him, giving is his default weapon of choice.
Michael Ellsberg gives by fostering connections. The author of The Education of Millionaires, Michael Ellsberg believes that having right connection can change everything. The right connection could introduce to your spouse, land you a job or help you meet an influential person that could completely change your business model. The most important connection in his life, Ellsberg’s wife Jena, resulted from a mutual connection.
Ellsberg recently wrote a blog post about how to connect with powerful and influential people. The wrong way to connect has to do with taking, he argued. The right way, he said, has to do with giving. Don’t give so you can get something in return, but for the sheer act of giving itself. When in doubt, just give, period.
You might wonder what could you possibly give someone who’s already powerful, successful and influential? According to Ellsberg, you could give them two very important things: advice and other connections.
The way I interpret Ellsberg's book, every human being (even successful ones) has problems and you could figure out if there’s something from your life experience, perhaps a piece of advice that you could offer him or her. For example, have you learned to cope with the death of loved one? Have you recently discovered great techniques for cooking and eating more healthfully? Did you succeed in encouraging your children to love and respect their siblings? Even successful people will want to know these things.
The key is to offer advice in areas in which you have the most expertise and could provide immense value. Look for ways to give to others that come naturally to you.
Ellberg’s second process piggybacks on the first: After you have given people advice, help them by connecting them with someone else in your network who can further aid them in business or in life. Ellsberg provides a complete step-by-step discourse on how you can put the two steps into practice.
Proactively seek out ways to add value for others. By giving to others, you set yourself up to receive what you want in the future.
Gary Vaynerchuk gives by educating others. The author of Jab, Jab, Jab Right Hook, Gary Vaynerchuk, burst on the scene when he decided to do YouTube videos about his wine business. He quickly gained fame and notoriety by giving away his marketing content for free. He gave it away in his videos, through blog posts, tweets and infographics. Years ago, that would have spelled doom, but today, it is by far the smartest and fastest way to succeed.
Vaynerchuk built a following. By the time his books came out, even though everyone already knew what was in them, people bought them anyway. Why? Vaynerchuk had established a relationship with readers. They liked and trusted him and showed it back with their cash. The other thing about giving away great content is that it generates amazing word-of-mouth. Vaynerchuk’s popularity grew exponentially because other people told other people about his great content.
I have found the more you give, the more people will like, trust and want to connect with you.
Successful givers know that giving is not something done to receive an item in return. Giving is their way of life, their modus operandi for the world they live in. Givers create a ripple effect, much like a pebble thrown in a pond. Givers enhance the success of those around them. Giving doesn’t always pay off, but the very act of giving is payment enough for the giver.