Networking conjures images of crowded rooms buzzing with awkward small talk, and endless games of self-promotion that only the slickest and glibest can win. Necessary for success in many professions, networking is also an activity most people loathe.
Fortunately, there is a much more pleasant shortcut for making promising contacts: Find a “superconnector” — or better yet, become one yourself.
The term superconnector is a rising buzzword, referring to people who seemingly have bottomless Rolodexes and magical abilities to introduce you to just the right sort of people that you need to grow your business. Some might seemingly be everywhere, always getting lunch with someone interesting, or showing up at the right parties or events. Others do their “superconnecting” mostly online, where they may develop vast social media followings.
However it happens, there is one thing to note: superconnecting is not just networking on steroids. It’s about valuing authentic relationships and wanting to help others forge useful relationships, too.
“Networking is very self-focused,” David Siegel, the CEO of Meetup and a self-described superconnector explained to The Business of Business. “It’s about ego, it’s about yourself.”
Superconnecting on the other hand “is just being a good human,” and not doing things as a “quid pro quo,” he said. Instead, there’s an element of spreading good karma.
“A superconnector to me is someone who appreciates the deep value that connections can provide for both themselves and other people,” he said. ”So what I emphasize here is you’re doing something so helpful in connecting other people that you’re really doing a good deed.”
The act is in essence a form of philanthropy, and the benefit you derive for yourself as a superconnector is that “people remember who made that introduction.”
As a superconnector, you're "doing something so helpful in connecting other people that you’re really doing a good deed," Siegel said.
There are some factors that may increase one’s chances of becoming a superconnector. Being at least mildly extroverted, or genuinely interested in getting to know other people, certainly helps. So does having a lot of “loose ties,” or a web of acquaintances with whom you have mutual trust, but don’t interact with terribly often. Additionally, some jobs lend themselves more to superconnecting, like public relations or venture capital, because having a strong network is especially important in those fields.
Superconnectors “connect people just for the dynamism of it,” said Jim McCarthy, president of crisis management firm CounterPoint Strategies. “Those connections lead to other things that are unforeseeable and unpredictable.”
McCarthy, whose firm works with leading private equity firms, trade associations and large-cap companies, admitted to us that he likely isn’t a full-fledged superconnector. His grandfather, Thomas J. Deegan, a famed PR manager in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s probably fit that definition, though, he said. Deegan worked with Robert Moses, a powerful New York City public works official, to organize the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. At the time, Deegan also represented Britain’s Duke of Windsor, Prince Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson.
“You have to realize part of free enterprise is you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, or what the evolution of the company is going to be or how you’re going to innovate," McCarthy continued. "But you can create the conditions for that to occur and open your heart to the possibilities that unfold."
While becoming a superconnector may seem like a daunting endeavor, getting started is really not as hard as it sounds, said Siegel, who also teaches a graduate management course at Columbia University.
“You can be a superconnector as a younger person, without experience, by simply asking the following question, which I think is incredibly effective in building relationships and connections, and that is: ‘I would love to get your advice.’”
Examples of superconnectors
We collected a short list of suggestions from McCarthy and Siegel, as well as other sources.
Benson is managing partner & CEO of boutique private equity firm Herington LLC, and the former global head of Citi Private Equity. "He’s got a Rolodex like a monster truck tire and it’s hard to find anyone in Silicon Valley and New York private equity that hasn’t been introduced by him,” McCarthy said. “Todd has that lightning-in-a-bottle passion for putting people together with complementing visions.”
Farr is currently a health-tech investor for OMERS Ventures and is a former CNBC reporter. Not too many journalists make a jump into venture capital, but we can presume the combination of Farr’s extensive contacts from her past life as a reporter combined with her knack for finding opportunities to create value undoubtedly make her a formidable superconnector.
“What’s most amazing is how he cross-pollinates across different fields, from medicine to finance to sports to manufacturing to geopolitics,” McCarthy said of the billionaire philanthropist and early investor in Home Depot. “For all Ken’s legendary business acumen, when you talk to people who know him, it’s his ability to connect people in meaningful ways, that is his main superpower.”
A Nigerian-American engineer and venture capitalist, she invented Soccket, a revolutionary soccer ball which stores kinetic energy and can be used to power lights. Her success rocketed her to the top of lists of “people to know.” She presented Soccket to the Clinton Global Initiative and accompanied former president Barack Obama on a trip to Tanzania. She is also known to be a superconnector.
The founder and CEO of venture capital firm AlleyCorp is now also chairman of Meetup after AlleyCorp led an acquisition of the site from WeWork in 2020. “I reached out to him when we were looking to sell Meetup…he made some recommendations, he had some thoughts and we stayed in touch,” Siegel said. Then eventually after some back-and-forth, Ryan, himself arranged the deal with AlleyCorp and other investors.
A FastCompany article on superconnectors describes the founder and CTO of HubSpot as both “a self-proclaimed introvert” and a person who has mastered the art of cultivating thriving ecosystems for entrepreneurs and marketers. He is able to draw thousands of attendees to HubSpot’s annual INBOUND summit.
Wennmachers isn’t listed in any articles on superconnectors, but it’s hard to believe she isn’t one. Now an operating partner at powerhouse VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, she is also the co-founder of tech public relations firm OutCast Communications and is widely credited with helping shape the public image of Silicon Valley.