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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Burns

Inclusive Networks: My Roadmap to Successful Investing

Networking is not a self-interested activity. It is about building relationships with people who share your same vision and will help you grow along your journey. Developing this skill makes sense as social creatures. Social structures help us navigate the world in which we live. We create connections with people, we build trust among our communities, and we call upon our networks to give us advice and to keep us accountable.

Networking is a critical skill for investors. It is the baseline for accessing deals, building trust with lead investors, and connecting with founders. More importantly though, it is our responsibility as investors to build inclusive networks. While networking is part of human nature, nepotism is an issue and it deserves our attention. As a person of privilege, I recognize that I must work harder to better understand this practice and to be a better ally. As investors we must challenge systems that favor certain populations and exclude others. We should reach outside our comfort zone to meet people who look different than us, speak different languages, and bring new perspectives to the table. It is always healthy to place ourselves in uncomfortable situations in the short term in order to create mutually beneficial relationships in the long term. This is not to say we should shun our current networks of privilege. Instead, we must weave our new friends into the spaces in which we feel most comfortable so that our network becomes more diverse and inclusive.

Lessons From my Father

Networking is greatest skill my father ever taught me. I recognize that I am super fortunate to have had a father that made me understand and practice this crucial life lesson from a young age.

When I was in high school it was my dream to work for National Geographic. Every decision I made in terms of college placement, traveling, etc revolved around this dream. My father told me that if I wanted to write for National Geographic, I would need to start making connections in high school. I was lucky that National Geographic was headquartered in Washington D.C., my hometown. My next door neighbor worked in the media industry and had a couple of friends who worked there. My father made it very clear that this was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and that I should ask my neighbor if she would host a dinner party so that I could meet these people. Before the meeting my Dad and I sat down in the computer room and asked Jeeves “How do you write a resume?”

The dinner was great. I outlined my vision to the table: I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to travel the world and write about it. Besides leaving this dinner party with an informal internship guarantee, these new friends gave me some valuable insight that changed the trajectory of my life. They told me that the print journalism world was changing quickly. If I wanted to be a journalist then I needed to gain technical skills, specifically in film.

I brought this wisdom with me into college and started with the goal of double majoring in anthropology and pre-journalism with a focus in documentary film. I joined the University of Colorado sports news station so that I could get film and editing experience. I went to Costa Rica to attend a month long documentary film program. I gained valuable skills and at the beginning of my sophomore year I was accepted into the Journalism School. However, all that hard work had taught me an important lesson about myself: I didn’t actually like film and the technical side of journalism. Therefore, I declined my acceptance into the Journalism School and switched my second major. Had I not met people working in the industry years prior, I may not have discovered that the journalism world wasn’t for me.

My Ability to Build Networks Will Make Me a Successful Investor

Relationship building is what attracts me to the investment world and the reason I will be successful in this space. Earlier this year, I came across a post on LinkedIn by a Spanish founder doing incredibly innovative work in the renewable energy space. My experience working in the energy and water ecosystem over the last decade immediately drew me to Fundeen. I connected with the founder and set up a phone call. Investing in this company has always been at the front of my mind, however, the relationship that Nacho and I have developed over the last several months has very little to do with due diligence or numbers. I have helped him edit and translate pitch decks and investor cover letters. He has connected me to lawyers in Spain and brainstormed ways for me to be a better “pro-founder investor”. My motivation to help him is not self-interested. We are both just two millennials trying to make impactful change in the world. Of course, I hope to invest in his company and for the company to make us both money. More importantly though, I believe in his vision, in the product he is creating, in his mission to democratize renewable energy investment, and in his path forward as an entrepreneur.

As Naval Ravikant mentions in the Spearhead podcast, your access to deal flow is dependent on your brand and you are not going to build a brand because you want to. It’s going to be an authentic representation of who you are. Having the ability to get into a deal requires access. That access is typically achieved by adding value to the start up in some unique way. In his opinion, investors will gain access to deals by providing something that is pro-founder and that the environment does not already offer.

The current investing landscape lacks diversity and inclusion. Being pro-founder and building a brand as an investor is directly linked to one’s ability to proactively network and connect with individuals on a human level. My training as an anthropologist, my passion for connecting with people around the world, and my insatiable appetite to learn will enable me to build more inclusive networks. My experience in graduate school in Costa Rica, in which I attended a University with more than 2,000 alumni from over 120 countries, taught me the power of collaboration with people from diverse backgrounds. My time living abroad in Eastern Africa, Spain, and Costa Rica has enabled me to build life long friendships and foster business opportunities. These people and experiences will help me be a better ally. They will be my roadmap to becoming a successful investor.

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