Startup Stories: 3 Intros gone (terribly) wrong

When I started my first internship in a startup in late 2009, I did not know about the practice of “making intros”. I think the first time someone asked me to make one and also called it “intro” was when the founder of Bonusbox, Paul Gebhardt, wrote a message to me and asked me to introduce me to the founder of Biodeals*, Gero Gode. I do not remember actually making that intro, I think I simply did not know what to write and then forgot about the message – sorry about that, Paul!² 😉

These days I make intros somewhat frequently, which – I think – is normal when you work around tech for a while and are, at least somewhat, influenced by the Valley culture or approach, of helping each other, open sharing of ideas and so on. Of course, intros are made in every industry and context, even non-business³. However, I think it is usually seen as a bigger deal or favor, when you introduce someone outside of the “startup bubble”. By the way, to not give anyone ideas: I rarely ever make intros to investors (and only for people that work on something that seems quite impressive to me). I know a couple investors, a handful might even recognize and know me, too, however, I do not think I have much credibility with any one of them to be of much help. (If I did, I might have an idea or two of my own that I might look to get funded right now, too…)

I cannot claim that me writing an intro for someone lead to big contracts or anything like that either. At least not that I am aware of, or not directly. However, in a few cases a good speaker for an event or conference was found, some people met each other and got along well, exchanged knowledge, collaborated and so on. Always good to see that! However, in a few cases, I also had the opposite happening. Today, I will write about three of those cases.

1) Two Seniors just not getting along

Let’s start with something “harmless”: Usually, the more senior and experienced people you introduce to each other are, the better it should go – one would think, at least. People that have been around for a while usually know how things work, that they should not be too pushy about their own agenda, what to expect from certain kinds of other people and so on. Sometimes people just have the wrong start which each other, or misunderstand each other though. In this case, the conversation I set up derailed to go to pretty much “hostile” after just a few messages. Despite the two guys being both quite engaged in helping others in their startup communities and having a somewhat similar character, in some other respects. Maybe one of them just had a bad day? No idea.

2) Conference Scandal

Some guy that seems reasonably well-connected and respected in tech comes to town for a conference. He puts out a request for a place to stay. I passed it on to some people, because – well, what’s the worst that could happen? In the end, the guy stayed in a hotel, I think. Luckily, because even though I did not make a proper “intro” here, I soon regretted passing on that request. Why? Well, the guy ended up all over the news, mainly due to his actions at and right after this very conference – and not in a good way.

3) Co-Found & Collapse

The most significant negative outcome of me introducing someone to someone else was two people becoming co-founders of a startup. In principle, this sounds great, and maybe for some time it actually was. However, the way it ended was anything but great: The startup failed to get any funding or traction. One of the two co-founders decided to essentially found the same company again, under a different name – without shares or compensation for the other, as far as I know – with a different co-founder and the support of a well-known business angel. The only good thing here was that karma brought some justice: The startup did not fare much better in it’s second “incarnation” either, while the other co-founder moved on to first a well-paid (but somewhat boring) job and then to a well-paid and cool job.

Lessons Learned 

Introducing less people to each other or none at all, is obviously not the answer. There’s many (small) positive outcomes that more than counter-balance these and you cannot predict everything that might happen anways. I am sometimes more careful now though, in terms of clarifying how well I know someone or how much I endorse what he or she does. The most common “negative” outcome is actually still quite simply the following: I introduce people to each other and even though they in principle both should have a common interest in talking and one of them asked me to make the introduction, they do not react, follow up etc. – and I basically wasted my time.


* Now known as Greenest Green and owned and managed by a former employee.

² I think they got in touch with eachother soon after anyways, so it’s probably all good. I hope, anyways…

 ³ “Trying to hook up a friend with someone” on Valentine’s Day, for example, essentially can be like that, too. Sometimes. And sometimes it’s just awkward.