Networking Success with Techstars All-Star Mentor Geoffrey Nicholson

Header image featuring Techstars Allstar mentor Geoffrey Nicholson.

In our ongoing series looking at how successful entrepreneurs, business leaders and startup mentors have leveraged networking to further their careers, we chat with Geoffrey Nicholson – An expert in bridging technology and financial services, Geoffrey has held influential roles across the Americas and Europe and is a TechStars All-Star mentor (Considered to be in the top 1% of their mentors). Geoffrey has a simple piece of advice – Work on your networking skills. You never know when that random person you met at an event could end up connecting you to a valuable opportunity down the road.

In this insightful conversation, we hear about how a chance meeting lead to a huge opportunity and pick up some top networking tips along the way. Geoffrey’s refreshingly human stories and practical insights will inspire you to start making more connections today. Who knows where they may lead?

Headshot of Techstars mentor Geoffrey Nicholson.

Geoffrey Nicholson
Geoffrey is an accomplished business leader with extensive experience advising companies at the intersection of technology and financial services. He currently serves as Chairman and Managing Partner at Blindside Partners, his strategy and consulting firm helping tech companies identify and exploit competitors’ blindspots. Geoffrey is also the Chairman at Bellator.tech, a company providing payment technologies to reduce financial crime and chairman of payments company Cardaq,. His expertise is highly sought after, leading to his recognition as a Techstars All-Star Mentor, an honour bestowed upon the top 1% of mentors in the prestigious accelerator program and advisory roles in multiple other businesses.

A big thank you to Geoffrey for taking part in Networking Success and sharing his invaluable insights with us.


How has networking played a role in guiding you to significant positions such as Senior Advisor for Neo Forensics, Chairman at Bellator, and Chairman and Managing Partner at Blindside Partners?

Often opportunities have come second hand from someone I met socially at an event and I followed up with them for coffee or a drink. Those contacts do not usually result directly in consulting work or a job but if you maintain those acquaintances over time, in my experience, some of them will introduce you to people they have met who do need your help.

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Looking back at your career, can you share an instance where connecting with a seemingly unrelated individual or organization through your network led to a valuable opportunity?

Yes I became a mentor at TechStars because a tech entrepreneur I met at a tech event, after I moved back to London in 2016, introduced me to his wife who was the programme manager at the Barclays accelerator and she thought highly enough of the conversation to introduce me to the TechStars manager of the programme and he decided to take a chance on me.

As a Techstars All-Star Mentor, what’s one key piece of advice you give to startups about building and leveraging networks to accelerate their growth?

Practice obsessively your 30 second elevator pitch and make it at a level anyone can understand. Be likeable and respectful to everyone you meet. It is really unlikely at a general event that you will meet someone who wants to invest in your company. But you might meet people who will introduce you to other people who are potential investors if they like and respect you and they understand what you are doing well enough so they can repeat it (or at least be able to say “he/she is a really nice person and I don’t really understand what they are doing, but it sounds cool and it is in an area I know you are interested in”). Secondly a great Silicon Valley proverb is “if you want advice ask for money, and if you want money, ask for advice”.

Elevator Pitch spelled out in colourful blocks.

Founders often struggle to connect with the right investors at the right time. What practical advice can you offer founders to help them connect with suitable investors for their ventures?

I will repeat what I said above with an addition. You have to be prepared that your fundraising may take longer than you hope, particularly now. You need people in your network and potential investors to remember you during that lead time, hopefully as you are building more traction on key objectives. Reconnect with people you have resonated with as things change in their lives as well as in yours

With the rise of digital transformation, how do you see the role of networking changing within the financial services industry?

It becomes easier to stay in touch with people but really only on a superficial basis (which in itself is helpful). Older people like me essentially use social media as an address book and a way to stay in touch with what our networks are thinking about. But you have to be careful that your communications are high quality on social networks as it is much harder to build the kind of trust on a virtual platform that you can in person. The near zero marginal cost of sending a message means you have to be conscious that the person who reads the message does not have a near zero cost and will not have any trust in a cold caller. So it is best to go through your contacts to get to people. However you also have to be conscious that many of us pretty much automatically reciprocate to connection requests and so you would be hard pressed to see who in my network for example are truly trusted connections. And even if people are trusted, there may not be time to respond quickly and then the message falls into the “not urgent/not important quadrant”. So you probably have to be a little persistent but you should always apologize. And you need to make it really clear why what you are asking for might be important to the person you are asking.

How can individuals overcome common networking anxieties and become more confident in building their network?

I do not run into this a lot in myself or the founders I work with so I never had to advise on it. I suspect if the anxiety is over meeting new people then you need to recognise that this fear will not help you advance in business so it might be good to seek psychiatric advice to understand why you feel this way. If it is simply a lack of practice, then I would say practise your 30 second pitch for your answer when a stranger asks you “what do you do?” and get out of your room and go to networking events and bars and stand at the bar and talk to strangers. This is probably a lot easier for men than women so I know it is not a very satisfactory answer. Treat everybody with respect and you will find all the people that you want to talk to will treat you with respect. You do not want a business or any other relationship with somebody who does not respect you and your ideas and views. So if you run into someone who is unpleasant and you are nervous about that, then remember it is their problem not yours. Remind yourself that our only social obligation in this world with respect to other people is to treat them the way you want to be treated. You will find almost all your social interactions are better when you treat everyone, including yourself, with dignity and respect. But it is not as easy as it sounds to live up to this ideal consistently.

What advice would you give to your younger self, starting out in the business world today?

Unfortunately I would not have listened! Be in less of a hurry. Enjoy the journey of life and the people you meet. Some of them will be useful in your career and some will not but you cannot always tell up front which category they will fall into. I moved around a lot in my career and that made it particularly hard to stay in touch with old friends from high school and university and business school. You should work hard to nurture those communities as they are very valuable in personal terms, let alone business terms.

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