“Let me know how I can be helpful.””

It’s a common phrase to hear in tech, and it often gets criticized for not being helpful at all. While I’ve seen a lot of people point fingers at the investor or the advisor, I don’t think it’s fair to blame them.

That phrase is an open-ended offering. It says, “I don’t know everything going on in your world, but if you let me know exactly how I can help, I will”. They need guidance in order to help you unlock their value. To never take up that offer and then criticize someone for it is hypocritical.

To better understand how someone can be helpful for me, I use this mental model. Any relevant person will fall in one, maybe two of these categories:

Here is a brief description and example for each:

Standalone, this person isn’t valuable. It’s all about who they know, and who they can introduce you to in the other categories. Anyone can be this person some of the time, but a super networker can be this all the time. If a startup agent were to exist, they would be more in this category.

This person has control over capital, which is always useful in business. This person is either an investor or someone that you can sell to.

This is something everybody has, but it is the hardest to get. People that don’t have the other two categories can only offer this. It’s not the literal time that you get, it’s the knowledge or output you get from that time. This last point adds the rule that the person has to offer something worth their time in the first place. Their experience has to match your needs otherwise, they’re useless. This person is a partner, employee, advisor, or mentor.

Any person will fall into one of these categories, and I can use it to identify how someone can actually be helpful. I also don’t expect someone to be in more than one group. It’s nice - but I attribute unique value to each category. If I need something from two categories, I know there’s someone else who can help.