Nick Freer: Networking essential to internationalisation

Nick Freer says connections are the key to building a global business. Picture: Picture: Stewart Attwood
Nick Freer says connections are the key to building a global business. Picture: Picture: Stewart Attwood
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Back in the late 1990s there was a dinner party game called the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” (SDOKB), based on the concept whereby any two people on the planet are six or fewer connections apart.

If you knew your movies, actors and directors well you could impress your friends and the game often led to conversations about favourite films, standout scenes, hottest actors and actresses and sometimes heated debate.

In a way, Reid Hoffman is to Silicon Valley what Kevin Bacon was to Hollywood

A few years after SDOKB, Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn, the business networking site sold last year to Microsoft for $26 billion (£20.8bn). There are similarities between LinkedIn and the Kevin Bacon game in that the site used by almost 500 million people categorises contacts by degree – direct contacts are first degree connections and second degree contacts are people who are connected to your first degree contacts and so on.

Maybe Hoffman came up with the idea for a networking site at a San Franciscan dinner party trying to link Tom Cruise to Kevin Bacon through the movies – easy one really, they starred together in the 1992 legal thriller A Few Good Men. Okay, unlikely, but not impossible.

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In a way, Reid Hoffman is to Silicon Valley what Kevin Bacon was to Hollywood, a ubiquitous character who pops up everywhere.

Hoffman was one of Facebook’s earliest investors and helped PayPal founders, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, grow the online payments startup before its eventual sale to eBay. Let’s just say it’s a half decent résumé next time he goes for a job interview. What is unquestionable is that Hoffman has some impressive contacts – presidents, premiers, kings and queens are all standard. A quick look at Hoffman’s site shows he and I have three shared connections – a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, a London-based newspaper editor and the Private Secretary to HRH The Duke of York. So if I needed an introduction to Reid Hoffman, it’s doable – good to know when I come up with that world-changing startup that his VC firm, Greylock Partners, would not want to miss out on.

LinkedIn has become the go-to business networking tool for executives across the globe – including in China, where it was the first US internet business to succeed – who want to promote themselves and their organisations, source business leads or simply share interesting information.

A client told me that when he shared a local press article about his corporate finance firm’s successes in 2016 the post generated over 2,000 views, including in the States which is a big target market for the firm. This illustrates that local press does not now equate to local readership when the web can migrate a news story worldwide in seconds.

READ MORE: International expansion for Scottish Business Network

The Scottish Business Network moved up a gear this month with news it will be extending its reach to China and North America following the success of its activities in London last year. Founded by a serial entrepreneur and a former UK head of Enterprise Ireland, the team is looking to make connections for Scottish business leaders and help oil their international expansion strategies. I was happy to accept an invitation to join the fold as an adviser.

A 2014 report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found a lack of “effective connections” to be a key issue for businesses looking to grow beyond indigenous markets, illustrating the importance of networks to internationalisation.

A new contact, RocketSpace CEO and Fife native Duncan Logan, exemplifies the power of networks as the tech campus he founded in San Francisco six years ago – a facility that incubated Airbnb, Uber and over a dozen more unicorns – opens a series of tech campuses in China during 2017 following its London opening last year.

Logan made a big impression on the tech community during his last visit to Scotland and the hope is that we can draw on his expertise to help Scotland’s tech scene move into its next phase of growth.

• Nick Freer owns communications and business advisory agency, the Freer Consultancy

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