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Greenhorn Connect Helps Startups Get On Their Feet, If They're Good Enough

How one young Bostonian became a networking king.

Photo by David Yellen
Photo by David Yellen

A pair of twentysomethings in Boston had a startup idea, so they did what just about everyone in their shoes does: They asked Jason Evanish for introductions to angel investors and VCs. But after a few tough questions, Evanish declined. "They're not even remotely ready to raise money," he says later, shaking his head.

Evanish is not wealthy, he hasn't started a big company, and until recently, he wasn't especially well connected. He's just a green-eyed, crew-cutted 26-year-old. But he's also a vital stop on any young entrepreneur's startup tour. That's because, in the town that fostered the likes of Facebook and Scvngr, he figured out something nobody thought of before: He who controls networking also controls the network.

The revelation grew out of frustration. After completing a tech-entrepreneurship grad program in 2009, Evanish and a college buddy found Boston's multiplicity of techie meet-and-greets too confusing. So they started GreenhornConnect.com, a clearinghouse for networking events and startup resources. Soon, entrepreneurs and VCs were contacting him directly, looking for info and introductions no one else was giving. And the site's $35-a-listing fees were making it worth his while.

"That's where it's, like, Sweet!" he remembers thinking. "This is doing what it's supposed to." But he noticed a cast of wannabe entrepreneurs—"stale muffins," he calls them—always hogging the Q&A mic at events but never starting their own companies. He felt obliged not to waste anyone's time, so he turned himself into a gatekeeper, arranging strategic meetings to filter out the groupies. "Everyone thinks entrepreneurs are short on money," Evanish says, "when in fact their most scarce resource is time."

Evanish insists this gives him no power. He prefers the word value—he just knows who to connect and who not to. But his super-node status helps young techies find the best jobs and helps companies launch faster—like when he brought a reluctant Vermont angel investor, Ty Danco, down to Boston, leading to deals for a couple of startups. He also connected a new social-metrics company, SocMetrics, with one of its first clients.

Boston has never been able to replicate the efficient network of Silicon Valley, so these kinds of successes got noticed fast.

"If you're a twentysomething starting a company, he's the guy to know," says Mark Bao, who recently sold his hit site, threewords.me, to dotcom mogul Kevin Ham. "You almost can't not know him." What do you do with all that, ahem, value? Use the connections, of course. Evanish plans to join the ranks of those he helps, launching his own B2B software company. He's feeling prepared.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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