Building A Business Network
Updated: Sep 11
with Jonathan Rosen, Collaberex
Business networking groups can be a huge boon to you and your business if you fall in with the right crowd and learn to communicate the way you need to. Otherwise, these groups can just end up being a waste of your time because they won't lead you where you need to go. The Founder of Collaberex, Jonathan Rosen, gets into what you need to look out for in business networking groups that you're looking to join. Getting into and participating in these groups can take a huge amount of effort, so make sure you're channeling your effort somewhere worthwhile. Join Susan Tatum, Mindi Rosser, and Jonathan in this episode to learn how to look for business networking groups that can and will suit your needs.
Transcribed by AI I’m here with the Founder of Collaberex, Jonathan Rosen. Welcome, Jonathan.
Susan, it’s nice to be here. Thank you for having me. This is great.
You have an interesting company. It’s a unique networking group, and I think that’s something that could be valuable for our readers to know about. Why don’t you start off, tell us a little bit about who you are? How you got where you are and what we need to know about Collaberex?
This is a business that I started several years ago. Whenever people start things, it’s always as a result of previous experiences that they’ve had that they’re trying to improve upon. I have a background in business. I’m an attorney, that’s the boring part. I haven’t practiced law for a long time, which I’m happy about. I started this because I was involved in some peer advisory organizations several years ago. Their model resonated with me, but I saw some flaws in the model. In addition, in my past I had been involved in many types of business networking groups and also saw many flaws in their model. People weren’t getting the value that they needed to get in both those situations.
What I did is I created a company that does facilitation of what we call pure advisory business development groups. They are 70% pure advisory or mastermind type groups and 30% business networking groups. The problem with both of those types of organizations is you want to get the best advice from your peer advisory groups and you want to get the highest quality referrals from your business networking group. No one does because all those groups are composed of random groups of people. They’re often random groups of noncompeting professionals, but they’re random groups of people. The people within those groups, there’s no reason to think that those particular people will give you the best advice or those particular people will give you the best and the highest quality referrals. There was an issue.
People would go and join a group and say, “Let me try it out and I hope it works. They seem nice people. I like hanging out with these people.” The reason they join sometimes is not getting their expectations as results and there’s a large gap between them. What we did to differentiate ourselves and to solve that problem is all of our groups are segmented by primary target markets. To give you an example, we have twelve groups in the New York Metro area. I have one particular group in New York City, and it’s only for people that call on venture capital-funded companies. That means everyone in that group, they’re noncompeting professionals. That’s who their primary target market is. They’re calling on startups that have gotten some significant funding.
You can imagine who that is good for. Who those startups that have significant funding are spending money on particular things? They’re hiring people. They need advice from attorneys, from insurance, people, payroll people, organizational development people, human resources people, and strategy consultants. All those things that will help them grow. Everyone in that group shares that target market. It means when they get advice from those people, those people understand them. They understand their challenges. They understand the market that they’re going after. The advice that they’re getting from those people and the advice that we give is mostly on business development.
We discuss how do you grow your client base within this target market that we all share. Everyone does things differently so people can compare challenges, success stories and give invaluable advice to each other on how to do their best practices. That’s the peer advisory part. The networking part is all those people, their primary target market is venture capital-funded companies. That means they have clients that are venture capital-funded companies. As people build relationships with each other, they can introduce each other’s clients. You can’t get a higher quality referral than that. It takes a long time to build trust, so people do that, but after they leave one of our meetings, they’re all doing the same thing.
Their business development activities are similar in that they’re looking for more venture capital-funded companies are decision-makers at those to meet and to offer their services. Everyone knows the decision-makers everyone’s looking to me and that is 100% the point of networking. Don’t go into a random group of people and hope they know the people you’re looking to meet. Go into a group that’s non-random where you’re certain they already do know the people you’re looking to meet. It makes the process much more efficient. The concept is marketing one-on-one. If you’re trying to get your message out to a target market, get it out to that target market. Don’t blast it to the world.
I almost want you to repeat that, but I’m going to pull it out as a quote because if every marketer paid attention to what you said, that one sentence is invaluable.
If you’re searching for something on Google and you’re looking for golf clubs, don’t type in sporting equipment. You’ll get other stuff. Focus on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the best peer advice on how to build your client base within a target market, don’t talk to people that know nothing about your target market. It’s basic common sense.
Since I’ve been doing this show and also in my business talking with business owners and trying to get them to focus, I find that there is a great deal of fear that if they narrow down who they want to do business with, they’re going to miss some random opportunity or other opportunities. Does that also occur in the networking area?
All the time. It drives me up a wall. We want people to express how other people in the group can help them. Someone once said to me one of the characteristics of our group is, “We’ve got your back group.” A requirement of membership in our group is they have to sign an agreement that says they’re committed to being responsible for each other’s success. If everyone in the group is responsible for each other and they’ve committed to that, then everyone’s going to succeed. I believe that if you collaborate with the right people, you’re going to achieve amazing individual results. I’m in the New York Metro area and it’s highly competitive.
You can’t walk ten feet down the street without running into ten financial planners. It’s so competitive that it’s good for them to have a support group of other people that are out for their success. Getting back to your question of people being fearful of defining a market niche, I get it all the time. I’ll say, “Who is your target market?” They say, “Anyone that’s breathing.” If people can become the best at one thing and be known for one thing and the go-to financial planner for Millennials of a certain age that had a baby that are lefties and play tennis, then those people that are fit that description will go to that person. They’re the best person for them.
They’re relevant and they can relate to each other. It seems obvious to me too, but like you, I find it can be quite a challenge. The pledge that you have them sign, is that common amongst other kinds of peer groups and networking groups or is that something that you added to the mix?
I had lunch with someone who was in a traditional business networking group. When you joined that other networking group, she says that you have to raise your right hand and agree to certain things. One of the things is she said you have to agree to abide by the ethical standards of your profession. She thinks there are a lot of professions that their standards are not that high.
You wonder if they even have them.
They could go beyond that. I don’t think it is that common, but we try and take it to the next step by expressing this mission. My business is simple. Every decision that we make is based on that. It’s not based on revenues or numbers of memberships. It’s based on our mission of putting the right people in the room, getting them to commit to each other success, getting them to help each other with whatever peer advisory issues are important to them. What that does is by building those relationships, that’s what leads to high-quality referrals. They join a group and think, “Everyone here is able to refer me.” It doesn’t mean they’re going to refer you, they’re able to. They know the people I’m looking to meet. By building relationships with each other and operating the group as a peer advisory group, you see the group turn over a couple of months where they go from being able, to they can’t help but refer each other. I want it to become involuntary.
You said over a period of a couple of months, is that needing help into your groups meet?
We only meet once a month for 90 minutes. It takes a couple of months for people to get to know each other. Every agenda item, every moment that’s spent in that 90 minutes is with the goal of accelerating the relationship-building process. Everything is a group discussion. We don’t go around the room and say, “Let’s hear your pitch,” which I’m not a fan of. I think when you do that, it’s good for practicing your pitch and not much else. We walk in and immediately start the groups by saying hello and we say, “We’re splitting everyone into groups of two.” We make everyone pick someone that they know the least. They haven’t met or they haven’t gotten together with, and we interview each other for five minutes each. What they have to do is then we go around the room and you have to tell them about the person you interviewed for two minutes. First, you have to tell them about personally and then you have to tell them what they wanted you to tell the group about them. We go to the boring stuff, the professionally, “He’s an accountant or she’s an insurance broker.” That’s an old relationship building.
This is off topic a little bit. When these people go to join your group, have you ever talked to anybody that wanted to be in a group and you felt they were wrong?
At least 50% of the people. There was someone in one of my groups that said to me, “One thing I love about this group is Jonathan rejects papers.” I thought that I would have to have a particular vetting system and have a lot of hard conversations with people when I started this company. I rarely ever have to do that. When people come to a group, they get a sense of whether it’s good for them, whether these people are going to be good for them. Whether they’re their people. Whether they share values. Whether these are people that they could be friends with that they’re going to bond with. We tend to get given the nature of our business and that it’s called Collaberex. We tend to get people that collaborate and that are other-focused. They care about other people before themselves. They’re the people that open the doors for people and don’t cut you off on the highway. It’s a personality type that tends to like our groups. People that aren’t like that don’t show up again. They come as a guest and then they’re not interested in membership. I don’t ask them and they don’t ask me. It’s easy.
That does make it where you don’t have to have the conversation.
I did think that I would have to have those conversations and it rarely happens. When I do have the conversations, it’s an easy conversation because I say, “I don’t think this is the right group for you. Let me suggest some other groups.” There’s a ton of traditional networking groups out there that are transactional.
Do you go with a bunch of business cards?
You say your pitch and all they do is they count how many referrals did you get and how many did you give? What it does is it encourages high and low-quality referrals, which is a waste of time. It’s not good. The way that I look at this and how I want to differentiate the company is, I view my groups as a sanctuary. Maybe it’s because I used to live in Manhattan, now I live in the suburbs. It’s a crazy competitive world. If you have a supportive community that has your back, it makes all the difference in the world. Networking doesn’t have to be torture, small talk, micromanaged or high quantity facilitators should be like guides, not drill sergeants. The experience of the group should be wonderful. They should walk out energized, inspired by each other and feel supported. That’s what differentiates us from the other groups.
You look forward to the next meeting if you know you’re not going to get beat up.
I have twelve groups. Someone people say to me all the time, “Jonathan, do you go to all the groups?” I look at them and I say, “Go to all the groups. That’s the fun part. Why do you think I created this company? I can go to all the groups.”
You said you are a lawyer but you haven’t practiced in a long time. Did you go directly from practicing law to having this group of networking groups?
I practiced law for a couple of years and then I owned a bunch of businesses, something completely different and having nothing to do with this. I run, bought and owned businesses a lot in the commercial furniture industry, which were crazy businesses with lots of moving parts and everything that could go wrong would go wrong. When I left that business, I thought to myself, I never want to be in business again that has the long lead time or freight damage. This doesn’t, so I’m happy about that. I also did a couple of corporate turnarounds for a few different companies in the lower and middle-market range.
About several years ago, I was involved in a pure advisory organization called Vistage as a facilitator. I ended up here because when I was doing it, my mother-in-law at the time was 93. She would say to me, “Jonathan, what are you doing now?” With the little judgemental tone in her voice, she says, “Don’t you think you should lose a few pounds?” Filters are only her thing. She didn’t have a lot of filters. I told her what I was doing and she would look at me and go, “What’s your plan B? Do something else. That’s dumb.” I owe the pivot of my business from that purely pure advisory organization to what I’m doing to Evelyn.
You stuck with the idea of a networking group. Explaining back to you what I am getting you to say is you saw an opportunity to make a better group.
Before, it’s purely advisory. I saw the flaws in that model. The experience that I had in trying to build a new peer advisory group is that when you build a new group, you have zero members. You’d approach people and you’d say, “Let me tell you about the group. Let me tell you what we do, the features, benefits, what we can do and how valuable it is.” They would say to me, “It’s a peer advisory group.” I go, “Yes.” They go, “The value of the group depends on the other people in the room. How do I know what advice I’m going to get?”
I’ll go, “Yes,” and they would say, “Who’s in your group?” I would say, “No one, it’s new, you and other people like you.” They would all say, “Call me back in six months when you have a group.” The value of a peer advisory group depends on the other people in the room. From that, I said, “How can I make the peer advice that people get of the highest quality?” The way to do it is to be in a room with people who understand you, your marketplace and your challenges. Everyone does things differently. People have different backgrounds, education, experience and all kinds of ways.
The groups of mine, of all my groups that are most successful, especially in terms of peer advice or the ones that have the most diversity. People have the most different experiences. You have the person that went to an Ivy League school sitting next to the person that went to community college. What happens all the time and it’s like gold. When someone discusses something and someone else says, “I never would’ve thought of it that way.” You think this was valuable. If you have everyone that’s the same, then you’re going to get similar points of view.
Jonathan, it occurs to me, the one thing that I hope that our readers will get out of this is that you can differentiate yourself by having the right relationships.
One thing that I’ve said to people and it’s important for people, for individuals in my groups and for me as a business to differentiate myself from the competition. Individuals in my group need to differentiate themselves from their competition. One of the easiest ways for people, especially individual professional service providers, financial planners and people that everyone else perceives as selling a commodity product, something similar. The best way they can differentiate is to be themselves and not be afraid of being themselves. If they were themselves or telling a funny joke, be comfortable with yourself and because you are different than everyone else. People will gravitate towards you if you’re honest and authentic about who you are. You can express what matters to you and why you’re doing what you do and why you care about it. People that believe that will say, “I believe in that too. I’ll do business with that person.”
Your groups are helping give them the confidence to be themselves.
When we go around and people in the groups and I say, “Tell us about yourself,” or something like that. People say what they do, no one cares what you do. They care about you as a person, and then they’ll care what you do. You have to start with that. Start with what you have in common, what values you share.
Do you find that people have more difficulty talking about that in their personal aspects or their business aspects?
Sometimes it’s hard to get out of them to loosen up and say get over yourself. Be yourself. If you go around a room and you come to say the accountant and you say, “Tell us about yourself,” and they say, “I do financial statements and tax returns.” I’ve yet to hear anyone say, “That is so cool.” If the accountant says, “Tell us about yourself.” “Let me start with, I have two teenagers and they’re driving me up a wall and I don’t know what to do.” You get everyone nodding their head either I was one of those teenagers or I have teenagers. I’ve been through it or that’s what I have to look forward to. People then relate to that and then they want to continue the conversation with that person. They’ll ask about his accounting work. That’s what creates trust. It seems like that guy or that woman, they seem regular. They seem normal. They’re relatable.
I think that having that relationship with somebody that can refer you to their own clients helps with that trust factor too. It establishes some credibility at the front door.
No one gets referred to their own clients until you build a lot of trust. That’s a risk, but people will refer to other people, either good referral sources or to other potential clients that are in theirs.
What tips or advice would you have for people that are reading this? If they’re trying to take that step to step away from the herd and focus either their businesses or themselves on something specific or be different from the rest of the crowd.
I think everyone should step back and say, “What kind of person am I? What are the things that I care about the most? How does what I care about the most relate to what I’m doing? How does what I’m doing, how is it a reflection of what I care about the most?” I find that when people say things that are true and authentic, let’s take financial planners, for example. When they say, “The reason I went into this is that growing up, we were not financially well off.” I felt that if there had been some additional planning along the way that it would have alleviated a lot of problems that we had. It was something personal to me where they saw a that had issues or someone. It becomes an emotional reason and people should not be afraid of expressing that. Instead of saying, “I’m a financial planner and we have $3 billion under management.” That does nothing for anyone.
It doesn’t develop any sense of trust. People make buying decisions, especially based on gut feelings and emotional decisions, and then justify them with logic. It’s all about trust. Once I heard someone use an example. Someone has a baby. They live in a neighborhood in the suburbs. For the first time they get to go out and they’re looking for a babysitter. What do they do? Let’s say they have two choices. There’s a sixteen-year-old girl. They’ve known that girl’s parents for years. They only lived a block away. She has zero experience being a babysitter, but she wants to babysit. The most precious thing in the world is their baby. Three blocks away, there’s a new person they’ve never met that moved to the neighborhood, which is 35 years old and said they have fifteen years of experience being a babysitter. They know CPR and they were this and this. They always pick the teenager because that’s who they trust. They know their parents, they know their values. It’s not a stranger. That’s a good example. Trust builds relationships that build a business.
I think that’s a great example. The readers that want to get in touch with you or learn more about what you do, what’s the best way to do that?
They could look us up on our website, which is Collaberex.com, or anyone can email me at Jonathan@Collaberex.com. That’s the best way. You could see what we do, and I would be happy to have conversations with anyone and continue this conversation. This was fun.
Thank you, Jonathan. It’s great to talk to you again.
Thank you for inviting me.