Before reading this guide to referrals, it’s recommended you familiarize yourself with 2a. Sourcing 1st-degree connections. After all, leveraging referrals is about scaling many of the things you’ve done to engage with your own 1st-degree connections across your team.

If you’ve hired a few founding team members, leveraging their referrals can be a great way to expand your company’s network. You can also get referrals from friends, VCs, and advisors. The key is to put good processes in place to make it as easy as possible (and low-pressure) to source referrals, reach out, and follow-up.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to find, organize, and reach out to L1 and L2 referrals. In this guide, we’ll assume you’re using Gem because it has a lot of features to speed the process up. And if you’re not using Gem, you may want to check it out — it’s free for startups for you and your entire founding team for 2 years.

If you don’t want to use Gem, you can also use spreadsheets (e.g. Google Sheets) and many of the best practices will be the same. Be warned that spreadsheets can quickly get unwieldy, grow out-of-date, create a lot of manual work for the team, and be difficult to coordinate across multiple team members. This is why we built Gem ;)

Host a “referral party” to generate L1 and L2 referrals

Get your team excited and mentally prepared by explaining the importance of recruiting. Acknowledge that it can be nerve-wracking to reach out to your friends about teaming up together, but assure your team that you’re going to make this as easy as possible, and very low-pressure. Also, remind your team that your startup could be a great opportunity for everyone’s referrals and could change the trajectory of their careers.

Explain L1 and L2 referrals:

Make it clear that it’s ok if people aren’t sure whether someone is actively looking for opportunities. It’s important to explain that you’re trying to build a market map of the best talent in their network. It’s fine if they’re not actively looking for new opportunities — we still want to confirm that so we can reach out when timing makes more sense.

Consider using Gem to streamline this and organize your referrals in one place. Gem is free for your co-founders and founding team. Have everyone download the extension to make this easier and collect referrals in one central place.

  1. Have everyone download the Gem Chrome Extension, which makes it easy to build up their lists of referrals.
  2. Have each team member create two projects for their L1 and L2 referrals, e.g. “Nick’s L1 Referrals”, “Nick’s L2 Referrals”
  3. Have each team member search their Facebook & LinkedIn for 1st-degree connections:
    1. Have them use the Gem Chrome Extension to 1-click source each L1 referral to Gem from their LinkedIn profile.
    2. 1-click add the referral to the L1 Referrals project to stay organized.
    3. Gem will auto-populate name, company, title, school, and find you email / social media. If Gem doesn’t find a personal email, add it manually.
  4. Repeat steps 3a - 3c with different LinkedIn searches to gather L2 referrals:
    1. Undergraduate class-mates.
    2. Friends from previous internships.
    3. Former company (for experienced folks).
    4. You can even share an example search to make it really easy to get started.

Make it easy to reach out

The key to referrals is making it easy to reach out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised teams on how to run referral sessions only to see a majority of referrals never get contacted.

The two big reasons holding back your team from reaching out are: