Aaron’s Networking Tips

Networking has never come naturally to me. I was always one who preferred to be known for my great work, and I found time at my desk to be the most productive. In my new role as a startup co-founder, great work alone isn’t enough. Networking will be critical to the success of LazyMeter.

I’ve been forcing myself out of my productive computer mode to various networking events in the Seattle area. Two months later, I’ve already built some very valuable connections. Just this week:

  • I was invited to present our idea to a group of investors. While we aren’t actively seeking investors, it’s great to build these relationships now, and presenting will be great experience.
  • I was invited to a consulting shop to meet the partners. In case you’re wondering, I’m establishing myself as a consultant for two reasons. First, cashflow is nice. And second, should the startup not work out, it’s the world I’d like to be in.
  • I’m getting coffee with a successful local entrepreneur and investor.
  • Here’s what I’ve learned in my first 2 months of schmoozing:

  • Force yourself to every event. It’s easy to make excuses not to go. Just remind yourself that you can always leave after 5 minutes if it’s not worth your time. I almost didn’t go to the event this week, and if I hadn’t the three wins above would not have happened.
  • Talk to as many people as you can. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to avoid it. Don’t get stuck talking to one person or group the whole time. Don’t just approach the people you’ve heard of. It’s too easy to miss meeting new contacts. And don’t make assumptions about people as an excuse not to meet them – these can be the most valuable contacts. Which brings me to the next point:
  • Especially talk to the people that blend in, perhaps even more so than the people who stick out.
  • Be yourself. You don’t have to be intimidated by the professional networkers, and you’re not the only one who just wants to be yourself.
  • You don’t have to exaggerate or bullshit. Other people will, but you don’t have to play that game. Being honest and down to earth will stand out in the crowd.
  • Follow up. Always follow up. Even if it’s just “Was nice to meet you”. Following up seems to be a habit of very successful people. I’ve emailed Craig from craigslist and Jeff Bezos from Amazon. They both got back to me. Craig actually responded in under 10 minutes. And we hadn’t even met.
  • Pitch to everyone – slightly differently. This is great market research. I have completely changed the way I describe our product. When I used to say “task management”, people’s eyes would glaze over. When I say we’re a personal communication system, they lean forward and ask when it will be ready. It’s this practice that resulted in my being invited to meet with investors. I had actually met the guy who invited me over a month ago. When I approached him again with the same idea described a different way, he gave me his card.
  • Dress up just a bit, but not too much. Seattle is a jeans and t-shirt culture. That might be fine if you’re a developer, but if you’re not, polishing yourself up just a bit can result in being taken seriously by more people. At the same time, if you dress up too much, you risk being seen the wrong way. I wore a dress shirt to an event and nobody seemed to want to talk. I wore a nice sweater and people approached me.
  • Hand out business cards. Even if they’re the $5 vistaprint special. If people want to contact you, they will have something to remember you by. If they don’t want to contact you, they will remember you just a bit more. And with a very basic design, you will look like you are spending your time and money wisely.
  • Whatever you do, don’t be this guy:
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