Networking On- and Offline
Helping out some Babson Freshmen through my involvement with E-Tower, the Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Open Gate Initiative, the questions of i) should I be investing time into networking, and ii) how to I develop a personal brand and meet interesting people, have come up very frequently. Given I’ve only been in the country for just over half a year, settling into a new startup world, quite a few have found my advice, or at least thoughts on the topic, useful so as always I thought I might share it here.
To address the first point, Network, Network, Network. And then Network. The three most profound values I’ve benefited from were completely unexpected. I thought networking was for getting jobs or in my case helping my startup. Now this is definitely true, however I really see other great advantages as well. I meet people outside the Babson bubble, and I get perspective. I meet engineers from MIT and BU, passionate thinkers from BC and Brandeis, I speak with industry professionals from tangential but related industries, I engage with investors on what they think about my space, I get inspired by serial entrepreneurs who genuinely love their life. So to those three reasons why I network; first, it gives me perspective, second, it keeps me motivated and on task, and third, meeting really passionate people is just something everyone should do once in a while.
As how to go about doing it? Many students appreciate the notion of networking as being important, they’ll nod to the statement, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. First of all, I disagree with that statement. I much prefer Susan RoAne‘s ‘It’s not what you know OR who knows you, BUT WHO KNOWS YOU.’ When peers start name dropping, ‘oh I know CEO of X, and Founder of Y’, I’m like great, but do they know you or are you just one of 100 people they met that one night out of 100 nights of networking events they go to every year. Therefore my first point about networking is not to go for as many ‘big shots’ as possible, rather try and deeply engage with a handful of people every event you make it out to. If you’re able to have genuinely stimulating conversations with seven people, exchange cards, and follow up with five of them via LinkedIn and Twitter, and even a couple by email, you’ve done fairly well. For a list of events, there are still left on this list I wrote up a little while back, Scott Kirsner recently wrote up the Five Best Monthly Networking Events, and Eventbrite and Meetup searches are always interesting.
Now not everyone can always make it to physical networking events, or at least at the regularity that they are online, so I actually think it’s really important to maintain relationships and further develop personal branding online. Complementary with interacting in person, engage and speak with people on the blogosphere and Twitter. For blogging, you don’t have to actually blog, but rather be aware of what’s going on in your ecosystems (if that’s mobile, cloud, social networking) and giving back to your respective communities by providing your opinions. You’d be surprised at how few people regularly comment on blogs, and how much bloggers recognize the return visitors. So when you regularly comment on OnStartup.com and you see Dharmesh Shah at an event, it’s a much more interesting conversation when you can speak about your favorite post, and he remembers your perceptive comments.
The important thing is to get out there, get out to Waltham or Cambridge for that event, get on that blog post and give your $0.02, and Network!