Life of FBi | Non-Tech Start-up Founder

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Posts Tagged ‘open gate

Networking On- and Offline

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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!

Written by Fan Bi

September 25, 2009 at 6:07 pm

What is the Open Gate Initiative?

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Skimming even just the titles of my posts, beside the fact I write a fortnightly column for College Mogul, and the fact I’m both a student at Babson College as well as a co-founder and CEO of Blank Label, it’s fairly evident that I strongly believe the reasons why students should consider venture creation as a very real possibility whilst in college, and that why the auxiliary parties need to do everything possible to support those pursuits. So outside of my life at Blank Label, my one big passionate pursuit is directly in this field. But I probably should have found something that didn’t try and overcome two of the most proven difficult to overcome hurdles.

Open Gate Initative is the project that I’ve co-founded with Evan Morikawa, co-founder and CEO of Alight Learning, whose mission is to provide a highly interactive, collaborative platform for Babson and Olin students who share the interest in venture creation. There are a couple of key words in this that I’d like to highlight. First, the focus on ‘interactive’ and ‘collaborative’ is incredibly important. We’re a generation of people who are entitled enough to care very little for the incredible speakers we have access to, instead finding it non-specific if we’re being spoken to with any audience size greater than a dozen. We don’t turn up to lectures, why would we turn up to hear someone else talk when we’re not getting credit for it. Sure there is some inspiration value in hearing talks, but the truly inspirational ones are really rare. The focus on OGI will really be to get people thinking creatively together. It’s the intellectual stimulation of problem solving, the shared opportunity identification, and outrageous fun that will get students really thinking  about venture creation. The other key word is ‘interest’. This is not the gateway for student entrepreneurs to be given more exclusive resources to make then high potential. Merely, for those with an interest which can be supported, catalyzed and encouraged.

Naturally the two biggest hurdles that OGI looks to overcome is i) creating a sustainable student organization and ii) bringing together the cultural differences of specialized business and engineering students. The first one is fairly obvious for those with any exposure to student organizations that go through roller-coaster cycles of good Presidents and bad ones, even more tumultuous than on the national level, that start with the best intentions and then just flop post the honeymoon period. The second is far more subtle, yet at the same time interesting to analyze. What we initially thought were fundamentally different approaches to venture creation between Babson students and Oliners we actually found to be show common traits of how traditional business people approached entrepreneurship as compared with creation-focused engineers.  I’ll go into the observations in depth another time, suffice it to say there is polarity on a few different spectrums.

As OGI is rolled out in the coming weeks, I’ll keep everyone posted on how we execute and plan on overcoming said challenges, what the response and effectiveness is, and what lessons can be shared with other schools looking to cross-pollinate or that are multi-disciplinary.

Music whilst writing this post: Macy Gray Radio Station on Pandora

Written by Fan Bi

August 17, 2009 at 9:35 am

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