How to network at startup events

There’s a good lineup of Indian startup events this month. You have HeadStart, Proto etc. Assuming that you are attending the event, how can you get the maximum benefit of attending these events ?  I’ll briefly try to highlight how you can network effectively at some of these events.

The number one goal for people to attend these events is networking. It doesnt matter whether you are an attendee, event organizer, speaker, panelist, entrpreneur, media etc., you will be networking at these events. And if you arent, then you should just stop attending these events. Because if you are not networking, you are simply wasting your time, money and energy at these events. Might as well watch some TV at home.

But networking is very personality driven and for several folks, networking doesnt come naturally. Lots of people are simply shy and apprehensive of approaching strangers and starting a conversation. Making small talk is difficult for many people and the awkwardness simply shows.  “Aise kaise kisi se bhi jaake baat karu ? Aur kya baat karu ? “. If you ever have gone through such thoughts, then dont worry, you arent alone.  But more than seeking solace in the fact that there are others in the same boat, you should try to work on developing your networking skills.

Here’re a few tips:

1) First and foremost, you’ll need to try and overcome the fear and apprehension of networking with strangers. Since this is an inherent personality trait, you’ll need to work hardest on it.  One of the tips that comes to mind is the following excerpt from Steve Job’s graduation speech at Stanford:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.

A long time back, I used to go through the same type of emotions at such events (not necessarily conferences). At some events, I felt like a total loner since I didnt have the guts to network and mingle around with people. In my quest to improve upon this aspect, I started wondering — “Whats the worst that can happen if I approach this group of strangers ? Either I wont fit into the group and they’ll continue conversing as if I’m not present there or even worse — I might end up saying something dumb in an effort to make small talk.”  I figured that none of these reasons seemed signficant enough that I shouldnt give it a try. And that’s how I started get much more comfortable with networking at events – be it professional or social. A good idea would be to start small – Test the waters at social events or unconferences like BarCamp or OCC etc. and continue building up on the confidence.  With time and some experience, you should start feeling much more comfortable with networking.

2) Its tough to break into circles of 4-5 people, where the participants already know each other from earlier.  Since its difficult to join the converation in such an insular group, I’d suggest trying to hook up with folks you already know. Or look for small groups or other people who are hanging out by themselves.  Ask around in your own network if anyone’s attending the event. If so, you can tag along and seek out new introductions via your friend. Try to hook up with other attendees over Twitter / FriendFeed – a lot of folks post tweets if / when they are attending an event.You can contact people prior to the event and then meetup in person at the event.

3) I personally prefer to network with a small set of folks and build deep, meaningful relationships as opposed to making small talk with just above every other person at the event.  Else, it ends up looking like your messed up social graph on Facebook – Orkut when you end up accepting every friend request. But again, thats my personal preference.

4) Try to show up early for the event. You might get a chance to interact with several other folks who’ve shown up early too. Additionally, you might get a chance to interact with the event organizers as well.

5) Prepare a brief intro about yourself. If possible make it a little catchy and carry business cards if possible. Share your blog / twitter / friendfeed usernames.Get others’ contact details as well.

So that covers the networking part of it.

Now, based on what role you are attending the event in – attendee, entrepreneur seeking investors, attendee seeking startup jobs, demo startup hoping for buzz etc., you also have an additional agenda on your plate. The first part of that will require that you do the necessary homework. So, for instance, if you’re a startup hoping to connect with investors, I’d suggest you get info of all the investors who’re supposed to be attending the event (most of the events publicize this beforehand). Try to get some background about the VC (and if possible about the individual as well). Not all VC’s invest in early stage startups. Shortlist the ones that seem most applicable to your startup. If possible, try to get in touch with them before the event (by email / phone etc.) and see if they can give you some 1-1 time during the event.  Similarly, for a demo startup hoping to attract press attention, try to seek out information on which media reps are attending. Try to get a moment of their time and do a quick demo for them. I think you get the idea..

At the end of the day, I’d also suggest that if possible, see if you can grab some coffee or dinner with any of the new contacts you’ve made. Kinda get a group of 4-6 people together and grab a quick bite. If that’s not feasible, drop in a follow up email to the new contacts that you’ve made.

Finally, have fun at the event. Be yourself. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to warm up to other people.

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  1. Decent post, and will definitely help entrepreneurs :-0

    Jay M

  2. NIce post. Have faced the same problem and this sure helps esp. when you do not know ppl who have already met. In fact taking a cue from your post, have decided to post my first comment to a post.:)

  3. Glad you guys found it interesting..

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