Networking can be tough, especially in Silicon Valley or any other start-up hub. At big events, it’s often hard to identify the wannabe entrepreneurs from those who are building awesome things or have awesome contacts, so it’s not uncommon to leave an event hours later exhausted, hoarse, and with nothing to show.
But, the start-up world is an ecosystem where connections and introductions can be critical to raising money or landing a key partner, and networking is just part of the game. So, what’s a new entrepreneur to do?
While heading to the big events once in a while is important, here are three even better ways to rapidly expand and improve your network—while still saving your energy for your new and growing company.
1. Network One-on-One
Why leave meeting the right people up to the small chance that you’ll run into them at the buffet table? Instead, think about the type of people you’d be interested to meet (and who would be interested to meet you as well). For example, if you’re starting an heath tech company, you may want to meet other health tech entrepreneurs at a similar stage. Or maybe you have sales expertise to offer, and you want to find someone who knows a lot about user testing to swap details.
Then, do some research, choose a few people who might be really helpful, and reach out to them suggesting coffee. Now, instead of spending an hour chatting with 12 random people for five minutes each, you can spend it chatting with one person who you know you can learn from. What’s more, this type of one-on-one connection will create a much closer business relationship if there are things you can do to help each other out in the future.
2. Create Your Own Networking Event
Can’t find an event that’s up your alley? Create it! When we were first getting started with InstaEDU, I wanted to get to know other edtech entrepreneurs better, but there weren’t any events that were specifically for edtech founders (as opposed to the entire community). So I made a list of founders I knew and founders I would be interested in meeting and invited them all to a happy hour at our office. The entire event took about two hours to organize, and it helped me meet and get to know the exact people I wanted to connect with.
I’ve seen others organize regular get-togethers for founders, asking everyone to bring a +1 who would enjoy the group. As a result, the group grows each time it meets, but always with interesting and relevant individuals.
You’ve worked hard to meet great contacts, so make sure you keep them—and aren’t that person who only reaches out when you want something. Every month, make a point to grab lunch or coffee with a few of your start-up friends and acquaintances. Catch each other up on the latest, and see if there are ways for the two of you to help each other. When a time comes that you’re in need of a big favor, these people are going to be way more likely to jump at the chance to help.
Frankly, you’re much better off having 20-30 great connections who know you and your business well than 200-300 business cards of people you met briefly. So, if you’ve found that the big events are overwhelming, unhelpful, or just not your thing, try one of these more strategic networking approaches, instead.