A lot of early-stage startup success depends more on who you know than what you know. Of course, the best founders and companies are a combination of "who" and "what". But in the beginning, knowing the right people is everything. Over time, we’ve developed a great network of technology founders and prominent VCs. Most of this was done through events!
In entrepreneurship, we love our events. One of the best techniques to grow a network is to attend these events. By attending them, you get to see other companies and business models, meet founders, funders, customers, and influencers. While shaking hands at an event is pretty worthless in and of itself, if you take the time to follow-up in a meaningful way, you’ll see the results!
There are a couple of different kinds of events. Consistent and well-known events are some of the best ones. They happen regularly, and have a good crowd and/or good speakers. They happen every X number of weeks or on X day of every month and their consistency helps them to build a strong reputation. The caliber of the speakers is usually high, and they always manage to attract a good mix of people who might be interested in your product.
You can also do a great job of meeting people by hosting events, and I’m not just talking a party in your 500 square foot room.
At MINR, we host and sponsor a monthly craft beer event. We don’t have speakers or demos or anything directly “entrepreneurship” related, but we invite a lot of entrepreneurs and we do have a good time. This single act has helped grow our network and build our product in more ways than I can list.
If you want your events to have an impact, I suggest you try to have a regular schedule. Our beer-craft event is every six weeks. Because we have a schedule, we don’t need to spend a lot of time promoting our events, and we still get a good crowd. This raises our profile as a company, and I like to think it raises my profile as a founder.
Volunteering is also immensely enjoyable and useful in growing your network . For example, we volunteered at the M1 summit. It’s a bi-yearly event organized by the fine folks at Eniac Ventures. By volunteering, we got to connect with many of the speaker’s backstage and were able to accomplish a lot towards my ultimate goal of building a network while helping out some great people.
There are the yearly or bi-yearly events. These are usually city based. Like Disrupt- SF/ NYC. They happen regularly but are not in your city more than once a year. Then there are the infrequent quarterly events. A later stage startup or service provider does a half-day event. These kinds of events can be good, but they’re a gamble. While the speakers are usually pretty good, it's hard to know who will be in attendance and who will be speaking. While meeting speakers can’t hurt, remember they meet so many people in any given day that chances are they’re not going to remember you. What you can do is meet the same “speakers” a couple of times. After 2 or 3 conversations, you’re bound to get a warmer reception.
The other kind of event is the 2-hour weeknight event that happens infrequently. These can be entertaining, but it's hard to know who will be there. These can be entirely hit or miss and you should only attend them if you have something to learn, something to give, or a specific person you want to meet – otherwise, keep hustling on your business!
There are also events that happen regularly which are targeted to a specific group. Those events are pretty consistent. They usually have a featured speaker and a lot of the same attendees. If you wanted to go to a healthcare weekly meetup for instance, you’re going to find a lot of the same people. These are awesome to build a consistent and strong network.
In conclusion, there are lots of events out there. Ask around and do your research before attending. Events are a great way to build your network and a great way to meet new people and get new ideas. They also double in helping you to stay inspired.
However, time is still your most valuable asset and you shouldn’t spend every waking hour networking – otherwise you’ll have nothing to talk about or to show and at the end of the day, we’re here to be Creators. Networking through events is just another way to help you, and others, create more.