Mixxer, Meetups, Conferences – networking events are somehow obligatory if you are in startup business. Either to find investors, employees or just to get your word out. Sometimes we love them, sometimes we hate them – at least that is how I feel.
When I started working for next media accelerator, the program was still in creation. My task was to get to know Hamburg’s (and then Europe’s) startup ecosystem as fast as possible. Since I grew up in Bonn and started my career in research/engineering industry I didn’t know anybody in Hamburg or the startup scene. After three weeks in Hamburg people came to me asking for introductions. So how did I do it (without getting nuts)?
1: find people willing to connect you
When I started working myself into the scene, Sina Gritzuhn and Sanja Stankovic from Hamburg Startups were an humongous help. Honestly – without the two of them it would have taken so much longer. They introduced me to Hamburg’s entrepreneurs and investors, told me which events were worthy, which tedious.
Now startups come in to our program and we connect them to the people they need to know.
2: Don’t be scared to introduce yourself
What I love about working in the startup scene is that people know how worthy it is to be open to new people. So don’t be scared to send even “important” people an email or a tweet. But always have in mind:
3: If you want something – give something
I had a lot of lunches and coffees and tried to give everyone I met something back – a good talk, an introduction to somebody else, an idea. I really think this part is very important if you want to network successfully. Think of what you need from someone and what you could give back.
4: Visit the worthy events
In Hamburg you can probably spend three days per week visiting startup-/web-events. Not all of them are worth your time. So before you go somewhere, try to find out who attends or ask people if you really find the kind of people you are looking for there. I personally love meetups. They are bound to a topic, you know which kind of people to expect and it is easy to get talking. I love formats like Jouvenir or Code for Hamburg.
5: Leave room for serendipity (and enforce it)
Meeting the right people at conferences is harder. Most of them have Apps to connect with people or at least lists of the attendees. I always use them to schedule meetings in advance.
But the worthiest meetings I ever had, I had by coincidence. And this serendipity can be boosted: Send out tweets that you are looking for something specific, respond to tweets from others, go to evening meetings where you don’t already know everybody.
At SXSW Sanja arranged a speed dating with Hamburg startup people and their Austin counterparts – best two hours I spend in Austin. At WebSummit I met Ovey Yeung from EventXtra at the registration and we quickly organized a girl’s meeting at a bar in the evening. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a full success – I met great people.
6: Speak to anybody (literally) – and rather ask questions than talk about the weather
I never made a difference what kind of position people are in. Especially in the startup industry (but kind of everywhere else) it says nothing if you have “CEO” on your card or are an intern. You never know where they will be a year from now, they may be not interesting to you now, but maybe once.
So make small talk big (and use the weather topic only to get people talking). People remember good talks, so ask them about their goals, their obstacles, their experience. All of those are great topics without being private or political. Try to understand their problems and ask questions.