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Startup Event Networking – 101

 

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February 10, 2013

In the early days of my entrepreneurial adventure I attended a fair number of workshops, conferences and startup festivals. Back then I was looking for software developers to join my team and I felt that the best way to find one would be at startup events. My first one was Startup Weekend Rochester. I then went to Lean Startup Machine in Boston, Angel Hack in NYC and International Startup Festival in Montreal. I even went to a couple of events in India when I had gone there for the summer.

Ultimately I didn’t find a software developer who wanted to join in, but I did make a lot of good friends who I’m still in touch with and who I might work with someday. I realized that networking was the most important part of any of these events, regardless of what was being taught or who was making a speech. So I give you a step-by-step method to network like a boss at any startup event:-

1) Print some cards – You’ll thank yourself for doing this. It doesn’t have to be a very fancy looking card, because if it has your contact details on it it will do the job. Make sure you have enough before you head out for a startup event.

2) Set a target – Narrow down on who you want to meet while networking. Software developers, business partners, mentors, potential clients/customers? Once you know who you want to meet you can focus on these people. Now I’m not saying you should ignore everyone else, sometimes help can come from the least expected contact. In fact the only way to find the people you want to talk to is to just go around talking to everyone. And once you find someone who fits your target list, just spend more time with him/her.

3) Get your pitch ready – Everyone is going to ask you what you are doing. By the end of the event you will have that pitch memorized better than the back of your hand if you hadn’t already. You need a catchy one-liner to start with. Something that gets them interested and asks you to explain more. Don’t ramble, don’t stutter or stammer. Give it to them straight and concise, but catchy. And anticipate follow up questions, be ready to answer them with conviction. Also, remember to tweak the pitch based on who you are talking to. Customers are more interested in what your product/service can do for them, while investors are more interested in your business model.

4) Pay attention – It’s not all about you. Don’t keep talking about yourself or your startup. Besides, there’s only so much you can talk about yourself, right? You also need to ask what the other person is doing. It doesn’t matter that they might be repeating their pitch for the hundredth time that day. Just like you, they know what they are in for, so go ahead and ask. Pay attention to everything they say and remember it. It could come in handy a few months down the line, even if that person is not your target.

5) Optimize your time – There’s gonna be a lot of people there and it will be almost impossible to talk to everyone. You need to figure out how much time to spend with each person and then move on to someone else.

6) Don’t leave without getting something – When you talk to someone make sure you have a way to contact that person again before moving on. Exchange cards, numbers, email, Facebook IDs, whatever. Of course, with your target people you want to do more than just an exchange of info, maybe a promise of something from a beer to a business meeting.

7) Follow up! – This is the most important part. You have done the hard work by going there, talking to people, getting their info. If you don’t follow up soon they will forget you. Send them a mail, give them a call, or forward a cool pdf/article you found that might interest them.

8) And finally – Don’t be a conference ho

So that’s how I did it. Have you got any other tips or suggestions? Add them below in the comments section.

 

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