How To Network: Tips On Professional Connections
By Ian Kar
New York Tech Week. Miami Tech Week. LA Tech Week. SF Tech Week. Tulum Tech Week (this one doesn’t exist but my buddy Daniel Mason and I thought about starting it as a prank.)
It feels like every other week there’s a tech event. There are now rumors that “SF is back,” according to the 5 VC’s that went to SF from Miami over the past week and I assume hung out with each other and made that determination. And, while they were fun at first, to me they’re now extremely extremely draining. I love meeting new people and talking to folks but talking about work 24/7 isn’t healthy.
Besides people asking me how to learn about fintech, the other question I get is how does one meet people in their respective communities? It’s a lot harder than it seems so here are some tricks of the trade:
Why Are You There? What brings you to XYZ tech week is a really common question. One of the worst answers is “oh I love tech week’s I attend all of them!” If you don’t have a legit excuse for being there (you’re hosting an event, or on a panel, or something along those lines), please just make it seem like you’re in that city for work. Make something up, like you’re there for a recruiting trip. Anything is better than coming off like someone who works in tech or is a founder for the parties.
Maybe Don’t Drink: While I don’t drink that much anymore, I’m still a proponent of having a rollicking good time. But maybe not at professional events—a crypto event DJ’d by Disclosure is definitely a party, but people remember the sloppy person who embarrassed themselves. And even if you’re not a sloppy drunk, it’s just a bit unbecoming if you’re trying to network and meet people to have a professional relationship with. Alcohol can be a social lubricant and a lot of people are nervous meeting people, so one tip could be setting a hard limit of the number of drinks you’re going to have over the period of the event.
Be Outgoing: Listen, no one’s going to come up and talk to you. Most likely. If you want to meet people you gotta put yourself out there. When I first started going to fintech events like 8 years ago, everyone in fintech was a lot older and I was in my early 20’s, so it was really jarring. I also suffered from a lot of imposter syndrome so it was doubly hard. In my head I told myself that a) there’s really nothing to lose by saying hi to folks b) if they think I’m dumb or weird, it’s really not the end of the world, and c) the numbers game: if I met 25 people, I think I’m charming enough that I should be able to have 1 good conversation.
These events can be super cliquey and feel a lot like high school. It sucks but the best way to combat that is to put yourself out there first. Trust me, the worst thing that’ll happen is not that bad; the upside is that you can meet something important for your professional career.
Scope The Attendees Ahead Of Time: If you know the event organizer or there’s a public list of attendees, look them up on LinkedIn first. It helps to be tactical during these events and actually meet people that you find interesting, and seek them out. I did that with a lot of high level folks in fintech that were hard to meet IRL—I got to know them by looking at their career trajectory and reading their work online, so there was a lot of context for me to build off of ahead of time. Going to someone with a specific question they can answer is a catalyst for a great conversation—don’t underestimate the power of some light preparation.
The flip side of this is to not be the person always looking for someone more important or with more clout to talk to when you’re already speaking with someone. We all have had this experience and do it one too many times and you will get a reputation for being “that person” at events. “That person” eventually stops getting invited to things.
Operators & Founders > Investors: I feel like so many people go to these events to meet investors that can give them money for their idea or startup. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a story where an investor met a future portfolio company at a happy hour. Investors have or attend happy hours to cultivate existing relationships rather than build new ones. Focus on meeting your peers like other founders or operators, instead of investors. The honest truth is you won’t be meeting a Sequoia GP or Chamath at these things (maybe an Andreessen GP, they seem to attend anything, especially in LA), so investor hunting is a waste of time. The best case is that you’ll meet helpful GP’s at smaller microfunds (like me and Stevie!) but smaller funds are even less likely to write the big checks most founders are looking for.
Any other tips from experienced networkers? Feel free to send them over to [email protected]!