One of the reasons most cited for not starting a startup is lack of network, particularly by those at the beginning of their careers. I agree that your network is important and invaluable, but we find that founders seem to struggle to efficiently develop and then use their network.
Networking events suck
Networking isn’t about events. Networking events enable high frequency, low quality interactions. Maybe you get a business card or a couple more LinkedIn connections, and maybe every now and then you find a new opportunity, but this is unstrategic and typically has a poor time spent to success ratio.
Networking is about creating a small number of high touch connections and leveraging them to build your network. Put simply, it’s about creating trusted advisors who are willing to open up their contact books to help you out. Even if you do meet someone at a networking event, you’ll need to get one-to-one time with them to develop a relationship. It’s far more efficient to ask your existing network for targeted introductions to the people you want to meet and then spending one-to-one time with them.
The people you want to meet aren’t at networking events
Good advisors and investors can be instrumental in helping early stage startups to succeed. But, not all are created equal and it’s likely that the advisors you want to work with have a full diary already. It’s unlikely that they’ll be spending time at random networking events and if they are, they won’t be actively finding new mentees.
To be able to access high quality advisors and investors you need a warm introduction from your existing network. Imagine if instead of putting 3-4 hours into a networking event, where you have brief interactions with lots of different people, you put that time into building relationships with your existing network. The deeper the connections with your existing network, the more likely you are to get high quality introductions from them.
But, what happens if I don’t have a network?
Each time a new cohort joins EF, we often get asked the chicken and egg problem of how do you build a network from scratch. If the best way to build a network is to use your existing connections, how are you meant to get started?
Founders constantly underestimate how many connections they already have. Founders forget that friends, family and former colleagues are their network and what’s more, they have already have a deep enough relationship with these people to be able to ask for further introductions.
The first rule of networking is that at every meeting you have you ask who else you should be speaking to and ask whether you can get an introduction. Better still, research the connections of the person you are meeting and ask if they could make specific introductions for you - don’t forget to have a good understanding of both why you want to meet them and why they might want to meet you.