Let’s face it, networking is hyper-popular. Just open Eventbrite and you will see thousands of business events until the end of 2020. Even now, in the time of pandemic, nobody stopped attending NETWORKING events. Instead, we gladly filled our calendars with online events, webinars, business breakfasts via Zoom not to miss the precious chance to meet a (yet another) new person. Networking promises to bring endless opportunities, partnerships, and a lot of fun, but in fact it often results in nothing except for the senseless waste of time.
Who didn’t feel dumb starting a conversation with a completely unknown person and trying to be nice? I bet, almost everyone did at least once in a lifetime. And networking is all about starting conversations and pretending to be nice. Business coaches, opinion leaders, and other influencers may say that networking’s essential attributes are confidence, and smile, and positive body language. But the real attributes of each networking event are uncomfortable pauses, forced smiles, and nervous laughter. And it is OK, because networking is not natural at all.
…especially weird networking feels, when people don’t find a good way to start a conversation and start like the CEO of an anonymous startup I met in Lithuania.
The CEO: Hi! My name is Jack, I am the CEO of XYZ. Me: Hi! I am Elena from Genesis Investments, I look for startups to invest in". The CEO: Whoa! Marry me! Needless to say that we never talked after that again.
Networking takes a lot of time and brings no predictable outcomes. One conversation may end up in an investment, another – in a friendship, but most of them end up with empty promises and unanswered emails. On networking events, people feel compelled by the urge to look nice and very often alcohol to promise something. But the actual delivery rarely happens.
At networking events, the chances to meet a relevant person are tiny. Even matchmaking apps don’t solve this problem, because people are too lazy to fill their profiles there and because their algorithms are not precise enough. For this reason, at networking event each person is a closed book. You may start a conversation with hope to meet a great startup to invest in, but eventually discover that a person makes some shady gambling shit on blockchain. And there’s no way you can skip this conversation. One cannot simply ignore the person like an email in her mailbox.
One of the most unforgettable emails that I have ever received was an email with a 35-page investment memo about a company, which claimed to be building Apple’s competitor and asking for a $3-billion non-equity investment. Luckily, it was only an email and we could simply ignore it. But imagine if you met someone like this at an event!
People assume that if they learned to talk as kids, they automatically learned to network, too. But in fact, these are two completely different things! To network effectively, one needs to learn to introduce herself, to set precise goals of communication, and get in touch only with the most relevant persons. What one doesn’t need to do is to attend such events to munch on free snacks and beer, to meet with friends, or to “just kinda talk to investors”. Within the last two years in venture capital I have seen every kind of people attending networking events: “ecosystem builders”, attending events, to hit on women, startups “actively fundraising” for 1.5 years and never actually talking to investors, “growth experts” without any actual experience in Tech, but who pretend to be experts, hungry Software Developers choking on snacks and getting drunk as hell, because everything is for free. And this list is endless. Ironically, networking events are mostly attended by people who cannot network at all.
Once I hosted a webinar with a startup founder. The first half of the interview was cold and awkward. But suddenly I recalled that judging by her Instagram, she was interested in fashion and design. So, I asked her about it. And all of a sudden, talking about her passion, she became more welcoming, open, and sociable. The research did its magic and the rest of our conversation went awesome.
Once I was meeting with a friend I have never seen offline before. When I saw him waiting for me, I said: "Hey! Are you waiting for someone here?". It was unexpected, he started to laugh and it set a positive tone for the upcoming conversation.
One of the startups gave me a small anti-stress unicorn toy as a first-meeting gift. The toy left a heart-warming mental anchor and definitely made me think about their startup in the future. In 5 months, we invested in them:)
Funny or not, but networking events are bad for networking. Online matchmaking events, “cold” messages/emails, invite-only events, closed Slack channels, closed communities are much better options for meeting new people than conferences or summits. So maybe we should stick to them.