Living in San Francisco has given me the opportunity to meet some of the most creative, entrepreneurial and forward thinking people in the world. I love the startup community in the bay area and have tried to meet as many founders and business owners as much as I can. it’s always interesting meeting people who try to connect the dots between imagination and reality. Much like California, India has a thriving startup ecosystem that is almost equally competitive.
There are daily opportunities to interact with such a creative and dynamic ecosystem. Networking events are great to meet new, creative people. However, there is a certain etiquette as to what to do/say and what not to. Here are a few things that should be avoided:
Asking for a job
This is NOT a job fair. Your chances of getting a job at these events are minimal. Most attendees at these events have their own agenda’s. Focus on making connections instead. Follow up, and who knows? Something might just come your way. Of course it doesn't hurt to mention your skills and how you may be able to help them with their problems in a certain department.
Being a critic
When someone tells you what their startup is about, do not say “Oh! doesn’t ____ do the same thing?”. If it’s true, chances are pretty high that they already know that. Their intention is probably to do a better job at it than their direct competitor! Your intentions may be good, but this comes off as condescending. These are places where people treat their businesses and their ideas like their own children.
Ever had your parent’s tell you “Why can’t you be more like Sharmaji's son?”? This is pretty much the same thing! If you want to impress people with your knowledge, talk about their field, not their competition.
In short, don't be a critic. That's the investor's job!
Networking with friends
The objective is to meet new people for yourself and to accomplish your personal goals, whether it may be networking, finding a job or whatever. You don’t need a wingman!
In fact, you might just be better off without one. Ever been to an event and see a few people in the same group for the whole event, while everyone else is mingling? Don't be those guys!
Meeting everyone in the room
This is NOT a party. Don’t let the free beer and pizza fool you. This is a serious event where people meet for a concrete reason. Focus on building serious contacts and potential business relationships. If that means letting a few people escape, so be it.
Attending all the events
So you missed UnPluggd and the tickets to that other big thing was way too expensive. To make up for it, you decide to attend almost every other networking event that is affordable or free. This is a decent strategy if you just want to meet people with interesting ideas without a fixed objective in mind. But if you are a CEO, have an idea or are looking for investors, this is a terrible idea. Most events tend to be very repetitive and most dedicated startup CEO’s attend fewer of these events than you would think. Unless there is a specific reason why you want to attend a particular event, don’t waste your time. Select events that are of value to you based on your objectives (and are within your budget).
While I am far from a networking guru, all the above points are mistakes I have frequently made and realized it a little too late. So don’t make an ass out of yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously either. Most importantly, focus on building relationships and meeting interesting people.