Startup founders get a lot of conflicting advice. Hustle, hustle, hustle…but make sure you have work-life balance. Failure isn’t an option…but, ya know, fail fast if you do. Make sure you have a badass company culture…but don’t spend too much on “extras.” And when it comes to networking, do it all the time but also don’t do it at all.
We’re here to tell you that networking is bullshit.
Think about it. If you’ve ever been to a networking event, deep down, you probably know it’s true. While it might seem invigorating and like you’re making tons of awesome connections, in reality, you’re just shaking hands, grabbing business cards, and engaging in surface-level conversations. Traditional networking events are often superficial and self-centered. Everyone usually has an ulterior motive, jumping into the mix to ask for help or sell our own stuff. Networking events aren’t where you go to build relationships, build your customer base, or — most importantly — build your business.
It’s a marathon
Chances are, your potential investors, mentors, and co-founders probably aren’t at networking events… and even if they are, handing them your business card and chatting for 10 minutes isn’t going to bring them on board.
We know what you’re gonna say. “But I made a face-to-face connection! And now when I email them, they’ll remember me and it won’t feel like a cold call.”
Wrong. Even if you’re incredibly charming, really, really good-looking, and great at delivering your elevator pitch, that person probably got cornered by 20+ other entrepreneurs asking for advice, money, or feedback.
And even if you managed to stand out in the crowd, these types of business relationships are built on deeper connections that you simply cannot forge in the noise of a networking event.
Real networking is a marathon, not a sprint. The capital connections that will grow your startup are built on meaningful interactions, peer recommendations, research, and a two-sided dynamic in which both parties help each other.
La, la, la…I can’t hear you…
Like we said before, most people at networking events attend with their own agenda. When was the last time you went to a startup event just yearning to buy a new product? If it was recently, then good on you…but more than likely, you went to tell people about YOUR startup, to find and recruit new users, or to sell your own stuff.
And nine times out of ten, that’s what everyone in the crowd is doing. Your elevator pitch is falling on deaf ears…or really, ears that are only listening for when it’s their turn to talk.
Here’s the real talk: You’re not going to build your customer base by going to a hundred networking events. You’ll just be wasting your time.
Where’s the beef?
We’re not talking about our beef with networking events — we’re talking about the substance of your startup.
Let’s say the average networking event lasts three hours. If you only go to one per week, that’s over 140 hours a year that you’ve dedicated to, well, shaking hands. That’s almost a month’s worth of full-time work, and valuable time you could spend building something, reaching out to people online, or testing your product.
The thing is, the people you meet at networking events (the ones you dream of who will actually go to your website or download your app) still want to see an actual product. Potential customers want to find a product that works and that’s useful when they look you up. Potential investors want to see downloads, sales, and growth. And that growing stack of business cards doesn’t count.
So…what do you do?
Maybe we’re being too snarky. What did networking ever do to us?
It’s not that we’re trying to discredit networking entirely, we just don’t think you should spend your time going to every single local tech event. There are more effective and efficient ways to get in front of potential customers and investors. So what do you do instead?
Why not take those three hours a week and dedicate them to something else?
Start running the relationship marathon. Spend a few hours each week following and interacting with potential investors, mentors, and industry experts online. Find them on Twitter, comment on their Medium posts, ask them how YOU can help, and keep popping up on their radar as an interested and interesting connection.
Find some new sets of ears (and eyes) for your customer base. You met 10 potential users at last week’s event? Why not connect with hundreds in the same amount of time? If you’re in the early stages and need to build your beta list, set up an online survey or conduct customer interviews. If you’re a bit further along, why not take a few hours to set up a Facebook ad campaign targeting your ideal customer base? We saw huge success for our client, HOBA, with just a $538 monthly marketing spend.
Work on your product. Novel idea, eh? Dedicate the time you would normally spend at a networking event to building the substance of your company. Do some QA testing to work out glitches, tweak and improve your branding, start writing your own weekly thought leadership articles, or set up systems to track your analytics. Consider bringing in a developer or marketing expert if you need help. At the end of the day, if it helps you build a solid product, it’s worth it. As we said, your potential customers want to see something that works and your potential investors want data that shows they’re making a smart move.