I talked to quite a few folks about the events of Internet Week and a couple of people brought up the fact that they really weren’t sure who they should be out there meeting.
I’m not particularly plotting about how I network. I just try to meet cool, interesting folks and get to know them well. If I have one good thought provoking conversation with someone passionate about what they do at an event, I consider the whole thing a success.
But if you’re focused on “who to know”, then I think it’s easy to mistake buzz for influence or knowledge. I think too many up and coming people in the tech scene worry about the “in” crowd or folks that appear on the outside to generate a lot of buzz in the community. Focusing on them, however, is an easy way to take your eye off the ball and not focus on the things you need to do for your career or your business that make a real impact.
Influence is not measured by blog links or twitter replies, but on size of deals done, decision making, P&L responsibilities.
For example, when you go to a tech event, who are you more focused on? The doe-eyed videoblogging distraction or the product manager who runs a successful web service for a major media company. One of them can share some widsom about how their latest user experience redux boosted conversion and traffic. The other one… well.. not so much.
TechCrunch is the ultimate example of this. The LA Times called Mike Arrington a “Kingmaker” and certainly everyone treats him like he is—but can anyone actually point to a single instance where a TechCrunch mention was singlehandedly responsible for anyone getting funded or getting a business deal? I’m talking about a situation where, if TechCrunch had not annointed a company as worthwhile, the company couldn’t have gotten it on your own. Who has he made King?
I don’t think any VC or angel worth their salt really cares about what Mike’s opinion about a company is—they do their own work and have too much at stake to blindly outsource judgement. Good writeup, bad writeup, no writeup… I think companies are realizing that it still takes a great product and a lot of footwork to acheive success—not just one make or break article. Much of that is because, for most companies, the TechCrunch audience isn’t even really the target crowd the company should be going after. If you’re building a B2B service, you’d rather get writen up in an industry mag. Location based marijuana ratings system? A High Times mention will go a lot further than a TC review.
The most knowledgeable and influential people that are relevent to your company are often under the radar. There are tons of really helpful angel investors out there that never blog, never show up at Meetups, Tweetups, MashMeshing, or what have you. They need to be sought after. Ambitious startups need to turn over every rock. They need to go to the successful people in their space and ask them who’s been the most helpful, whose opinion they respect. Find out who’s in a VC firm’s friend of the family network—who are the individuals invested in VC firms. Too many people rely on blog traffic and Twitter buzz to figure out who to contact versus their actual potential clients.
If you’re a publisher tool and the only thing you have in your biz dev queue is a big tech blog, then you need to get out there and perch yourself at CondeNast, Martha Stewart, Meredith Corp., Scripps, etc. People from these places should be your on your board—to help you understand the landscape and to get you in front of potential clients, and you’re not going to find them at gatherings of the young digital “elite”—nor can most of the people considered the “elite” make any intros to these folks. Contrary to popular belief, the Director of Business Development for the company you think should by you isn’t trolling the blogs for deals—they’re taking inbound phonecalls and setting up real life meetings with companies more aggressive and ambitious than you.
So before you worry about whether you’re in with the right talking head, take a step back and reexamine who you really need to be out there talking to. Chances are, it’s not the same people everyone else thinks they need to be talking to.