I was speaking at Internet Week yesterday on networking and so I wanted to gather some of my thoughts. I've been very lucky over the last six years of being involved in the NYC innovation community to meet some fantastic folks. I have a huge network of people here and it's probably the thing I get valled out the most for--and complimented on. I think people appreciate the fact that, generally, if you meet someone through me, it's bound to be a good intro to a really high quality person. Building my network is something that comes naturally to me, but it's also something I put a lot of hard work into. I thought about what it was that I was actually doing this weekend and came up with five aspects to my networking behavior that I thought contributed to quality and breadth. By the way, I didn't add social media as a tip because, if you're reading this blog, you probably already use it... and if you don't understand the value of Twitter, blogging, etc. by now, well, I just don't know what to tell you.
1) Be Discerning
When you're educated by Jesuits, you know the word "discernment". It's how we tell right from wrong and more broadly, how we figure out which things in our lives bring us to our truest selves and which things move us to bad places. Being around really great people is incredibly important to success--and some people simply bring a lot more value to the table than others. It's not about who can do something from you or who wields a lot of influence, though. It's about who you fit with best and whose value system you also ascribe to. I'm a big believer that amazing people go far in life--so just because someone is assistant junior social media lackey now doesn't mean that building a great relationship with them won't have a tremendous positive effect over time. At the same time, if someone rubs you the wrong way, treats people poorly, or generally isn't all they crack themselves up to be, they can grow like a weed in your social graph. You've met those people. They take more than they give. These people are bad for you, bad for your network, and take steps to avoid them is a net positive.
2) Get to know fewer people, better.
Networking is not just handing someone a business card or giving them a pitch. While it may be true that the most serondipitous of connections from from loose connections, there's no substitute for a few really strong bonds to hold it all together. These are people that will really go to bat for you because they know you beyond the business card. I'd say just about everyone in my LinkedIn network, all 2000 of them, are people who I've at least had the equivilant of a 1:1 lunch with. Something so simple as a lunch is enough time to tell someone what you're about, to hear their story and what motivates them--and the shelf life of a lunch is at least two years. I've noticed that if you take the extra time to do a 1:1 with someone, they'll stick around in your view longer, offer connections, and be "fresher" than someone you only scratched the surface with.
3) Host an event.
Going to other people's events is fine, but organizers have the information advantage--they know everyone who attended and, more importantly, everyone knows them. Being the host for a useful event gives you way more cred and network benefit than attending someone else's--and you can curate the room. This way, you don't have to take the risk that the people are relevant to what you want to do. For example, if you really want to get into customer acquisition and find a marketing job, running the customer acquisition meetup can attract 100 people doing that very thing--or find founders who lack that skill on their time and are trying to do it themselves. You'll get the list of the attendees and you'll be a familar face to all of them after the follow up.
4) Share your hobbies.
I've written about this before, but if you can build a relationship with someone through sports, books, and various cultural interests without the pressure of each person trying to get something explicitly professional out of it. I can't fund most of the entrepreneurs I meet, but I think they're awesome people and I'd love to find more things to do with a lot of them. Going on bike rides or being on a team is a fantastic way to get to know like-minded people.
5) Don't worry about today's "who's who"... find the future top 10 list.
Not all of us are going to be friends with Josh Kopelman or Fred Wilson. Ron Conway probably isn't going to hit you up for a beer the next time you're in NYC. You know who will hangout with you, though? The 2021 Forbes Midas List--the up and comers who are in the process of making their mark, but haven't gotten there yet. I like to think about who the most influential and accomplished people will be in the NYC innovation community in ten years, because I plan on having a long and productive venture capital career. That group of people is going to be an incredibly important network to me in the future, and if I only show up at their doorstep *after* they make it, it's going to be pretty inauthentic. It's all about the people who were around when you weren't anyone. Try and figure out who the up and comers are around you and stay close.
6) Reach out.
Don't be afraid to tell someone you admire what they're doing or that you just want to get to know them for whatever reason. Worse comes to worse they'll just say that they're busy. You won't get anywhere if you don't try and I wouldn't leave your network to chance by only going to networking events. Find the top 25 people you want to get to know and just start plowing through that list.
7) Fail fast.
Sometimes, they're just not that into you, and that's ok. You need to find supportive people who are enthusiastic about getting to know you. If someone doesn't take to you right away or seems difficult to get a hold of, move on to someone who seems more into it. The last thing you want to do is to force an awkward connection.