Why Networking Is Not Overrated

How an introvert networked their way to a few million in revenue

Theme Song: Rise and Shine — J. Cole

I caught a conversation last week started by Naval Ravikant of Angelist (hi Naval, lets talk sometime!) that caught my attention:

And the response from Anil Dash :

My response in short:

  • Networking is responsible for the first few million in revenue for my ecommerce company (startupthreads.com).
  • I am not a natural “networker” and had to start from scratch and actively work to build a network.
  • Having value is not enough: you need access as well. Access needs to be actively cultivated.

I won’t preach too much, but rather just tell you my story.

I was born in Harlem, NY to Jamaican and Guyanese parents. We moved to Jamaica for a bit, until Hurricane Gilbert, and then to Guyana afterwards. While in Guyana I lived with my grandma Enid, who is someone you should read about to understand who influences me on this topic.

After another tragic event, my parents decided to move me to the US. We didn’t have a big network or resources in the United States, but they were willing to sacrifice the networks they had in the Caribbean in order to give me a better educational and life opportunities.

Growing up, I was generally a quiet kid. Cordial with others but always subtly feeling like an “other” since in any educational setting, I was usually the only black male in the room.

Fast forward to after college, I had studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon and had some technical skills after interning at Apple. Health problems hit me suddenly and I ended up spending the prime years of my mid twenties in and out of hospitals recovering.

The any semblance of a small network that I had at the time via school, I largely lost. My core “crew” abandoned me and I had to work back to even being a normal, functioning member of society.

I knew that I wanted to build that network back up so I (as an introvert) started going to meet ups and events. I remember getting pumped up when I happened to stumble into Gary Vaynerchuk’s epic talk at Web 2.0. I saw someone on stage who seemed to be antithesis of where I was mentally at the time in every conceivable way.

So I started going to meetups. I remember going to one in particular. I walked around, super nervous to talk to anyone. So I did a lap, walking around the perimeter, waiting to see if anyone would strike up a conversation. 3 laps later, I went to the bar and was about to walk out the door when the little Gary Vee on my shoulder said to go talk to someone.

I turned to my left and said hi to the first person, she struck up a conversation and then ended up dragging me over to Vin Vacanti (Vin was working on aggregating daily deals, and I was helping my college friend Matt Humphrey with his daily deal site Homerun in NY).

It was a perfect match, and Vin’s welcoming spirit helped me to see how open people in the NY tech community were to meeting folks and helping them on their journeys. We met for lunch soon after and he gave advice and counsel that I still cherish.

One directed networking activity I started doing was writing a blog. I started putting together thoughts and opinions about parts of the industry and although I originally got very little traffic, I wanted people who did find me to have a window into how I think and whats important to me.

A little while after I started this effort, I met Carter Cleveland of Artsy after importing my whole gmail into LinkedIn (tricky dark pattern there, but I recommend it). Carter emailed me after getting the invite from a stranger at the time.

After building a relationship with Carter for a while, he eventually handed over the StartupDigest in New York to me, a newsletter with 25,000+ subscribers. This was hugely valuable as I was able to get my name and company out to a ton of folks each week. Carter has been an inspiration and a friend who I’m also grateful to have met.

Through more pointed effort, I began voicing my opinions online, volunteering to clean up for events, being a “conference ho”, and grabbing coffee with random people, I built a network of folks and found ways to give value to folks who I previously had no connection to.

When I decided to launch StartupThreads, I needed to get companies on board each month to let me use their logo. The well of folks who I had met at conferences and meetups were the initial group I went to, and since many of them I became friends with, they decided to give me a shot before I had really proven anything. That network seeded the revenue for the first few million in revenue for the business.

I’m grateful to those folks for giving me a shot, and I attribute the networking (in my definition, connecting with people in a community and finding ways to help them succeed) that I did as the catalyst.

I didn’t just have value and let things come to me: I had to put in work to break through into some of these networks and earn the trust of others, especially being outside of silicon valley.

For me, networking is about building trust and respect with others, finding ways you can add value to the system as a whole. Rand Fishkin’s wording of it sums it up for me:

P.S. I just did a 1 hour talk on more tactical information related to networking. If any entrepreneurs want to get a preview of the talk (or want feedback or someone to vent to) just shoot me an email frank at startupthreads.

This was originally published on Medium.

You Are Not Alone

There’s endless writing about how lonely it is to be an entrepreneur. How hard it is to be at the top. And how stressful it can be to become a founder, leader, entrepreneur.

Like anything in life, choosing to do something without a community of people to support you is a lonely path. And you can probably make the argument that you don’t learn the basics in life without teachers, peers, mentors, and cheerleaders. No Olympic athlete ever won a gold medal without both falling on their ass repeatedly and without good coaching.

So, why would an entrepreneur set out on their journey all alone?

There are a few books I’ve read that exemplify why other people are important in achieving your life goals – and why it’s important to take time to stop-look-listen as well as to share your experiences, hopes, and dreams. (More on those books later…)

In the throes of creating the most incredible, must-have solution to a big problem, sometimes we forget to ask others to join in the journey….we sometimes forget to surround ourselves with people smarter than us, and we forget that it is necessary to both give and take.

Personal Growth as a Bank Account

I like to look at the give and take component of personal growth as a bank account. Sometimes there’s debt and sometimes there’s a surplus. Being mindful of this concept is valuable. I like to keep my debt relatively low and I do this by making sure that I build a strong savings account so that when I really need help, that I don’t go into massive debt getting there.

How does this work? How do you build a big savings account?

Become a Mentor

Becoming a mentor builds equity versus cash in your savings account because every time you Give First as a mentor, there is a return to the person you mentor — as well as to yourself. You can be a mentor to a someone like you but less experienced (an entrepreneur who is more wet behind the ears), or to a person more senior than you (if you have a skill set that they do not have); to someone who is like you (a math major helping another math major); an alumna of a college helping a student in that college, etc. You can help a sibling, a neighbor, a classmate, a coworker. You get the idea. It’s never too early to mentor and to be mentored.

Find a Mentor for Yourself

Finding your own mentor is the corollary to becoming a mentor. There’s no order that these two need to come in – it’s a virtuous cycle. But the more that you allow yourself to openly share, the more that you receive. A mentor is someone whom you trust and respect. They can be explicit in the relationship – scheduled time, specifics asks and answers — or it can be less defined, a relationship that is based on simply wanting to grow by learning from another’s experiences.

Participate in Networking Events

Peers and people who have aligned interests are great ways to grow your network and yourself. I’m a big fan of openly sharing and engaging, of honesty and transparency, and of helping someone over rough patches that I’ve already learned how to navigate.

Networking events are also awesome ways to add another person to your personal network, find that new investor that you’ve been seeking, do some A/B testing on your messaging and, most basically, a change of scenery. It’s too easy to be too busy to make the time to change the scenery and engage with other people – making the effort and following through on the intent is important.

Join an Organization to Get Connected

If you are a part of a network like Techstars, really use the Techstars family. Take advantage of Connect (our private network for Techstars founders), meet with other founders, engage with your MD and others that are interesting to you, find new mentors and reach out to investors. What you reap will be at least proportional to what you sow.  

I remember the point in my journey as an entrepreneur when I wanted to become a better CEO – and my intentional journey to do this. I joined Entrepreneur’s Organization (better known as EO) and benefited hugely from my forum. It was there that I expanded my network for life, I joined both my local board and the International Board, learned about a different type of governance, explored the world, and was exposed to cultural differences, went through the Birthing of Giants program, and further blew my mind up. I credit EO with a rapid growth of my understanding of the journey that I was on and my ability to be much more intentional about my path.

Just remember: you are not alone. Dive into the network around you and learn from your it. Get connected. Be a mentor and find a good one. Take control of your learning. Everything is a teachable moment if you let it become one.

Oh, and back to those few books that inspired me …

  • Into Thin Air – such a lesson on the dangers of being singularly focused and not always allowing others to lead.
  • The Boys in the Boat – an accidental book about team work; as a former rower, it was a huge validation for me but the overall principles and underpinnings are amazing.
  • Lean In – I wasn’t a huge fan, at first. And then I decided it was a must read simply because it’s so available for anyone.
  • When Genius Failed – failure is something that we all need to do.
  • The Cult of Done – so many worthy principles in this basic manifesto.

At Techstars, you are not alone. Once you are part of the network, it’s Techstars for Life. Join us!

Innovate UK’s Essential Tips for Business Networking

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Innovate UK, the British government’s innovation agency. They are focused on finding British businesses and entrepreneurs who can use new science and technology to drive economic growth.

Follow Innovate UK on Twitter: @innovateuk.

How to be a Business Networking Pro

Business networking can be an intimidating, forced and uncomfortable experience. Despite this, some people seem to take to it like a duck to water. The truth is, networking events can be invaluable. Many business success stories can be traced back to two partners meeting whilst networking. If you want to be successful in business, then you’ve got to give these events all you’ve got. Innovate UK has put together few helpful tips that’ll help you network like a pro. We’ve included a few below.

Pick the Right Event

“You have to know who has the same vision to try to align with them” – Joyeeta Das, CEO Gyana Limited.

Every networking event you attend is an investment of your time and effort. Don’t waste it by going to one that isn’t appropriate to you. Research an event before you confirm your attendance. What do you want to get out of it?

  • New partner?
  • Investor?
  • Supplier?
  • New clients?
  • Customers?
  • Mentor?

Tailor your approach to suit your proposed outcomes. This step is all about giving you the best chance of achieving your goals, don’t overlook the importance of it.

Make Connections Online

So walking up to a stranger and talking about business isn’t your idea of fun. Everyone’s braver behind a keyboard. A great way of dispelling those initial nerves and cutting past the small-talk is by building online connections with attendees before the event. Survey the attendees online and pick a few that you want to get talking to. There’s often a pre-event buzz on social media, be vocal. It’ll make you more approachable when the event rolls around. Don’t forget, you’re not the only one who doesn’t enjoy talking to strangers.

Take Advantage of Opportunities at the Event

“Preparation for networking events is crucial to ensure you maximize your time and opportunities” – Andrew Kent, Senior Innovation Adviser at Enterprise Europe Network.

Don’t get ahead of yourself at the event. You’re not there to sell yourself, you’re there to network. Listen first and talk about yourself only when it’s relevant. Having said this, you never know who you might meet. It’s important to always have an elevator pitch up your sleeve ready for when you may need it. Remain visible online throughout the event by tweeting, using the designated hashtags.

Follow Up with Your Contacts

It’s especially important to follow up immediately after the event. If you were given any actionable points by your connections, be sure to do these as soon as you can. Call, email and connect with people you met on social media. Writing a blog is a great way to stay on the radar of influencers. Once everything’s calmed down, evaluate your attendance. Was it worth it? Learn from the event and begin planning your next one.


If you’re interested in more videos like this, subscribe to Innovate UK’s YouTube channel.

Alternatively, you can follow @InnovateUK on Twitter.

The post Innovate UK’s essential tips for business networking appeared first on Startup Digest Blog.

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Networking efectivo: 7 tips para sacar lo mejor de un meetup

8014103405_47689f67b6_bFoto: Santiago Zavala

En la actualidad existen decenas de actividades dirigidas a fomentar el desarrollo e intercambio de redes de contactos donde se reúnen personas a compartir experiencias, charlar, identificar puntos de interés común y encuentro colectivo donde se detonen diferentes interacciones humanas con objetivos específicos. He sido testigo de un sinnúmero de eventos con formatos diferentes que pretenden lograr lo mismo: ser un punto de encuentro donde las personas con intereses comunes puedan conocerse y detonar el fenómeno que tanto auge tiene hoy en día: networking.

En estas sesiones he tenido la oportunidad de conocer a personas muy interesantes, he podido iniciar relaciones de negocio, he conocido buenos amigos, conocí a quien eventualmente me ayudó a estar trabajando donde hoy trabajo e, incluso he conocido chicas con quienes he salido. Sin embargo, no siempre he sido capaz de aprovechar al máximo esta oportunidad de conectar con personas que pueden abrir panoramas nuevos—tanto para fines profesionales como personales—porque, o bien no tengo ánimos, no me siento preparado para interactuar o simplemente mis pensamientos están puestos en otra cosa. Continue reading “Networking efectivo: 7 tips para sacar lo mejor de un meetup”

Networking Overload: How much is too much? (Comic)

Nonstop Networking 2x

Running downtown to an event…Rolling to the conference center for a breakfast group. Popping in at an elite gathering…Entrepreneurs are constantly running from one corner of town to the other to try to cram in all their meetings into 24 hours.

What is the best way to grow your business, get feedback, as well as meet potential investors, partners, and customers? Network, network, network!

Meetup.com is one of many sites that provide an array of groups to meet others with your interests, personal or professional. I’ve used it religiously, around the world, even before I was an entrepreneur. I’ve created my own groups, suggested other groups and dropped in on others!  But be forewarned, it’s easy to get sucked in! There is no shortage of exciting groups to join, so you may soon find yourself network-hopping and attending a handful of events every evening! This time-suck can be an #entrepreneurfail.

Focusing on the events where you can optimize your time, networking, and fun will lead to fostering the best relationships.

Are you a constant networker? Is it overwhelming or do you have it under control? Let us know in the comments below.

This comic and post were originally created for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.