Some years ago, I was fortunate to witness Plug and Play Tech Center Expo event in Silicon Valley. Imagine 40 startups pitching for 2 minutes each in front of investors and other audience (btw. what could make YOU stand out in such a competition if you were pitching participant?). Most of the people in the audience were investors, potential partners, technological geniuses or journalist. Almost everyone could be very valuable contact.
After the pitching morning, there was a networking barbecue on the rooftop. During this barbecue for 300 people (at least), I finished my drink and tried to get for another one. I was standing just 20 meters away from a bar, but these 20 meters took me 45 minutes to conquer! Why? It’s because I was stopped by at least 8 people with their own super short elevator pitches. And not only startups. With some I spend just 30 seconds, with others much more time talking about potential cooperation. One of this contacts is still active and valuable for me.
And now, similar story, but from Prague (or Brno)…
Imagine (or recall) startup event for at least 300 people. During the lunch break… everyone’s goal is primarily to get some food before it’s gone. If you hear someone talking, they are usually talking to people they already know. It’s unusual to talk intentionally to strangers (except cooks)! How much can you get out of the event with such an approach?
Except obvious shortage of communication skills and ability to “sell themselves”, that is obvious for people from CEE and that can be improved by each individual, I see big problem in the whole approach. It seems fine to go for an event and just hanging around.
Networking or hanging around
Is there a difference? Hell, yes! Startup events are supposed to be a business events for startups. And business means work (events, where we should be working, not just having fun).
Most of the good business comes from good personal connections. Every entrepreneur is only as good as his/her network of contacts. We can leverage the size and quality of our networks if we want to. But it takes some effort. There are many “how to become great networker” kind of guides (Forbes, Entrepreneur.com, and more), but it seems, not many people read them.
What you can see often (in CEE), is startup people coming to an event (content is sometimes secondary, just a pretext), talking to their friends, getting drunk at the after party with their friends and with nice hangover looking forward for the next startup event. And sometimes, accidentally, they meet some strangers, maybe exchange business cards.
One of my colleagues, Hanka, remind me, that this is almost like going for a summer music festival.
But startup events are not (usually) festivals.
If we want to get something out of the event, we must be active. Startup events should be primarily a business opportunity and not just fun. So don’t approach startups events just like festivals.
To rephrase JFK: “Ask not, what your startup event can do for you. Ask what, you can do for your event.”