Essays on Technology and Culture

Networking is Hard

The other night, I found myself at a co-working space around 20th and Broadway, with about thirty to forty people, all working for or running startup companies. As the employee of a startup, this is a perfectly logical and reasonable place for me to be. Besides, they had Yuengling Lager, which is a rare treat at events up here.

So, with my freshly delivered business cards in their holder, my boss and I took in the crowd, the DJ spinning a mix of contemporary and 80s dance music, and the nice shared working space the company sponsoring the event rented out to people. Oh, and we tried to chat up other startup people, swap business cards, and maybe plan future things over the sound of way too loud subwoofers.

This is not my strong suit. Which is a bit of a problem, seeing as I’m involved with the community side of our social network. Dealing with people from behind a computer keyboard is far easier for me than dealing with people face to face. On the Internet, if someone’s bothering you, you can either not reply, or block them. In real life, there’s more social signals to balance.

Still, we’re all there for the same reason, right? [1] We’ve all got companies that we want to promote, grow, get investors and/or users for. The first step is to step out and make the introduction. It won’t come to you.

Looking back on my own performance, I recognized three problems.

1. I hate interrupting conversations.

Looking and walking around the room, I found a lot of people already chatting each other up. Looking for an opening, I found none, at least for a while. This, maybe, could have been avoided by showing up earlier, or just having more patience. Or being willing to jump in.

2. Loud room, loud music.

I left the venue with my ears ringing and my voice hoarse. It was a lot like how I feel when I leave a concert at a small club. [2] This didn’t affect other people too much, but with my pre-existing difficulties in communication, having thumping bass and not being able to hear people made matters worse.

3. I didn’t have a pitch ready.

Mea culpa. I know my product. I know what we need, and what we do for people. The last networking event I went to was one where companies were showing off products, not just meeting and chatting. This gave me something to do, a pre-existing topic to talk about. I found that to be a much more pleasent and productive night than this one. [3] Here, the onus was on me to find something to discuss.

The event wasn’t a washout. I managed to talk to someone who works for the company running the event, and got a lead on new office space for my company. I met someone who had a neat iPhone game. I also found someone who is involved with music promotion and concerts in NYC, which is always a good thing to know. Still, these didn’t happen until I had wandered around the room a few times and downed a couple lagers. It was great networking, but not enough, and a little late, but now I’m a little more prepared for next time.

  1. Well, some people were there for the open bar, but the point still stands.  ↩

  2. Proof that I’m getting old: I wear earplugs to shows now.  ↩

  3. That particular event was hosted by Bloomberg, and it also had a lot of amazing food, which didn’t hurt my opinion of it.  ↩