As an expat Canadian (New York City has been home for over 20 years), a question I am frequently asked by foreign startups seeking funding or new customers is “how do I network in the United States?” Oh, if only it was so easy to give a single piece of networking advice for that 50 state question. Here’s why: when it comes to networking, it is as much about location as the people you desire to meet . One set of networking rules does not fit all geographic locations. To be successful at building networks in new cities, you need to understand how the locals interact – as it will improve the likelihood you’ll make the right connections and enhance the interactions you make.
“In Austin, breakfast tacos and craft coffee rule for a first meeting - and don't be too formal as Austin is a super casual city ” – Julia Cheek, founder of digital health platform EverlyWell
Know Before You Go
Do your research on the investors or companies you want to meet, and the city you’ll be meeting them in, well before you book a flight or send a “here’s my pitch deck can we meet over coffee” email. You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice countless times before - and it’s guidance worth adhering to, as it will save you endless wasted hours and dollars in the long run. Google meetups in the city where you’re headed. Sign up for hyper-local event newsletters. Crowd source suggestions through Twitter. Whatever your source of information, study and take a keen interest in how the local entrepreneur community interacts – then mirror their behavior.
“Some of the networks do not mix with other networks. It is important to know which are the most relevant networks for your specific startups and in some cases, you might want to participate in completely different events so that you build connections in several networks.” - Itxaso del Palacio. Investment Director at London-based Notion Capital.
Learn The Unwritten Rules
Nashville's business community prides itself on accessibility and a willingness to meet regardless of seniority , Mucker Capital’s Monique Villa tells me. People who want to be connected within the Toronto startup ecosystem should look to add value , according to Janet Bannister, partner at Real Ventures. As a Canadian I can confirm that we are a friendly, sincere and helpful nation and it is not surprising that the Toronto tech ecosystem reflects these values. The point here is that every city operates a little bit differently and the more you understand those nuances, the more successful your network-building will be. Ask the investors or advisors you already have if they’ve done business in the city you’re headed to – then pepper them with questions about their overall experience (rather than immediately leaping into an ask for introductions).
“People will go out of their way to be helpful and, generally speaking, entrepreneurs, investors and others in the community genuinely care about each other and want others to be successful as they believe that a "rising tide lifts all boats" and the more success stories we have in Toronto, the more likely it is that other successes will follow.” - Janet Bannister, partner at Real Ventures
Skip The Sales Pitch
Your goal is to make long-term connections, not simply to close a funding round or land a business deal. Entrepreneurship is a precarious, challenging and uncertain pursuit. When resources (such as time, money and introductions) are scarce, the default is to invest those scarce resources in those with shared values and a demonstrated commitment to the community. If you’re not prepared to invest in the targeted ecosystem, why should they invest in you?
“Everyone knows everyone, literally. In such a close-knit ecosystem like Singapore, all parties play in the same pool - government, corporate innovation teams, startups, accelerators, VCs, angels... One particular thing that people like talking about (think Crazy Rich Asians) is their family ties and the rich families they know.” – Pocket Sun, Managing Partner, SoGal Ventures
Warm Introductions Work Best
The foundation of strong introduction is trust – and trust does not arise from a perfectly crafted pitch deck[/tweet_quote] or complimentary email or hunting down an investor via a conference app. Avoid conferences is the advice of Singapore-based Anne Marie Droste, partner at Entrepreneur First. Droste, as with many venture capitalists seeks introductions that come from her network, preferably from another startup. “CEO to CEO [introductions] are always best for intros” in her mind. While avoiding conferences may sound harsh, I would suggest avoiding conferences if your only goal is to secure investment. If you’re attending to learn more about the dynamics of a startup ecosystem or further develop relationships you’ve made previously, then by all means, attend those conferences!
“Whatsapp is where it’s at - no one emails. Business cards are less necessary than people like to think - just when you talk to corporations.’ – Anne Marie Droste, partner, Entrepreneur First (Singapore)
Understand Communication Preferences
To build a strong network you need to recognize the communication preferences of the other person . Are they a “meet for coffee person” or a 15-minute phone call type? The same is true when it comes to technology. The good news is that many investors share their communication preferences from interviews, podcasts, blogs and tweets. You should be able to discern the best way to engage. Be prepared to adopt their preferred communication tool(s) when necessary. “ WeChat is the predominate messaging app in China and it's the most important tool for networking and getting things done” Tina Cheng, Managing Partner at Cherubic Ventures tells me, adding that the custom in China is to add business contacts on WeChat by scanning a QR code. Figure out before you reach out whether you need to get a QR code, download a new app or jump on a video chat platform, and avoid looking like yet another startup founder who doesn’t know the local networking rules.
"The Warsaw start-up scene and investor community love networking. the language of communication is English. It is easy to get a meeting with any investor out there, people are very open. Just send an email ." - Kinga Stanislawska, founder and managing partner, Experior Venture Fund
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