Is networking event important for a startup founder and how to get most of it?

I see a lot of people going to networking events. I have been to a few and am skeptical as to their effectiveness if you just go there to “hang out with people you know”. In my mind working on the product and talking to customers is much more valuable. But events are important if you make them work for you. Without a plan, going to networking events is a waste of time… It’s just buying a ticket for airplane without knowing where are you travelling.
 But if you define what you’re there for and who you want to meet — it becomes a whole different game. “What am I doing here” becomes the most important question. In theory events are great , but in reality we often talk to a few people and leave the venue unsatisfied. If you can’t think of any reason to go to a conference, just don’t. Why force yourself? Or why talk to people you already know. Attend only if there’s clear benefit and I’ll tell you how to find it. 
 There are specific things to get the most out of networking events:
1. Where should you go?
Define your goals (fundraising, lead generation, brand awareness, hiring new team members, just getting contacts of potential partners, or just research) and pick an event with the most opportunity to achieve it. Don’t go to any event, at first try to define your priorities on what is the general goal, because if you want to meet potential investors it’s totally a different story rather than if you want to make sales. Go to a conference to achieve one goal. If you get more done — awesome! But picking one goal will allow you to be ultra-focused from the start. And that’s very important when you’re among hundreds of people who have great ideas and stories.

2. Should you have a stand?
It’s tempting, but it isn’t always in line with your goal. If you’re targeting a specific group of people, you have to find them yourself. Can’t do that if you’re stuck to a booth. I rarely meet someone happy with their conference stand — too much buzz and noise around to get noticed.
 Do it only when:

· it can help you achieve your goal

· you have a unique idea for an interesting stand

3. Whom should you meet?
The best way to develop new business is to prepare a list of the people you want to meet:

· Check out the exhibitors, guests and speakers. Decide with whom you would like to meet (eg. sales directors in IT)

· Check out local companies — being in the neighborhood is a good opportunity to meet with someone outside the tradeshow

· Prepare a list of people with their email addresses

· According to stats, to get 10–20 meetings you need to have about 100 people on your list.

If it turns out that a few people you would actually like to meet are going to attend, it’s time to reevaluate your decision. You might have no purpose in going there.
4. How you should meet?
Having a list of people you want to meet is only the first step. You don’t want to end up wandering around the conference searching for them — it’s not effective (you will look creepy too). People are busy so few weeks ahead is a good time to start writing to folks from the list and book their time. Just a short & sweet email with basic information on who you are, why you want to meet, what’s in it for them, why they should meet you.

When you have 20–30 open conversations about finding time to meet, it’s easy to get lost. So try to schedule meetings in an agile way.
5. Don’t forget to follow up
People are busy, so start e-mailing your potential connections at least 3–4 weeks before the event. That gives you time to follow-up with the people that were too swamped to respond to your first message. Plus, if you write just before the event — people might have full calendars already.