An Introvert’s Guide To Startup Networking

I recently graduated from Startup Institute New York — where I was encouraged to get out and attend events and coffee chats for “networking”.

As an INTP (MBTI personality) person. This “get out and talk to people” assignment was intimidating at first, and I needed to develop my strategy to keep my sanity…here are few things I did.

(*notes: Introverts are not equal to Anti-socials. I enjoy meeting people! I just need to maintain a balance of social time and time alone.)

1. Most important : Don’t let extraverts intimidate you

They are different species on earth. They go to an event and comeback with stack of business cards and 3 coffee chats scheduled for next week. Don’t let them intimidate you. It is okay you only made one contact.

Showing your face matters

One of the most encouraging advice I got from series of networking chat is “Just showing your face counts. Don’t feel bad when you couldn’t participate in conversation. It is more important that you made an effort to be there.”

2. [Event] Chose your game

There are gazillions of tech and startup related events happening everyday in NY. You can’t (and don’t have to) attend everything. Avoid social mixer type events and go with meetups that are specific to your interest. For me, it is more comfortable to start conversation by saying “Do you work with XXX (topic of the meetup)?” (in stead of “What you do?”) since I know we both have common interest.

Don’t hesitate to attend Technical Events

If you are a business person, don’t auto-mute technical events. For example, if you are interested in Analytic space, you might want to attend data science meetup. Yes, majority of attendees would be developers. Yes, you will likely to see a slide with lines of code that you can’t understand; but there is much more you can gain. Even simply knowing those technology exist gives you better understanding of its market. (If someone ask you “why are you here?” just tell them “I am interested in this subject and simply want to educate myself”)

3. [Event] Achieve just 2 things and feel good about it

When you go to events and could not speak with anyone, you may feel like going to events are time consuming, torturous, and useless. But remember, showing your face matters. Just give yourself these simple goals and feel good about it.

One: talk to one person

Yes, just talk to one person. That could be a stranger who was sitting next to you or someone you know from some other event. Just talk to one person. That is 100% growth than your typical weeknight when you speak to…well, no one. (and it is comfortable.)

Two: Say “thank you” to organizer / speaker

Organizing an event is hard. As part of “showing your face”, just tell them “Thank you for organizing this, I really enjoyed it.”; people like to hear that. Same for speakers, just tell them “Just wanted to say hi, I enjoyed your presentation.” Most of event organizers and speakers are extroverts(that’s why they do events), they are more likely to ask you “what you do?” “how do you know about this event?”. Let them lead the conversation.

4. [Event] Leverage online communication

I enjoy connecting with people, but it is a major challenge to put myself out there in front of many strangers. Doing it online is much more comfortable.

Pre-event email — when you really want to connect

Is someone you want to connect organizing,speaking,or RSVP at an event? Reach out to them before the event. It is important you do this before not after (His/Her inbox probably is flooded after an event and they won’t remember which one was you) . First, just tell them you are looking forward to meeting him/her. Then, maybe you include question you wanted to ask, or some thoughts about recent news that they bloged/tweeted. Keep in mind to send something genuine — I don’t recommend doing this unless you can make the message authentic and personal. Last thing people want is another automated message.

There are bunch of tips and tricks to find (almost) anyone’s email address online.

Do you think it’s creepy ? Surprisingly, many people reply to me or told me in person “Thanks for reaching out. Regarding your question …” I even had one interaction that turned into invitation to their office party. I would have never got the invitation if I was just quietly attending an event. Again, most important thing is you only do this to people you care, and send something they can related to. If you can only think to write them “looking forward to seeing you”, you shouldn’t do this.

Twitter — more casual

If you are comfortable tweeting. Do live tweet, RT, mention, hashtag, do it all. You can casually talk to (tweet at) anybody on Twitter. It is simply amazing.

5. [coffee chat] Don’t waste time

When it comes to coffee chat, how many you schedule don’t really matter. You many only have one chat that leads you to 10 other people or 100 chats that lead to nothing. These informational chats are not same as hanging out with your friends. If you can’t think of more than 5 questions that you want to ask, you probably have no value in that meeting; hence you are wasting your time and their time.

6. [coffee chat] Make it specific

Some extroverts can schedule a meeting like it is as simple as breathing air. They are good at showing who they are in conversation and naturally share common interests. “What you do sounds really interesting, we should grab a coffee sometime!” I would love it if I can schedule a coffee chat this way.

If introverts use the same line when you only spoke once or none, people would say “Why the hell I should spend my time for you?” …because they don’t know you, yet. Start with specific “ask”. You can say “Hey I am working on XXX that’s related to what you were just talking, can I buy you a coffee and ask few questions about how you do XXX?”

By making it specific, it is easier to prepare questions, plus you don’t have to feel like you have to keep conversation going. You can simply end conversation with “Well these were all questions I had, I really appreciate your help!”

7. Fortune is hidden in Follow-up

You have pushed yourself to meet new people in person, don’t let that relationship disappear. Think yourself as a farmer; you have planted new relationship, feed them well and grow these relationships.

Follow-up is not only thank you letter. If you solved some problem based on someone’s suggestion, let them know and thank them again. If you see information that you think someone likes, send it over to them. If it was career advice you got, update them what you are up to every now and then. Again, you can leverage online communication.

Not only you invested in your time and challenged your introverted personality; they also invested in their time meeting you. Don’t just let it sit and rot.

Those are few strategies and mind sets I have developed. It was not easy and there is no magic solution. It is time consuming but the rewards are well worth it. Just remember to make a consistent effort while you keep a room for yourself.