Networking Too Little or Too Much?

January 2018

Written by Lee Lin, Co-founder & Partner at Lair East Labs

WHY NETWORK?

On one hand, networking can be crucial to meeting just the right person who can help with whatever challenge you have as a company. You can also gain buzz, PR, partnerships, and general mindshare in the industry. You can gain good ideas and mold your vision and action plan.

On the other hand, networking is a large drain on time and often leads to no net benefit for your company. Even worse, it’s easy to rationalize almost any meeting as useful for your own learning, or for future options in case your startup goes a different direction. It can also cause you to pivot and go down a bad direction on misguided information.

TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE?

My personal theory is founders are either doing too much or too little networking. It’s true! Some founders are natural extroverts who thrive off of putting themselves out there and talking to as many people as possible. Others are natural introverts who probably should muster up some more buzz.

So first piece of advice: Figure out which extreme you are on personally. You are either doing too much or too little. Next step, take yourself out of your comfort zone and try doing the opposite for a bit.

HOW TO COMPENSATE

If you are the extrovert, take a break. Take inventory of your product, team, and immediate needs, and try to see which of the leads and options that come from your networking is actually aligned with your current company roadmap. Prioritize and cultivate those leads, the people you can help in the near term (and maybe they can help you as well).

For the introverts, there is a trick to avoiding the big party room conversations. Treat the big rooms as an efficient way to gather contact info, but not actually hold lengthy conversations. It’s probably better to meet people in a 1-on-1 setting if appropriate, so keep the party time to a minimum and instead use strategic “following up” to set up the meetings you actually want.

The most important takeaway is that getting your startup on other peoples’ radar is crucial. But it needs to be the right people: your direct customers, direct channel partners, or reporters and investors in your relevant space. There is almost no value to being known as an example of “a startup doing well” to a community or group that isn’t likely to use your service. There are countless examples of startups who focused too much on personal PR at the expense of their company.

- Lee Lin