How I went from being a stranger to having a network in Silicon Valley
Of all the generic advice I’ve received in my life, “go meet as many people as you can,” is perhaps the most common.
Like most buzzword phrases, I found myself asking, “what does this even mean?” “Well, duh, I want to meet people. But how?”
As a stranger to the tech world, and just 18 at the time, I needed all the help I could get. It was then, about a year ago, that I began making a conscious effort to internalize that advice and define a path to accelerate my growth.
So I went on a mission to meet more people and establish more strong connections.
Some people call it networking. Others use a fancy phrase like “relationship building.” Regardless, know that meeting new people can be extremely valuable. With the right mindset, you can learn something from everyone.
The action of ‘networking’ can be broken down into a few simple parts:
- Figuring Out Your Goal
- Outreach to people
- Together, doing something that creates value
I followed this guide in my effort to break into tech and meet new people.
Building Your Professional Network
Nothing is prescriptive, you should always do what works for you
Before looking outwards, we must invest in becoming self aware so that we can best present ourselves. Most people skip over this crucial first step. They begin by asking for things before understanding their own priorities.
Self-awareness is extremely difficult to achieve. It is not a metric one can check off, but rather an ongoing process of development.
I found it crucial to define my goals, but still know that they were subject to change. It is that balance of focus and fluidity that enhanced my life.
The first question to start with: What is your goal?
Ambiguity makes this question tough. But better you ask yourself than someone else questioning you. Do you want a job? An internship? A connection? An intro to a company? etc.
Ask yourselves those hard questions immediately. Next, you want to figure out your why. Why do you want a job? An internship? etc.
The best answers here are not surface level. They will take some thought and perhaps a couple levels of digging to find anything of value. There are no wrong answers, just useless ones.
- You want a job because you want to make money.
- You want an internship because you want a job next year.
Spend some time and really think…why do you want a job? To make money. Why do you want money? To travel? To have fun with friends? Why is this job going to get me that?
You now know, or are starting to figure out, your what and why. You should also, at this point, define what you are best at. What do you do that no one else can compete with? What makes you unique? What are your skills?
If you feel as if you lack skills, or cannot seem to answer these questions, think about learning new ones!
Important here not to lie about anything, because at this point you are only lying to yourself. People value honesty.
The next step is to begin purposeful outreach:
It is time to look outwards so that you can meet people quickly. The key here is to be purposeful.
Two of the best strategies that worked for me:
1. Direct Outreach
I wanted to meet interesting people who I could learn, connect, and create value with.
And so I set up a framework for outreach:
The next thing to learn here is how to craft the perfect email so that you can reach out to your list. And this is the part that a lot of people mess up. A few keys here: be short, ask for what you want, and why they should care.
Don’t just take it from me, here is some great advice from Justin Kan:
Here is a very simple framework (not a template, just an example email) that I have sent:
My name is Jordan and I share a passion for the intersection of tech and business.
I am really interested in your experience with ____ and ____ and would love to find a time to chat about your past as well as advice you have for a student in the future. Also, I’d love to help you out doing ________ because I am _______.
Shoot over a time that works for you and I will be sure to make it work,
*don’t use a template, write it out every time and personalize it
Easy and hits all of the points. There is no perfect email, but there are many bad ones. Be sure to get to your point quickly.
An important thing that I’d note here is that sending one or two emails will, most likely, not get you any results. In fact, sending 20 emails may get you no responses.
If you want to truly invest in building a brand and network, you must be in it for the long run. Only a truly committed, sustained effort can bring you a result.
If your goal is building a network (which it does not have to be), then try starting with one email a day. Then scale. Start with something you can execute daily. That will help you get momentum and motivate you to keep going.
2. Join A Community
Another way to build your network is to join a community that shares interests with you. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but super helpful.
Being active in a community and providing valuable information can go a long way.
A great way to do that in tech is with places like:
Product Hunt is a curation of the best new products, every day. Discover the latest mobile apps, websites, and…www.producthunt.com
A pure stream of founders helping each other with content, feedback and by sharing thoughts. You pick the channels and…startupfoundation.co
These are just a few examples. You can also get involved in “tech twitter” and meet a ton of people that way. Regardless, joining a community is a great way to build.
The last part, do something!
It is one thing to meet loads of new people and add them to your LinkedIn profile. Stop aiming for 500+ connections on LinkedIn.
Many people will tell you that you need to have a ton of friends and professional contacts to get a good job or build a big business.
The truth: anyone can get to 500 connections. That is not valuable.
What is valuable? Deep, meaningful connections.
The most important lesson I have learned is that your close friends are the ones who can help you grow most. A few strong bonds are much more important than many connections in a thin network.
While it is hard to build a network inorganically, the steps I listed above are ways that have worked for me.
I am forever grateful for the people that I have met through this outreach. Great things, like stupid projects and incredible meals, have come from it.
While not everyone will take this advice, I’ll always be here to help ~ be sure to reach out!
I hope you maybe learned a thing or two from my experiences. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions! Sign up to get my best stories in your inbox
You can find me on Jordan Gonen or Twitter