Everything You Need to Know About Startup Networking Events You Can Learn from Watching the Bachelor
If you could take an anonymous poll of tech entrepreneurs to find out how many watch The Bachelor, I suspect the results would surprise you. At the very least, you’d discover plenty of people like me — people who plopped down on the couch next to a spouse watching an episode one evening and, an hour later, found themselves curiously wondering who’s getting that final rose. #DontJudgeMe
Whatever your opinion of The Bachelor, you’ll find that most tech entrepreneurs can at least relate to the show because building venture-backed startups is basically the same thing. For proof, look no further than your typical startup networking event.
The average startup networking event consists of a couple investors, lots of self-promoting service providers trying to drum up new business (e.g. lawyers and accountants), a few seasoned entrepreneurs enjoying their relative success, and dozens of hungry, young founders desperate for funding. In that sense, it’s not unlike the first episode in a new season of The Bachelor when all the contestants are introduced.
In honor of last night’s final episode of Spring 2020 (don’t pretend you didn’t know!), let’s take a look at the different types of “characters” on The Bachelor and see how they sync up with their entrepreneur analogs.
Type 1: The Bachelor
The titular “bachelor” characters at your average startup networking event are the investors. Granted, there’s usually more than one investor, but not many more. At best, entrepreneurs are lucky to have a 25 to 1 founder-to-investor ratio. As a result, the investors don’t have to do much but stand around and let the conversations come to them.
They can sip their free beer and make judgemental first impressions about the people trying to impress them. With every new conversation, they’re reshuffling their internal rankings of who they want to learn more about (i.e. give a rose to at the end of the night), and who they’re ready to dump.
Occasionally, an ambitious suitor gets aggressive and pulls the investor aside for a private one-on-one. Sometimes it works. The investor is intrigued by the confidence and assertiveness of the founder and wants to know more, but most of the time, it’s a giant red flag that screams, “Can’t play nicely with others.”
Type 2: Self-Promoters
While most contestants on shows like The Bachelor talk about their dream of finding true love, plenty are there to build an audience for themselves. They’re self-promoters hoping to use their TV time to gain larger followings for their Instagram accounts. For them, love isn’t as much of a goal as it is a means to an end, and they’re willing to hijack the show in order to build their own reputations.
Much to the annoyance of founders attempting to win the affections of investors, networking events can similarly get hijacked by a handful of self-promoters. These are the lawyers, fractional CFOs (i.e. accountants), consultants, startup gurus, etcetera that view networking events as ways of getting new customers for themselves.
I don’t fault these self-promoters — either the ones on TV or the ones at the startup networking events I’ve attended. If anything, I appreciate the creativity of their strategy. Just stay out of my way when I’m trying to start a conversation with the bachelor… err… investor.
Type 3: Seasoned Reality Contestants
Few people outside of the reality TV industry realize there’s an entire mini-industry of reality show “actors” bouncing between shows trying to “make it” as reality celebrities. These people appear on multiple shows — everything from trashy afternoon talk shows to competition shows to dating shows — attempting to get their “big break.” When they’re on shows like The Bachelor, they’re less concerned with finding true love than they are with achieving full-blown celebrity status.
The analog to these contestants at startup networking events are the entrepreneurs already running moderately successful companies. They’ve raised a couple rounds of funding, they’ve got a 10–15 person team, and they’re generating a few million in revenue.
The experienced entrepreneurs sneakily position themselves at networking events as laid-back, easy-going, advice-givers to the young founders, but it’s really just a different strategy for attracting investors. Rather than aggressively trying to start conversations with investors, experienced entrepreneurs stay away from the investors and play “hard-to-get” by talking with the young entrepreneurs in the room.
Because people tend to want what they can’t have, playing “hard-to-get” usually works better than desperately throwing yourself at someone. As a result, investors, just like bachelors, are inherently more attracted to the people who seem least attracted to them.
In other words, if you’re a new founder at a networking event, don’t worry about the other new founders. They’re not your biggest competition for investor attention. The real competition comes from the experienced entrepreneurs chatting you up, asking questions about your company, and giving you advice. They’re the ones who already know how the game is played and are playing it better than you.
Type 4: Looking for True Love
The last and most entertaining group of people on The Bachelor are the true believers looking for love. They’ve watched the show — and other shows like it — for years. They believe it’s more “real” than it is, and they think they have a genuine shot at finding true love.
Unfortunately, as everyone watching knows, the people looking for true love on The Bachelor couldn’t be more wrong about the situation they’re in.
They’re not going to find true love. Instead, they’re everyone else’s entertainment. We cheer for certain ones, we villainize others, we laugh at the ridiculous lengths they’ll go to to get a little extra attention, and we laugh even harder when they fall on their faces (both figuratively and, sometimes, literally). In other words, because we know we’re watching an over-produced television show where nobody ever gets a true “happily ever after,” it makes us enjoy how much everything seems to matter to the characters involved.
At the end of each episode, we click off our TVs and say to ourselves, “I would never do something as foolish as that,” while ignoring the reality that, as entrepreneurs, it’s exactly what we’re doing every time we attend a startup networking event.