Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘networking’

brainstorming about business opportunities

Posted by shannonclark on December 3, 2008

Exit

I am an entrepreneur. When I dream, I dream in business models (seriously, though not every night). That said, I need to find a way (or more likely many ways) to make money in the current economic environment. Projects or businesses which will prosper now and as the economy turns around will have many growth opportunities. Businesses which may have some “exit” in mind – though my dream exit is less an exit and more a route to enduring success and sustainable growth.

What do I mean by that?

I don’t particularly want to build something to sell it – even to sell it to the public (i.e. via an IPO). Rather in my ideal world I build something which can stay private, but can also grow into a large and comprehensive entity, with ongoing growth into new opportunities while building on a solid base. A business which would employ a lot of people, share great rewards with those people (as well as with partners and customers) and in turn have a large impact on the world.

Why would I want to keep such a business private? Well first and foremost when I think of great companies only a handful of them are public – and if anything being public limits them in a wide range of ways. I think a very well run, private company, has much greater flexibility than a public company and can more often place long term bets (which admittedly is not always doable in the tech world – but then again my fantasy company though almost certainly driven in part by technology is not a pure tech company). Yes, being private means that as a company you have to be a bit more creative with how you reward your employees – and with how as the owners you diversify your own finances – and with how you obtain the resources to grow and build the future.

So unlike some of my peers here in the valley, my goal is not to build something to sell it, or to make a “quick hit” for myself (though certainly I wouldn’t complain about that) instead I want to build a business (or likely related businesses) which give me a base to explore lots of ideas and a platform from which to have a big and oversized impact on the world. Starting by the customers I serve, the business partners I help, the employees (and their families) I help support.

On a personal level money matters to me – but only up to a point – what matters more is the freedom and flexibility to have a big impact on the world. I want to travel a lot – not just to be elsewhere – but experience a lot. I want to spend a lot of time around the smartest and most impactful people in the world – from formal experiences and conferences – and less formally at lunches, dinners, salons, and meetings all over the world. At somepoint in my life I want to live in many different cities (including outside of the US) and even when I have (as I hope to sometime not all that far from now) a family I would hope to raise that family in multiple cities and countries – and to expose my future children to many cultures and ways of engaging with the world.

So with that as my goal(s) what opportunities should I be pursuing in 2009 (and the rest of 2008)?

In the past few weeks I’ve blogged about a number of business opportunities and ideas I have had: Radio Schedules 2.0, a new(ish) approach to local media, the future of media being curation, and what I would have submitted to the Knight Foundation

A common theme to many of my current ideas have been some degree of rethinking of media – both on and offline – as well as a newish approach to how commercial content plays a role in the media – more than it does currently online but in somewhat different ways than it does offline.

I am still also passionately interested in the core idea which led me to start Nearness Function over a year ago, ideas around how a new form of advertising network could function as a buffer and valueable partner for software and new media firms and a valued partner for advertisers and their agentcies and media buyers. At the core of my belief is that brands matter – more so now than perhaps ever – and that to build great brands requires sustained, ongoing investment and engagement – and that as attention shifts to the “web” (or more accurately to services and communities woven together largely over and via the web) brands will have to engage with audiences via these same services.

And unlike many in Silicon Valley I do not find this inherently a bad thing – if anything I think it is inherently a good thing – that great brands at all scales of brands serve a very valuable and useful purpose. A few months back I launched a new blog, which I need to update more regularly, Slow Brand to discuss my views on branding (and occasionally food) though I need to blog there on a more consistent basis to build up that blog and get my voice out more often.

My friend Tim Ferris (yes of the 4 hour workweek fame and who is launching a new TV show Trial by Fire this week on the History Channel) talks about Lifehacking and indeed to a degree I should implement many of his lessons and suggestions, but my goals are not entirely (or at least not solely) about myself – my body, my life experiences – but are also very much about what I can do for others, what I can build and help create.

As I think about what I want to do I find myself pulled in a number of not entirely complementary directions.

  1. I am a very value-adding consultant. My primary skill being to brainstorm with people, especially senior management/founders/investors asking tough questions and helping explore business models, potential partnerships, avenues forward and technical evaluations and decisions. I’ve been told by one VC friend that my 1 hour, emailed evaluation of a company they were looking at, entirely on the basis of public data about the firm, came to the same conclusions it had taken them over 1 month to reach. Now, there are challenges packing up and promoting my consulting and much of what I have done in the past has been on a fairly informal basis – I’d love to do much more of this type of advising/consulting, for a high but fair fee (mostly $ but in some cases perhaps also equity). I think I’d also be very valuable for an investor or M&A person in helping evaluate potential deals.
  2. I am a skilled facilitator. I’ve been doing “open space” events since the mid-90’s and have become skilled at the art of facilitating open space events and meetings, as well as the related skill of helping curate other forms of events. This is an art – done well my role almost disappears into the background – achieved by means of the invitations, the settings, the structures lightly imposed upon the event and the group, and gentle nudges and one-on-one conversations and slight changes to the schedule made on the fly. I enjoy such work – whether for a non-profit event or for for-profit businesses and I would like to do more. Especially events which might involve the MeshWalk format I’ve used many times quite successfully. I’ve organized dozens of evening events, helped with lots of weekend and multi-day conferences, and organized a couple three+ day conferences on my own. (The first of which was over 20+ years ago when I was in high school, a science fiction convention which still occurs to this day in no small part because we designed into it a great sustainable structure & financial model)
  3. I am a writer. In the past years I’ve written hundreds of blog posts and lengthy emails to mailing lists, not to mention over 7000 tweets. My non-fiction writing has blossomed in the past few years, occasionally even earning me if not direct income then some value in trade (conference passes and access for example). I have multiple non-fiction as well as fiction book ideas, just a few weeks ago in fact I started a new fiction book which is going well so far (though as I write this post it is still early, about 4000 words written but it is going quickly and I have much to write). I also have a major piece of non-fiction I want to write on Networked Economics a topic I have been thinking about since at least 2004 and which I started and ran multiple conferences in no small part to help myself learn.
  4. I enjoy connecting people and businesses and serving as a translator between industries. Yes, I am a geek, I wrote my first application when I was about 8, am the 3rd generation of my family to write software (my grandfather was one of the first employees of Rand Corporation and then later at Aerospace Corporation he oversaw the deployment of early IBM mainframes to detect nucluer explosions, my mother has been a programmer since the late-60’s and I would do her student’s flowcharting homework as a child). I’ve had a server on the Internet since about 1991, served as an editor of some IETF standards. In short I have deep and extensive “geek cred”. But I am also passionately interested in business and economics – in topics such as branding and business and process innovation which are non-technical. I find that I can offer a lot of value bridging between the possibilities of technology and the needs of business.
  5. I come up with business opportunities. However though I have, I think, had many great ideas I also need to work with others to implement my ideas. While I have many skills I do not have every skill needed to build a successful business (or at least have not had them all so far – still working on it). I have ideas about technology and design which are best implemented by others. While I can and have sold at a very high level, my sales process is too slow and sporadic for sustained growth – I need to work with others to keep myself closing (and/or to help close and implement deals). I will keep practicing the art of the close and of selling – it is a necessary part of being a successful business person, but I also know that my value is multidimensional and that in many ways I would make more money with the right partners than I could alone.

So those are where my thoughts are at the moment. I have many opportunities I’m working on and many ideas (probably too many ideas) but I am faced with the dilemna of evaluating which to pursue now and how to best go from my current state of not enough income to one of a surplus of resources – cash but also other resources such as great staff & partners.

I welcome suggestions and opportunities.

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Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, economics, Entrepreneurship, personal, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How we are social (or not)

Posted by shannonclark on August 17, 2008

Lost in the flurry of passion for “Social Networks” and more broadly in our cultures can be the fact that people interact with each other very differently. We have many different ways of being social (or not).

Most broadly psychologists divide people into introverts and extroverts or more accurately into falling somewhere along the continuum between the two traits. However culturally here in the US there is a massive bias towards extroverism – being the “life of the party”, being socially active, partying on the weekends (and while in college) and in short getting outside of your home, hanging out with groups of people and being able to make new friends. That behavior is reinforced and rewarded significantly.

Even online, where you might think introverts would be more comfortable a lot of social networks focus on extroverted behaviors and rewards. Call this the “friend gap” as many have recently – but nearly all social networks and socially enabled software show a massive change when you have a lot of frieds versus when you have few or no friends on the system. Being very social, therefore, is rewarded with lots of built-in rewards.

When you post something and have a lot of followers – whether on your own blog, to a microbloging tool like Twitter, or as an update inside of a social network like Facebook, if you have a lot of friends you have a much higher chance of getting a response and thus feedback – and with more feedback you generally get more feedback (i.e. people start to Digg it, other people who follow your friends notice their activity on your posts etc).

If you are extroverted and crave social attention then these tools can be quite wonderful – leveraging yourself to potentially larger social circles than you could keep up with without the tools (Robert Scoble for example probably couldn’t talk to 20,000 people every day but can follow that many on twitter).

Introverts, however, gain energy from focusing inward, they can engage outward but it can be overwheling and energy draining. The effort to gather up enough social contacts on a given service to get over the “friend gap” can be insurmountable. And since every outward effort can be somewhat draining keeping up the volume of activity in the face of the frequent lack of any response can be even more draining though for some the personal rewards (from writing a blog post and getting your own thoughts down) may be sufficient.

And then there are people like myself. I fall fairly squarely in the middle of the continuum – nothing is well suited for people like me – and we confound the expectations of society and others. In some contexts I am very extroverted – I talk to everyone, am the center of attention and gain energy from the presense of others. But this is not in all cases – and I also gain energy from time by myself, afternoons such as today when I spent most of the day on a 6+ mile walk by myself through San Francisco, listening to my iPod and thinking inwardly.

Society – and the current batches of “social” networks – are at times difficult places for people like me. I may have 100’s of twitter followers, thousands of contacts and hundreds of connections on many social networks. But at the same time how I enage with both people in person and within the context of these services is at times variable (contextual) and is not how extroverts approach the world – nor is it entirely how introverts do either.

I’ll follow up this post with further thoughts and discussion but I’m hoping it may spark others to think about this.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, networks, personal, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Remember everyone is human – even the A-listers like Arrington & Scoble…

Posted by shannonclark on December 12, 2007

[full disclosure – Robert Scoble spoke at MeshForum 2006 in San Francisco. Oh and both he and Mike are friends of mine]

UPDATE – Robert has posted his side on his blog “It is your business

Though even if I did not count both Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble as friends, I would still find the commentary on Mike’s recent TechCrunch post about Robert’s plans to leave PodTech disturbing at best and more than slightly depressing at the worst.

Reading the comments I was struck by the vitriol of many of the commentators – the sense from them that both Robert and Mike “had it coming” (one commentator called Robert a “liar”). The comments also have a sense of being written about characters – not fellow humans (one comment talked about how Mike and Robert are “real world” friends – implying that somehow the comments and blog posts exist outside of the “real world”.

For most of my career in technology I was outside of Silicon Valley, I only moved here in January of 2006 full time (and spent some time here in the Fall of 2005 but spent much of that time looking for a place to live). The Chicago tech community was (and still is) much, much smaller than Silicon Valley’s. A recent Chicago email subscription I still have showed that that is still the case – the lead article was about how a bunch of Chicago based VCs all called Facebook’s valuation an “aberration”, clearly in my mind not understanding what Facebook is building.

Since moving out to Silicon Valley I have met many of the people who, back in Chicago, I read about. My opportunities to meet them have been at countless networking events, conferences, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Some public events, many others private gatherings of friends. The “secret” to Silicon Valley, however, is that people are friends with each other – the tech world is in many ways a very small place. At almost any networking event throughout the bay area “competitors” can be seen sharing drinks and talking with each other – more often than not individual employees may have gone to school together, worked together at previous companies and usually fully expect to work together again at some future company.

Founders and investors alike know as well that the links that connect people here in Silicon Valley are many and diverse – it is a rare company here that does not have countless ties to other firms across the valley – shared investors, former colleagues, roommates.

Likewise, while in Chicago (and indeed in much of the rest of the US and world) failure is a taint, something which is assumed (again outside of Silicon Valley) to “ruin” you that is not entirely the case in Silicon Valley. Sure, no one – founders, investors, or employees wants a company to fail – but likewise nearly everyone knows that failure is a very real risk with any startup. And there are many different types of failures.

What matters most, though this is something which few (perhaps none?) of the commenters on TechCrunch grasp, is how you fail – and how as individuals you treat others, your investors, customers and partners.

In my observation how Mike Arrington and Edgeio are handling their failure is an honorable way. Yes, it is a bit abrupt but even that is likely better than lingering – especially for the employees who will almost certainly find other employment.

But to get back to my main point and the topic of this post – Remember everyone is human

Yes, this includes the “A-listers”

And yes, even lawyers and VC’s.

Even at the biggest of companies – whether Microsoft, IBM, or newer giants such as Yahoo! and Google – are, in fact, the result of the collective efforts of 1000’s of individuals, fellow humans all.

It is easy for everyone to be snarky, to gossip, to offer commentary and to put down someone else – we all have more than our share of faults.

But I also believe and my life and career keep reinforcing this point over and over again that your expectations about others are usually right but that the causation here is not simple – if you expect others to be jerks, to be untrustworthy, to be stupid, to “not get it”, it is your very attitude which helps that self-fulfilling point of view. In contrast if you approach the world assuming the best of others, assuming that generally speaking people are good, smart and trying hard, and willing to help more often than not you are proved right. Again, your attitude helps shape the world around you – and equally importantly what you focus on and emphasize for yourself.

This is not I should note looking at the world with rose-colored glasses or being naive about business matters. Rather this is about what you focus on, what you spend your time cultivating starting with your own attitude and approach to others.

Starting with how you interact with people in person and most definitely including how you interact with others online.

One of the commenters on TechCrunch whom I won’t name here except to say he (and yes, I am assuming he is male from his writing style on his personal blog) was very active on this post, is also apparently in the midst of seeking funding and partners for a new venture. While I always wish everyone the best, I also have to note that were I advising someone about his venture (an investor for example or a friend considering working for him) I would caution against it. Because of the attitude about others which comes through in his blog and comments – a strongly bitter sense of betrayal and a core assumption that others are idiots, wasting money, doing things in stupid ways etc.

(all while, I should note he is, I think, missing some technical approaches to a problem he is facing)

But. And this is a big but, I would still be happy to meet him, to discuss what he is doing, and very likely even offer my help. I believe in giving everyone a chance.

My view is that you can and do shape reality around you – how you approach others reflects back upon you, shapes how they will interact with you. If, as I have advised in the past you approach everyone starting from the perspective of “how can I help you” when you need help it will be there, likely from the most surprising of people.

I am by other’s accounts a networker – yet the core “secret” I have found to getting things done in the past has been the simple act of asking for the help I need. And if someone says no not just giving up but learning from that – and asking follow up questions such as “can you suggest who could…” [speak in your place, sponsor the event, etc]

So I encourage all of you to think about this when you next read about celebrities – whether “a-list” bloggers, startup founders, or media stars – and remember that everyone is human.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshwalk, networks, personal, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Networking Advice – useful business cards and other tips

Posted by shannonclark on October 8, 2007

I am an expert networker – I’ve organized networking events for most of the decade, I even run one of the first conferences on the study of Networks – MeshForum. My MeshWalk events have drawn over 100 people to spend a day walking and talking with each other. Here in the Bay Area I make a point of attending many events and conferences, helping out when I can.

As a result I end up with lots of business cards and lots and lots of contacts, connection requests on Facebook, LinkedIn, followers on Twitter, and the occasional other social networking tool.

Here are a few tips for everyone, but especially for entrepreneurs. Some are seemingly simple but even the simplest tips are, I hope useful. I do not always adhere to my own advice, this post is as much to remind myself as to, I hope, educate others.

Tip 1 – a useful business card

I just reviewed nearly 1000 business cards which I had collected over the summer. Almost half or more of these broke the advice I’m about to give – and as a result, I am less likely to follow up with those contacts. Here is the advice: a business card should be easy to write ON and contain enough information to identify who you are & why someone will follow up with you

This means no glossy business cards, no cards with all graphics, no small moo cards (can’t write on them) and ideally no cards with just your name and email address (I have a bunch of these, usually can’t remember who that individual is/why I might want to follow up with them) Perhaps an exception can be made if you are easily googleable – but even then a card with your company name, job title/one line description, and preferred contact means can go a very very long way.

And even in today’s hyperconnected online world, at a minimum include your primary city – when I’m in a town I like to catch up with people whom I know who live or work there, if all I have about you is your email address, I’m unlikely to invite you to dinner or lunch.

And yes, one of my businesses is exactly about this process – Never Eat Lunch Alone. But if I don’t have your city at the very least, I am unlikely to use my own software to invite you to lunch.

Why no glossy paper you might ask?

Tip 2 – shortly after you get someone’s card, write a note and reminder to yourself on that card

And I do mean shortly, as in minutes after you get the card. Jot down the date and/or the event where you met, write down anything you just promised to do (send an introduction, pass along an article, take a look at a beta, more on this point in the next tip). Make a note which product or project you are working on they might be interested in, or even if you didn’t promise to do it someone you know whom they absolutely should connect with. In short, remind yourself what to do when you next follow up.

If they mentioned a mutual contact, make a note of that.

If they added information in the conversation to what is on their card, jot that down as well.

Are they an investor? A potential partner? A competitor? A prospective employer or employee?

When I have a note to myself on the back of a card, I am reminding myself in the future why I have that card. Without it, I am relying on memory and proximity in a jumbled pile to realize when and where we met, and I will likely have to research who the person and company is before remembering why I took their card in the first place.

Tip 3 – don’t be shy about discarding cards from people whom you do not want to follow up with

Of course do not be rude, but if you meet someone and your immediate reaction is “I don’t trust this person”, or you look into their company and realize it is not a firm you have any interest at all in, save yourself future headaches and memory exercises and discard the card as you are going through the business cards you picked up – and do this quickly (if discretely).

In a related point, most of the time you should only collect business cards from people whom you have actually met in person and have a reason to follow up with. Cards just left out on a table or at a trade show booth are much less useful to you, you don’t have as much context to follow up with someone (and most likely they don’t have the context to recognize you from a conversation when you do follow up).

Tip 4 – have your cards with you and exchange them, along with context as you do so

Something as simple as introducing yourself to a speaker after a talk, getting their card and giving them yours means when you do follow up (and you will won’t you! Soon after the event is best, btw!) you can add to the subject or right at the beginning of the message “we exchanged cards at [name of event] and as I promised I’m following up with you to…”

So if you promise someone to make an introduction, or you mentioned a book, article, blog post, or website to someone, follow up on that promise and deliver.

Tip 5 – networking is about giving.

I have mentioned this before in a previous post about networking, but it bears repeating. Always approach networking first and foremost with the attitude that you can help others. Listen to their conversation and think about how you can help them – is there someone at the same event, even someone whom you have just met who they should talk to? Have you recently read something – on or offline – which might be relevant to what they are doing? Do you know someone who could help them (and who, in turn, would appreciate talking with them)? In short, focus on how you can be helpful – while remaining aware of in turn what help you yourself at looking for.

Oh, did I mention that last point before? Be clear when you start networking – and yes this starts with when you set up your business card and get them printed – what your goals for networking are. Do you want to reach investors? Customers? Partners? Employees? Find a new job? Learn about a new subject?

In short what are you focused on as your own needs. Then, does your business card help contextualize you in the context of those goals?

i.e. if you are mostly seeking to network in the context of a new business, your cards which mostly promote your personal hobby of building model airplanes (unless that is also your new business) are most likely not helpful and at worst a distraction. This is not to say that you shouldn’t include personal as well as professional details – but that you should think about the overall context and focus.

On my own card I have some fairly personal elements such as my personal blog (this blog), my twitter and my skype accounts. I do so a number of reasons, one of which is to in part communicate my attention and focus on fairly cutting edge technologies online – there are probably not too many people currently who put their skype and twitter accounts on their card – I am thinking about what else to put on my card and/or how to communicate other new wave networking elements such as my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles – or some more unified ID for myself online.

Tip 6 – convert business cards from paper to digital data quickly and sync the data widely

It almost does not matter which address book you use, but you should be using some form of a contact manager and in turn you should sync that contact manager widely across your frequently (and to some extent infrequently) used tools. Plaxo is a great help here, though there are other options. [full disclosure, NELA.mobi is a business partner of Plaxo, we will be integrating NELA to Plaxo address books for our users]

Increasingly I’m finding Facebook a very useful business contact tool, often my contacts on Facebook share the best and most direct ways to reach them in their profiles, and they often include useful information and details not found on their business cards (personal blogs for example).

A related habit which I am in, though it does take a commitment of time to do this, is to add to the data found on someone’s card when I entered them into my digital address book. Here are the data elements which I ideally include in every contact’s listing:

  • Full Name w/gender note
  • Company (or companies)
  • Title
  • phone – noting if mobile (so on sync to my phone I use that for SMS)
  • primary email address
  • work address (at minimum city, but usually company address is findable online)
  • blog or other personal website
  • corporate website
  • photo [can be hard to find – best is one I have taken or corporate headshot]
  • note on when & where we met
  • note on why I kept this card (i.e. transcribe notes I wrote on the card)
  • short bio – from conference directory, linkedin, facebook, corporate website, personal blog etc
  • tags and/or notes about where/how we are connected (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, ryze.com, same college, etc)

In short I try to write a short but useful to me profile on each contact. The photo and bio, along with notes on when/where we met are to help jog my memory in the future. The keywords and other tags are also to help me slice through and search my contacts. I have literally 1000’s of contacts, the ones which I have built these rich profiles for are the ones which I am most apt to follow up with in the future – they are the ones which are easiest for me to search and easiest to remember why I might contact them.

In the best case over time I’ll add to the notes with some additions and/or add keywords. Many good tools also note some of these connections automatically – noting the emails I have sent to them etc.

I hope these tips help you. Now I have to get back to following up with all the folks I’ve met over the summer, I’m behind in following my own advice.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, working | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Networking Advice – non-valley style

Posted by shannonclark on July 31, 2007

I am a geek. Let me get that right out there, in high school and even in college I was not by any stretch the most popular kid around, heck in high school as a freshman and sophomore I wasn’t all that comfortable calling girls on the phone (this was in the late-80’s, long before cell phones).

Why do I mention this?

Well since college I have become a fairly serious networker. I run conferences, organize events, attend many others and close to 100% of my business development happens as a result of the contacts and connections I make at events (and at follow ups to events such as dinners after).

At the closing party for the Mobile MeshWalk I held last March here in San Francisco one of the MeshWalkers told me a story of advice and training he had received from his boss when he first arrived in Silicon Valley. The advice – “don’t spend more than 2 minutes talking to someone at a networking event, look at their nametag and decide quickly if they are worth your time, if not move on”.

He noted that this was horrible advice – and thanked me for organizing an event which broke with that model and tradition – an event which encouraged longer conversations.

In the past week here in Silicon Valley you could have attended a major networking event/party nearly every single night. Last night it was a blogger dinner (at $40 a pop), Saturday it was my friend Scott Beale’s LaughingSquid Paradise Lost fundraiser, Friday night it was the infamous TechCrunch party at August Capital, Thursday night my friend’s at Satisfaction held an office warming, cupcake party. Wednesday I held my MeshWalk Palo Alto.

Leaving aside my own event, which both was different from the others by virtue of being a full day event and which my results from differ because I am the organizer of the event, the other events show both what is great about the valley and what is so very wrong. My friend’s boss’s advice being the starting point.

In the Valleywag coverage of the TechCrunch party one paragraph by my former college editor Owen Thomas stood out to me.

It was the same small talk, the same pitches, and the same scanning of nametags before faces as any other Valley networking event. With one small hitch — partygoers were asked to fill out their own nametags, and most neglected to include their company information. That omission perplexed at least one venture capitalist in attendance. “I feel like I’m walking socially blind,” he confessed. “I don’t know how important these people are to me.” You mean Arrington’s velvet rope-holders let in some hoi polloi who aren’t worth your time, let alone your capital? Quelle horreur!

A few things to note here. One, Owen observes the same behavior I have, the scanning of nametags to judge whether someone is worthy of time spent talking with them. Two, the sense that lacking this context you are “socially blind”. Three, the implication that you should only talk with “important” people.

Let me now give you, the reader, some different advice.

And so you can judge me, some context. I run a conference on the study of networks, most weeks I meet my personal goal of meeting 5-10 new people (and have for nearly over a decade – do the math), my last event, the MeshWalk Palo Alto drew nearly 100 entrepreneurs and investors for a day of walking, was sponsored by Mohr Davidow Ventures, and well over a dozen angels and vc’s participated.

So, my advice.

1. Networking is about giving and listening.

Spend your time when you meet people thinking about how you can help them. Often this can be both very simple and immediate – introduce people who you meet at a party to each other. As you do, mention why you are introducing them i.e. “John, meet Jenny, she mentioned that she’s looking at deals in the healthcare space and you were telling me about your friend’s new medical startup…”

To do this well you have to be listening. Listen not for a pause when you can enter and pitch yourself/company/product/investment opportunity, listen for how you and the person you are talking with can form a connection.

2. Have a very concise, two or three at the most sentence explanation for yourself.

This is something I have to work on, in part because I am working on too many projects at once (three startups, one ongoing non-profit, writing a book on economics). But for all of the projects I am involved in, I can explain them very simply and quickly – in a few simple, easy to understand sentences – which generally get a reaction of head nodding and interest in the project.

Getting to this point is not easy. In many ways it is harder than writing a long business plan. You have to strip away everything that is unnecessary and communicate quickly what you are working on. Without, ideally, doing so in a jargon or buzzword filled manner (I never use terms such as “web 2.0” when describing my projects, even those that are, in fact, “web 2.0” in spirit).

The point of this is to get the introductions behind you and to give someone stuff to continue to talk with you about – give them hooks to a conversation.

3. Parties and events are the starting point, not the end point.

Photos with celebs can be fun. Being on the guest list is always nice. But from a business perspective the conversations and discussions at a party are just the starting point. Make a point of following up with people – in ways that emphasize giving not taking. If while you are talking with someone you mention a book they should read, a person they should talk to, when you get back from the party fire off a quick email introduction or a reminder about the book/website/tool you mentioned. This does not take long but has a very real impact.

4. It is not quid-pro-quo.

Frequently people’s reaction when you do something for them is to try to “pay you back”. There is a strong sense that networking is some form of accounts – that you do favors and then collect on them, that people “owe you”.

Please, break yourself of this instinct. Not the part of it which inspires you to help others, but the part which tries to keep accounts, which tries to weigh whether someone can help you before you help them.

If I were to trace back the links and connections which have, in the past, resulted in business deals and opportunities for me, rarely is the line simple or direct. Usually it is something more like:

I was at an event, got into a conversation with another attendee, we went out for dinner as a group, later followed up via emails, over time those emails led to me participating in an online discussion group, later that led to other introductions, those introductions led to meetings while I was visiting CA, when I moved out to CA those occasional meetings grew more frequent, leading to participation at an event, which led to going to another event, which led to a conversation, that led to a lunch meeting in NYC, which led to a partnership to start three companies this year.

And that’s the relatively simple, straightforward version.

The full, detailed account would take a lot longer to explain – and takes many more twists and turns and mutual introductions and reconnections.

But, by giving back, by helping others via my comments, introductions and referrals, I have gotten far more. Not via direct paybacks, but indirectly.

5. Know what to ask for, and very important, ask for it.

People often ask me, “How do you get…” (sponsors, attendees, speakers, funding, clients, partners etc).

My usual and true answer is “I ask.”

It is amazing how few people do and how often asking the right people for the right thing gets amazing results.

Critically I do not usually ask in ways that only lead to yes or no. Rather I ask for something very specific (will you speak? Can you sponsor this?) but also for something openended “Who else should be speaking? Who should I be talking with about this? What should I read or take a look at?”.

This combination of specific and openended has worked very well for me. The specific leads to a yes or a no (and seriously, getting a quick no is really valuable – the worst result is the indeterminate answer that delays you from asking others). By asking for something open ended you give people a chance to help even if they can’t immediately do your specific request – i.e. if they can’t fund you, they may still help via some introductions, if they can’t make it to your event they may help via inviting someone to go in their place.

Getting to the point where you know what to ask for, however, is hard work. You have to really deeply understand your project and what next steps you need to take.

A few specific examples to help illustrate this.

I have many projects going at the moment. However what we need, for now, is not overly complicated.

– we need specific types of partners for trials we plan for our ad network this fall (publishers, advertisers)

– this is leading to needing serious investment (but for now we’re starting to talk with investors but mostly need to know who might be good fits when we are ready)

– for my next few MeshWalk’s I need participants (in Seattle Aug 12) and sponsors (for NYC in Sept)

– for another project which we are about to launch, we will need the right type of (probably) angel investor interested in content investments (online and to a degree offline)

– for that same project we need to talk with large (ideally trade show sized) event organizers in Chicago or San Francisco

We have other needs – for beta testers, for future hires, for certain types of partners. But, those are my current priorities and thus what I mostly ask for when it is appropriate to ask. And I have what we are looking for down pretty specifically (I can get into details about the trials this fall for example).

Specifics, even if open ended i.e. “who should speak”, lead generally to better results than very vague and uncertain questions.

i.e. don’t ask “can you help me with my startup”

Ask for something more specific. I have a call scheduled later this week with a former CEO who built, took public, and sold a company in a space we’re entering. My call is to get his perspective on our plans and to ask him if he would join our board (at least our advisory board, but very likely after we raise funds our formal board). This is very specific and importantly, he knows why I am talking with him (his perspective and advice would be very helpful plus his association would help as we raise money). I am also going to be asking him specifically about hiring sales and business development people in this space.

I hope this is helpful. Please leave comments with other advice (and feel free to point out alternatives or clarifications to this document).

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