For any startup founder, networking is ridiculously high on the list of things you need to do.
For us at 7 Generation Games, that means attending and/or participating in a lot of events. As we continue to grow (if you want to buy a copy of our games, go here) and look for money (if you want to send us a huge check – or even a normal size check, feel free to hit us up here), that means exponentially increasing the number of events we attend in an effort to grow our network.
Now, events can be hit or miss, but over time we’ve started to develop a bit of a methodology for determining whether an event is worth attending or not – and we’re going to share our very scientific approach with you now…
Have realistic expectations.
When we look at attending events and meetups, we go into them with very realistic and pretty minimal expectations. If you go to an event expecting it to change your life/shift the direction of your business/bring you every contact you will ever need/etc., you probably need to take a step back. Now, it depends on the event, but if we go to say a local meetup, our goal is to make one good connection. Sometimes, it is simply to learn one useful thing we can put into action when it comes to our company or presenting or marketing. Honestly, when you take that approach going in, you’re often pleasantly surprised when you leave.
Now the bigger/more expensive/farther we have to travel for the event, the more we expect to get out of it, but we have never gone into an event thinking this is the one event that will change everything.
Look for meetups as closely aligned to your business as possible.
We make educational video games, so if there’s a meetup on educational video games, we’ll make an active effort to check it out. This is an event where there is a highly likelihood we’ll make some useful connections or learn something useful.
If it’s an ed tech meetup (meaning it will tackle topics and bring together people from the broader educational technology), we’ll consider going but we might not move our schedules around. Ed tech encompasses the much broader industry and could include anything from educational games to how to get more people to enroll in online courses to software to monitor classroom behavior to how teachers can apply for grants to buy new technology products. Some ed tech topics apply directly to what we’re doing and others don’t.
The same goes for many of the broader tech startup meet ups, from funding to scaling your business, there are topics in this broader sector that are a fit with what we’re doing. But there are a ton of topics that aren’t. If we don’t have anything else going on, we might check it out or we might not.
Look for events where you can promote to an audience or improve your presentation skills.
We make a real effort to go to events where we can either present or pitch. The reason behind this is two-fold. One, if you’re up there in front of a room talking about your company a lot more people will learn about what you do than if you’re one of the folks who is sitting in the audience and trading business cards with the one person next to you.
We also love anything where we get to pitch – in part because of the aforementioned reason– but also because every time we give our pitch, we find it becomes more refined. It gets tighter and stronger. People ask questions that we might not have thought of and/or will often give feedback on what we can do to make our presentation stronger. (Santa Monica New Tech meetup is an awesome example.) Also beneficial is the ability to see other people pitch. Some times, you’re wowed. Other times, you walk away realizing what great shape your company is in compared to some of the other startups out there.
Often when pitching, you’re in front of a crowd that contains at least a couple of investors. Getting in front of people who might possibly give us money is also a high priority on our list.
Have an idea of the kind of people you want to meet and try to attend events where they’ll be.
There are different types of events that bring together different types of people. Figure out where the people you want to meet will be and go there. At 7 Generation Games, this takes the form of many events.
We have attended a lot of EdCamps because those events bring together teachers who are really interested in new and innovative ways to implement educational technology in their classrooms. We even look to have a presence at EdCamps we aren’t able to actually attend in-person (shout out to EdCamp San Diego, EdCamp Rio and EdCampMSP to name a few). These are target rich environments where we can reach out directly to people who would use our product. I’m heading up to Alaska to attend the National Indian Education Association’s annual conference next week because we know we will be able to make a lot of great connections with possible users/consumers.
Our CEO is heading to the Los Angeles Venture Association event next week. (I would be there, but I can’t be in both L.A. and Anchorage.) We’re looking for funding, and the event will bring together investors and entrepreneurs. It’s the same reason we enjoying attending the PayItForward Labs events. They bring together not just entrepreneurs, but investors and experts.
We rarely go to events that are just Happy Hours without any kind of programming attached (because really most of our hours are spent working, and if we’re not working, then we want to just go home and hang with our families).
We definitely do not attend events where they’re looking to bring together entrepreneurs and developers because we’ve learned those events are pretty much just people with ideas looking for people to make those ideas a reality (and they’re often hoping someone will code it all for “equity”).
We also try to avoid events where there are going to be a lot of folks who are going to try to act like they’re smarter than us without offering much in terms of return. Of course, those events are harder to pinpoint. Which leads us nicely into our final point…
Don’t be afraid to leave.
Some times, you’ll get to an event and it sucks. You don’t necessarily need to tell the organizers “I’m sorry this blows,” but you don’t need to sit there and suffer either.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve got a limited amount of time. Life is too short and there’s too much work to be done to spend that time in useless meetups.