Networks in the Off-Line Sense

I was at an awesome networking event on Monday night put on by Pay It Forward Labs. As we were waiting to speak to some of the expert mentors on hand (I spoke with Amplify.LA’s incredibly awesome, helpful and insightful Richard Wolpert), the guy next to me likened the whole experience to speed dating.

Now, I’ve never actually speed-dated (and since I’m married, I am glad it’s an experience I will never have to go through). But I can see the parallels. Often in networking scenarios, you have a short amount of time to make a great impression on someone who could make an impact in the life of your startup. You can’t always tell who “the one” might be – and let’s be honest, if you think there’s only “one” you’ve actually been watching too many romantic comedies.

But networking is an absolutely key part of startup life (whether you love to get out there and mix it up or whether the thought of standing in a room full of strangers and trying to talk to them makes you want to curl up in the fetal position – to be fair, most people are somewhere in the middle). Ultimately, it’s both about relationship building and community building.

Here is what networking looks like.

Here is what networking looks like.

You need to build relationships in order to make your network a network, but it really isn’t about connecting with a single individual. It’s about connecting with individuals who can connect you with individuals – and hopefully, somewhere along the line you meet the right individuals who can help you build your business. That’s what we’re trying to do here at 7 Generation Games.

That’s the approach we have taken in our hiring. Aside from our interns, we have never hired someone via posting a job. We want people that we know at least have the potential to be solid employees because either we know them or someone we know knows them. In other words, our hires have come from within our networks.

All but one of the schools and afterschool programs we’re working with have come from working with people in our network – sometimes, with those people connecting us with people in their networks. The one exception is a school that just seemed to stumble across our games on the Web – so it does happen, but if that’s your entire strategy, that people will just find your product on the Web – consider we’ve worked with 25 schools/programs to-date. (If you can’t figure a business strategy that works 1-in-25 times isn’t the way to go, well, you should make sure to check out our iPad game on basic statistics when it comes out.)

Of course, the bigger challenge is building out new networks almost from scratch. That’s what we’re trying to do when it comes to funding. Now, when we ran our Kickstarter a while back, we actually were basically fundraising within our networks – and from the AWESOME people we didn’t actually know but we also backed us. But looking for funding in the startup sense – as in people that will give you between $100,000 and $1 million dollars, takes a whole lot of networking.

I guess, to draw from the guy sitting next to me on Monday’s analogy, it’s kind of like dating, but in the longer-term sense. You know there are people out there – at least see articles or hear through the grapevine other people who are finding funders – so they exist. The goal is to find the funder who is the right fit and who understands and believes in what you’re doing. We’ve met with some angel investors (more seeking advice than money), and we all determined we weren’t necessarily a fit. So then you are off to find someone else who might be a fit together.

Whether that person comes through “speed dating” (less likely) or introductions within your network (most likely) or through some online site (we belong to a lot of those sites like Gust and Angel List, but for the record, I’ve never heard of someone who has been contacted by an investor based just on their profile). The goal with networking is you just keep going and you eventually find someone who is a fit with your startup.

Another key part of networking is know when to end the conversation and to leave the person, interested, intrigued and eager to learn more. So we’ll leave you with that – but feel free to connect with 7 Generation Games on our various social networks (see those cool icon buttons in the left-hand corner above on our awesome new site). You can network with us everywhere from Twitter and Facebook to Pinterest and Instagram. We’d love to hear from you.

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