The first step is to show up | Digital Asia
A lot of Founders compare their companies to babies. Like children, their startup is why an entrepreneur gets up in the morning; it is what motivates them to work harder and it is what drives decision-making.
The metaphor continues because, just like parents raising kids, Founders need as much help as they can get, and part of this is putting yourself in a position to succeed.
For Founders, this means meeting people — not necessarily networking, there is a difference. Eighty percent of life is just showing up, and while that saying is a little naive, there is some truth to the idea.
Good advice for any entrepreneur is to participate. Break out of silos, attend big events, go to small events. If there is a lunchtime event in your co-working space or nearby, take an hour and visit.
You never know who you will meet, and after a while, you’ll start to see the same people over and over again. Some of those folks will grow into friends, mentors, and even customers.
“I’ve found the community to be generous; not only do people share best practices, lessons learnt and resources, they also welcome you into their friendship circles and connect you to others,” said Chuan Sheng Soong, the Southeast Asia General Manager for the travel unicorn Klook.
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But sometimes it is easier said than done. Let’s take a look at some common questions.
Yes. Yes it does. But that is more about the attitude heading into an event than the actual networking.
If a person walks into a networking session and try to meet everyone in one night, strike deals and make friends, that is both unrealistic and will inevitably lead to disappointment.
For entrepreneurs, if you are serious about this company, it will be with you for the next seven years, minimum. Probably longer. That means, sometimes, go to a networking event, eat the free food and listen to a smart person talk for an hour, then leave. It’s ok. But then go again, and again, and again. Eventually, you will begin to recognise people and then you.
Eventually, with patience, you can begin to have conversations and avoid the “this person is only talking to me because they want something” problem.
How do I know if I am overdoing it?
Focussing too much time on building a community and not enough on the business is a potential pitfall.
One time, at our own conference, I had an investor joke with me that he wanted to tell all the entrepreneurs to “go home and work on the company, why are you here!?”. Obviously that was not in my personal interest.
He was a bit over the top, but the point is important. There needs to be a balance, and unfortunately, it is more of an art than a science.
Adrian Mah, the Head of Partnerships at HydraX, explains succinctly how to navigate the balance between building a network and putting in the grind.
“One problem faced by many entrepreneurs is proper time management. The struggle is real,” he said.
“Sometimes we need that break from work to get out and recharge by playing ping pong or talking to fellow community members; to regain that perspective and bounce ideas off people…But then we also need to know when to close that door, ignore distractions and focus. The key thing to remember is that we need to prioritise and know what is important the grand scheme of things.”
Typically, events are after “working hours”. Yes, I realise entrepreneurship is 24/7 and it is currently 1:44…no, 1:45am as I write this sentence. But, having events after work is helpful because the emails do slow down and it’s a good time to take some time to meet people.
Once a week is usually more than enough, and if the events are fairly similar to one another, you will begin to run into the same people.
I am shy
At Tech News we meet thousands upon thousands of companies. Nearly every Founder — good and bad — has one trait: A certain degree of shamelessness. It is not that the shyness is illegitimate, or that it will eventually go away (it won’t). More, it’s about following some tricks and trying your best to ignore the butterflies.
Soong, from Klook, suggests finding events that are held in a casual relaxed setting.
Mah, from HydraX, says bring a friend. It helps take the pressure off and they can pick up the conversation if it starts to slow.
Kevin McSpadden, your humble author, suggests sports or activities (like bowling or darts). Seriously, it seems weird but there is something about light competition that breaks down barriers and allows people to be more forthcoming with who they really are.
Shyness is just what makes you, you, so the important step is not to try to beat it down, but to embrace it and just learn how to operate within its confines.
How does someone start to “join the community”
Hopefully, at this point, you already know the basic answer. PARTICIPATE. Par-ti-ci-pate. Participate.
Interestingly, Mah and Soong have fairly different approaches but both end at the same result: building meaningful relationships.
According to Mah.
“Keep an eye on that event calendar and sooner or later you’ll see something that speaks to you on a personal or professional level. Make sure you hit that event and you’ll be able to link up with other people interested in the same topic. Common interests are a great way to start to get to know people and you can grow your connections from there,” says Mah.
As for Soong, he says, “Look out for a general large scale event to attend to establish yourself. [Then, focus] on more niche interest events and try to develop more meaningful relationships within a specific community.”
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The final point is the most important. All of this work is not some guerrilla marketing campaign or growth hacking secret. It is meant to build meaningful relationships. People who might attend your wedding, a one-month baby celebration or, god forbid, be there at a funeral.
These are the folks that matter and who will catch you when you fall. Because you will fall, everyone does, but it’s a lot softer when there is a safety net.
Disclosure: This article is produced by Tech News, sponsored by WeWork.
Featured image credit: Franck V. on Unsplash
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