I wrote the following post that appeared on the Austin Start-Up Blog last week:
You are up to your elbows in your technology start-up and the last thing you have time for is networking. It is a given that life in a start-up is all consuming, and the long hours of micro focus can leave you little time for anything else. The last thing on your mind is taking the time to meet new people (outside of investors, co-workers and prospective beta customers), and cultivating mutually beneficial relationships. Especially when there are no short term guarantees that these people can or will help you tackle your start-up mountain.
To see your immediate situation as the center of the universe is easy. Often people working in dynamic young companies develop blinders to anyone and anything who is not in their current circle of activity. While you can rationalize that this is short term while you work toward an exit strategy, it is an easy trap for those who are naturally introverted to avoid making and maintaining the valuable asset of a network of professional contacts who can and will lead you to future opportunities.
Opportunities come from people. No entrepreneur has ever succeeded in the long run by living in a vacuum, and those who are successful time and time again have created impeccable teams of talented people who have come to know, like and trust each other.
Having a real network of contacts help you and your business make connections with investors, key service providers (lawyers, accountants, bankers, consultants, etc...), customers, employees, the media, and referral sources. Who would not want to have a Rolodex of successful, experienced, respected, and influential people who go out of their way to help you achieve success? Those successful business professionals who are confident in themselves relish the chance to be of assistance to those whom they know and respect.
People like to do business with those they already know. By consistently investing the time to make connections with new people you are more likely to establish real bonds before you desire their assistance. If you wait to "do your networking" for when you need to make the contacts, your odds of developing a true friendship (where you have earned the right to ask for favors) are diminished. Additionally, people will see you as a taker if you just show your face in the business community when you have a need.
Developing business contacts requires you to make networking and friendship cultivation part of your lifestyle. You need to be willing to help others, even when there is not immediate benefit. Being selfish will not establish your reputation and will limit the number of people who will want to see you succeed. However, if you are committed to establishing real connections that benefit others, you will find that your goals and desires will become a priority for others.
Many start-up jockeys like the idea of having a bigger and better network, but they fear that it takes a time commitment. Yes, it does. However, the time is not as much as you might think. Devote one night a week to attending a technology industry event. In Austin there are many organizations that provide excellent networking opportunities. Participation is the key. Just planning to attend an Austin Tech Happy Hour, TEXCHANGE or an Austin Technology Council event will not provide you with results.
A final point, not everyone you meet will you want to get to know better. That is okay. You wont like everyone, and not everyone will like you. Don't let those that you do not have any connection with keep you away from your networking responsibilities, as your future success could depend on that one person you have not yet met!