Part of the “Entrepreneurship Unplugged” Blog Series: Blog 4
After talking to a friend of mine with entrepreneurial aspirations, I decided to dedicate this blog to an important topic for all entrepreneurs, but early or first-time founders in particular: effective networking. No matter what your skill set is, the success of your business will be largely dependent on your ability to network for the purpose of…
- finding investors,
- finding your co-founder,
- hiring your first employees,
- getting speaking engagements,
- developing business partnerships,
and many more. So, any startup needs a well-versed, outgoing, empathetic, and trustworthy spokesperson to accomplish these necessary goals. Some may decide to transform themselves into the company’s spokesperson and others will simply try to find the right person to take on these networking-related challenges. That being said, hiring someone else to do your networking doesn’t take you off the hook completely; you still need to be able to advocate for yourself and your company given the situation arises.
No matter the path chosen, I want to share some of the networking lessons that I have learned to help you a) pitch your idea effectively and b) find the people that matter in a noisy startup world full of wannabes.
CREATING A PITCH THAT MATTERS ⚾️
Prior to preparing yourself for startup events and competitions to attend, or other relevant occasions, you need to get your facts and pitch straight. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to put yourself in the shoes of a potential angel investor who is attending a startup event. Most likely they will have never heard of you before, be in high demand, and under major time constraints. So the question becomes: how do you stand out in this circus of “see and be seen?”
The one approach that worked incredibly well for me in the past is based on engagement; rather than spitting out memorized and scripted lines of a pitch, I keep my approach flexible by turning the pitch into a sequence of questions. This way, I help the investor draw on their own conclusions while also setting them up to talk more about my company. In actively engaging them by triggering their own understanding of pain points, I eventually solve the problem with my product 😊
Let me give you an idea of how I used this approach to pitch my company in the early days. Whenever I got the chance to pitch, I had a repertoire of slight variations that were targeted at different audiences. I literally was ready to fire them off in my sleep. For background, Doctor in Your Pocket was built as the industry’s first global medical concierge service, giving international travelers access to trusted local, virtual, and house call doctors around the clock and anywhere in the world. The service was launched in more than 180+ cities globally.
Most often, my conversations took shape in the following way (made up the names):
Me: Hello Jim, my name is Marcel. Do you like to travel?
Me: Great. What’s your favorite destination?
Jim: My family and I have just been to Italy.
Me: Beautiful country. Did you or any of your family members ever get sick while traveling?
Jim: Funny you ask. One of my kids got seriously sick on our last trip.
Me: What did you do?
Jim: Well, we tried to find a doctor through our hotel.
Me: Were you successful?
Jim: Not really. We ended up going to a local emergency room and it was really bad.
Jim: We had to wait for hours, never got to see a doctor, and there was a major language barrier.
Boom! He just captured all the pain points that our service solves:
1) Language barrier,
2) Guaranteed access to qualified and vetted medical doctors, and
3) Access, anytime, anywhere, and at your convenience, to a doctor.
Taking this approach and translating it into your personal business problems could be a great networking tactic for investment. Start thinking about how you would ask a similar sequence of questions that engage your potential investor (or anyone else for that matter).
One thing is guaranteed: following this approach will help you stand out in the crowded and noisy networking environment. The investor will remember you because you engaged them on a personal level, possibly leading them to consider an investment! At the very least, you’ll be on their radar.
In sum, ensure you have a solid understanding of the problem you’re solving, how to translate this into meaningful questions to engage relevant people, and that you’re on top of other important details such as your competition, business metrics, and fundraising objectives.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO TALK TO 📢
The other part of the perfect networking equation, the part which I found more challenging, is finding the the right person to spend your time with. How can you possibly pick the right person out of a crowd, especially at those large networking events? No matter how much you prepare yourself, there’s honestly an element of luck in terms of being in the right place at the right time (and under the right circumstances).
Here are a few things that I’ve learned to be helpful in targeting the “right” people; a quick summary right below and elaboration on each point immediately beyond.
1) Do Your Research:
Assuming you’re going to a more formal networking event or a conference, you will often get access to the speakers or attendee list ahead of time. Both will give you a chance to screen and select the most suitable people to talk to with respect to your business objectives. In the case of investors, some only invest in certain areas. This is an important detail that will help you focus on the ones interested in your industry.
2) The Power of LinkedIn:
As soon as I have identified an interesting person I’d like to chat with, my standard operating procedure is to connect with them on LinkedIn. It offers them the opportunity to make themselves more familiar with you prior to meeting and, at the most basic level, makes you recognizable at the event. So, make sure that you have an excellent, detailed, and up-to-date profile and clear profile picture.
3) Connect in a Timely Fashion:
Send each one of these contacts an email, InMail, or even a direct message on LinkedIn. It’s great if they get back to you to schedule something in advance, but even if they don’t, they’ll at least have heard from you directly.
4) Do Your Research (part II):
Now you’ve identified the best people to talk to, prepare yourself by reading their LinkedIn profile, blog posts, published social media content, and everything else that’s meaningful to establishing a business relationship. It’s a two-way street: invest some time in them so they’ll invest time (and maybe more?) in you.
By the way, all this probably sounds straightforward to you. Trust me, it’s shocking how most people would never do their homework prior to attending meetings or conferences. If you want to stand out, you’ve got to put the time in. Entering a conversation with more than “how great is this conference?” gives you a foundation to point out common interests and get your pitch dialogue going. Again, invest in them so they invest in you.
One thing to keep in mind: be and remain AUTHENTIC! No matter how much you have learned about this person, don’t come across as scripted. It’s your responsibility to make it look natural and make the other person feel very comfortable, not spooked 😂
5) Expand Your Horizons:
Now at the event, keep an open mind and be willing to talk to people aside from those you’ve targeted as key contacts. You never know who else you might come across. In general, be curious and willing to have casual and engaging conversations.
6) Finding the Legit Investors:
Now that you’ve built up the momentum to finally speak or pitch to the investor of interest, always remember the following: take nothing for granted! For example, I have seen and come across numerous people who claim, on their LinkedIn profile and elsewhere, to be an angel investor. Believe it or not, most of them are just full of BS. While being known and recognized as an investor sounds great and gives you an interesting social status, I find that the majority have either made no investments or, at most, one. So, how do you know who’s legit?
Here are my TOP 4 things to consider when talking to potential angel investors:
1. Research the alleged investor on Crunchbase or similar platforms to get a better understanding of their past investments and the frequency with which they’ve made investments.
2. Let’s say you’ve tried your best to find out more about investors but haven’t found anything in advance. You’ll have to resort to openly asking the alleged investor about the following sorts of things:
- Which companies have you invested in?
- How many investments have you made in the past 6 months (normally a good activity indicator)?
- How much do you normally invest?
For me, a major red flag for me is what I deem a “so-called investor,” one who hasn’t made any investment within the past six, or sometimes even 12, months. Stay away from them. They’re not serious about making investments. You’re better off spending your time with other prospects. I know the feeling of chasing the one person who gives you even the slightest hope of success. Trust me, it’s not worth your time.
3. Assuming you’re making progress in your conversation, ask the investor to put you in touch with the founders of some of his portfolio companies. You want to learn as much about him as he’d like to learn about you.
4. Despite having done your homework, don’t forget about your most powerful tool: YOUR INTUITION! Everyone has some gut feeling or opinion when we first meet people. Trust yourself when making a decision on whether or not the conversation is worth pursuing any further.
In writing this blog post, I was constantly reminded of a great equation from the marketing world: content accounts for 10% and distribution for the remaining 90%. The same thing applies to networking, which is, after all, the process of marketing you and your company: of your overall success, your pitch accounts for 10% while your effective networking accounts for the remaining 90%. So while knowing exactly what you’re talking about is integral to a smooth networking experience, it’s even more important to know who you should talk to and spend your time with.
Any other key networking tips you think I’ve missed? Let me know!
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Personal site: about.me/marcelmuenster (learn more about me and schedule a call)