Guest post by Christina Hug (probably the best last name ever), Marketing and Community at YouNoodle. I adore networking. There, I said it. Meeting new people, facilitating connections within my network, and building communities makes my heart sing. Luckily for me, living in San Francisco means there is no shortage of networking events, mixers, launch parties, and happy hours to attend on any given day; and as the Director of Community at YouNoodle - the online network for entrepreneurs - I end up going to a lot of them.
But I’ll tell you a secret; my favorite form of networking is not your typical event offering an opportunity to mingle over crudités and cocktails. It’s the informational coffee. Perhaps not regarded as the most efficient tactic, I love them for their ability to facilitate genuine connections – I’ve never been a fan of simply collecting business cards. Since these meetings are purely informational, they take away the pressure to pitch and allow you to truly focus on building a real relationship.
I have been scheduling informational coffees since I was a sophomore in college, when I was positive that I wanted to work in New York for an ad agency. Every couple of months I would hop a plane from Ottawa, Canada to New York City to meet with everyone from Account Executives to Senior Partners to learn what it takes to make it in the big leagues. These meetings were invaluable for giving me an inside look at what it’s like to work for an agency and, even though they eventually led me to realize that advertising wasn’t the right direction for me, I was officially hooked on the discovery experience.
Fast forward to present day where every time I travel, I make sure I find a few key people in that city who are doing something cool and I ask them to go for a coffee. The goal of these meetings is typically to hear the story of how they got to where they are, how they achieved a specific milestone in their career, or what the entrepreneurial ecosystem is like in their community. I have met many dear friends, mentors and, in some cases, business partners from what started out as “just coffee.”
You might think it’s counterintuitive for someone who manages an online network to be encouraging offline connections, but in an industry that often describes your co-founder relationship as a marriage and your early-stage startup team as your family, it’s important to recognize that developing relationships of this magnitude simply can’t be done solely from behind the veil of technology.
I can see how this may seem a little daunting. Now, on top of building a business and all the pressures that go along with it, you are expected to go out and lasso your entrepreneurial soul mates?! Don’t panic, it can start from something very simple. For instance, at YouNoodle we ask our members for four basic data points: their Next Step as an entrepreneur, the Role they play in a startup, the Industry they work in and their Location. Powered by these answers alone, we are making it easier for our users to narrow down the who part of the equation while providing just enough information to write that initial email and set up a coffee to learn more.
When it comes down to it, everyone has different networking styles from card collector to coffee drinker, but whichever one you are – the key is to be authentic. Seek out connections with people who you are genuinely interested in getting to know and don’t forget that it’s okay, heck - even recommended, to expand beyond your own backyard and learn from entrepreneurs in other parts of the world as well. By starting with a basic amount of common ground, you are building the foundation for your own community.