One of my mentors, Shaz, has said that if there’s an upcoming event and you’re on the fence about attending, get up and go. The same applies to many opportunities in general, too. The majority of them will leave you with a connection or experience that’ll positively impact your life one way or another, assuming you don’t just stand around the entire time.
I tested his claim throughout 2017, and unsurprisingly found it to be true. And that’s because I realized that the golden rule of networking is: you never know. You never know who you’ll meet, what they’ll offer you, or what you’ll learn. That’s why you should get out and connect with as many people as possible.
But of course, talk is cheap. Here are some of my experiences to show you what I’m talking about.
The executive in flip flops
One of my favorite stories from Immosis is from our exhibition at A-Kon in June 2017. We were going through the midday rounds, happy that our “lounge” area was consistently filled.
As I basked in the energy, I noticed a guy watching our game far off to the side. He was wearing a flamboyant button-down shirt, shorts, flip flops, and a straw hat of some sort. Definitely a bit different, yet not strange attire in an anime convention.
But I thought, why not? We were there to connect with all kinds of people, including potential fans. So I approached him with a smile and told him about our game and company. He was a rather bright and positive conversationalist, which wasn’t strange either. Then it got to his turn to tell me about what he did, and he said that he’s the Chief Technology Officer of an Austin-based digital agency.
He also mentioned that his agency was looking to get into VR projects, something that Immosis was obviously very suited for. At that point, I didn’t care that he was already performing due diligence on other startups. I decided to bring the fight.
So I followed up afterward via email and opened up a discussion about potentially working together. Shortly later, I literally drove to Austin twice just to meet with him in person for an hour each time. I’m sure he got the message that Immosis wasn’t just another potential agency to work with. We actually cared immensely about working with him.
The rest is history. He became our first client, and one of my personal mentors. Today, we catch up regularly via video call and try to help each other with our latest endeavors.
I’ve never forgotten to schedule the next call.
The experienced hires
This was at a large tech and business networking event in Dallas during the fall. That event was one of my favorites since there was a healthy variety of attendees. Throughout the night, I casually met investors, experienced entrepreneurs, and the biggest takeaway- two individuals who were interested in joining our Immosis team.
These weren’t the typical prospects. I’m talking one person who has run agencies in the past, and another who was a programming freelancer after being an engineer and manager at a large defense corporation for over 10 years.
Long story short, I followed up with both via email, and then in person. I took on the first individual to assist with strategy and business development and kept the second one in mind for whenever we need to scale our engineering team.
The unlikely consultant
My most seemingly-hopeless event of 2017 award goes to a film industry networking event in Dallas. My initial thoughts on this event were, “Well I don’t think much about film, but that’s one of the new applications of VR so hey let’s see what I can learn.”
I’ll admit, I left the event thinking it was a complete waste of my time. Which wasn’t bad, since only a majority of events will work out in your favor. “It’s okay,” I thought. “At least you got to practice your networking skills.”
The following day, I received a Facebook message from one of the attendees. I think we only talked for 30 seconds or so because I couldn’t recall meeting him. He expressed his interest in the work that I was doing and asked if I’d be open to sharing experiences over coffee. I took a closer look and found out that he’s a Duke alumnus and Microsoft consultant new to the area.
Today I still connect him with local events to help him take advantage of the great city of Dallas.
The ousted executive
Last week while browsing LinkedIn, I came across a short post from a Chief Operating Officer leaving his startup of 7 years. It wasn’t an extraordinary post, but I was intrigued. After researching his startup, I realized that our companies were operationally similar, so I wanted to hear about his experiences.
Our mutual connection (who is, by the way, my recruit from earlier in this blog post) connected us and the COO gave me his cell number upfront. That night, we talked for an hour about his mistakes and successes, from growing sales to facing eventual co-founder and investor pressures. It was an eye-opening conversation.
The young entrepreneurs
This wasn’t at any particular event, but rather over time. I’ve found that it’s considerably difficult to find startup founders who are actually serious about execution, especially around my age. Most people got filtered away, but a few stuck. These individuals are actively growing agencies and product startups. These are the people who push me to do better, who make the path of entrepreneurship a bit less lonely.
Today, we keep in touch and do our best to help one another with potential strategies, events, and leads.
I can’t begin to imagine how far back I’d be today had I never bothered to break outside my comfort zone and meet new people. The amount of perspective, mentorship, and opportunities that making connections can open up to you is absolutely staggering.
It’s also worth mentioning that the more you get yourself out there, the more you’ll be known. Then the tables will turn, and people will start reaching out to you (like the Microsoft consultant).
Marketing and transparency are crucial to growth. Rise above the majority of people who hesitate to get themselves out there. After all, how will people help you if they don’t know you or what you need? There’s no such thing as a better mousetrap if you don’t go out and tell people that there’s a better mousetrap.