When I moved to the US a bit more than six years ago I barely knew two people – my then boss and now friend and co-founder and one other co-worker who I worked with for a couple of months back in Germany. Both arrived here a few months before me. I worked hard to make sure our projects would be a success and the company would be able to grow based on satisfied customers and our demonstrated ability to deploy our products.
Originally I only intended to stay in San Francisco for one year before going back to Germany to attend university. With this mindset I did not work on building out a ‘professional network’ in the SF Bay Area or finding many new friends – I only followed my main interest of building stuff (mostly software) and working hard to make my projects a success. Somehow I ended up going to some of the earlier meetups of SF New Tech and enjoyed them. As I am more on the introverted side and Germans in general are not the masters of small-talk (gross generalization!) the joy came mostly for the demo aspect; not the networking. I went to SF Beta and some other tech meetups and again didn’t make many contacts other than occasionally seeing the same faces popping up.
During my first ‘real’ startup I was on the road and presenting at those events myself – of course trying to get feedback, generate buzz and find users for the product. There was a specific purpose and I was constantly pitching. The product got acquired later on and I only have very few contacts from that promotion phase who I still more or less regularly interact with.
When we started Taulia, the focus for me was on specific technology meetups that were relevant to us, some very specific VC/angel pitch events and occasionally SF New Tech to see some demos. Again, not really meeting many people or general business contacts but focused on current work, goals and technology – to build a great product and company. Some of my best and smartest colleagues ended coming out of very specific meetups or events I went to and put effort into. However, neither of those folks was being ‘networked’ by me but we ended up collaborating due to genuine interest and aligned goals.
This week-end I ran into somebody who also works in tech and I met a couple of times before. We didn’t plan to meet and the event we were at had nothing to do with tech or networking – it was focused on art and (physical) prototyping. My goal at that event was to see things produced outside my core skill-set and to learn about how people from other disciplines are solving problems differently. We both agreed that we rather attend events outside our normal network or comfort-zone in order to broaden our horizon – rather than building a professional network through the usual networking events.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that there are tons of networking events out there, mixers, launch-parties, groups, meetups and alike. But being selective about where to spend time and not just network for the networking’s sake has been a very important part of my experience in San Francisco over the last six years. In the end what really matters is that we solve hard problems, create value for our customers and users, build great products, teams and companies and focus on getting shit done. And knowing the 10 people out of 10,000 who share those values is much more gratifying and helpful for me than knowing ‘this’ girl or ‘that’ guy, having 500+ LinkedIn contacts, thousands of Facebook ‘friends’ or even more thousands of Twitter followers.