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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Stalking is the New Networking

Comments (9)

Recently, I spent part of a day at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA at the National Center for Women & Information Technology Entrepreneur Alliance Planning Session.  It was a good meeting – we covered a lot of ground with an interesting group of people as we explored whether or not it makes sense to create an NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance (it does) to go along with the Workforce Alliance, Academic Alliance, and the new K-12 Alliance.

One of the topics we discussed was networking.  Building effective social networks is an important part of being a successful entrepreneur and – in addition to talking about it generally, we spent some time talking about how good (or not good) women (and men) tend to be at this.  There was some discussion about how some of the organizations in the room helped both teach women how to build networks as well has help facilitate them.

As I was listening, all I could think about was how in so many cases people simply don’t know how to network effectively.  I blurted out “hey – one of the problems is that people don’t know how to network – all they are doing is stalking other people.”  I went on to explain two stories – one of a time that I was at an event where I ended up simply locking myself in my hotel room because I felt like a soccer ball at a game between teams consisting of five year olds – wherever the ball (I) went, all the kids (my stalkers trying to network with me) followed.  My other example was the endless supply of people offering to have coffee with me.  Since I don’t drink much coffee, it’s relatively easy to turn down these requests “to get to know [you] better”, and replace them with a “hey – why don’t you email me what you want to talk about instead.”

I’ve found that many people that try to “network” simply don’t have a clear purpose in mind.  I used to get frustrated by this and would occasionally go into stalker avoidance mode.  Now, rather than dodging the stalkers, I confront them head on and try to offer some practical advice by asking the simple question “Why do you want to talk to me?”  It’s not intended to be an arrogant question – rather it’s a focusing question – if you can tell me what you want, I’ll see if I can help. If you can’t, you should should spend some time thinking about the reason.  And – if I can’t help – I’ll tell you directly so that I don’t waste your time either.

The Computer History Museum was very cool, BTW.  I got to spend 30 minutes by myself with a bunch of old (and some very old) computers.  Some were even created before networking.

  • http://andrewbfife.blogspot.com Andrew Fife

    I think the issue with your soccer ball example is that many people may not need specific advice now but rather believe that you are somebody who could help them down the road and their intention is to build a personal relationship now in support of favors/advice later. The problem is that people with relatively high profiles have way to many people who want to get to know them.

    One approach to networking that has worked well for me is to consider how I can help the other person rather than just focusing on what they can do for me. I think this is good advice on many levels but for anyone who happens to meet a high profile person whom they would like to keep in touch with but don’t have any immediate reason to contact now, it is a good idea to see what connections you can make on their behalf now. For example if that person happens to be an investor why not offer to introduce them to entrepreneurs that are working on projects in their feild?

  • http://entrepreneurevolution.com Adam C. Dudley

    You are dead on with this post Brad!

    Three years ago, when I was still just starting out as an entrepreneur, I visited 75% of all the networking organizations here in Central Florida.

    What I discovered was that people don’t have a clue that networking invovles GIVING before RECEIVING!

    Most are so selfish and are obviously out to just see what you can do for them, rather than the other way around, as it should be done.

  • SSG

    Brad

    I can see a lot of people agreeing with you on the stalking and yes it can definitely be very annoying for the “football”. However, for a person looking in to network and struggling with good ways to start, could you recommend a good set of ground rules/conversation starters.
    Giving is a good way to start, but then
    1) how do you stand apart in a group of givers?
    2) what you have might not necessarily be relevant to the person, then what?

  • Dave Jilk

    In response to SSG, why do you need to network with a person if what you have is not relevant to them? If it’s not relevant to them, why are they relevant to you? I think this is what Brad was getting at – networking is not a completely random process, rather it is directed serendipity. Figure out who might have an interest, how they prefer to interact, and see if you can get 15 minutes to tell them what you’re doing by explaining why it’s relevant.

    On standing apart, I have found joining non-profit boards and organizations to be a great way to network in close quarters without having to stalk anyone.

  • Mimi

    You mentioned there was a discussion about how well or not well women network. What was the outcome? Were women considered better or worse than men? I find (and I am a woman) that I have some very successful women friends and colleagues but that they are all so busy with their professions and families that they do not network well at all. Networking is not a priority. I would like to hear more about what the group said.

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