Forcing yourself to get out and network can tough. It is a necessary practice to further our career but making the first step of actively seeking out people, groups or events can be daunting. When we are presented with the opportunity to network it can be easy to retreat into our comfort zone. A study of MBA students at an event organized specifically for networking found that while 95% of attendees had the desire to meet new contacts, they actually spent over half of their time with people they already knew.
But for those who are serious about their career, networking is an essential skill to develop. In startup hubs such as Silicon Valley, this is not only a necessity but also a golden opportunity. Admittedly, this might seem like the big leagues of the entrepreneur scene but as the old saying goes “you reap what you sow” and the networking seeds that can be planted in Silicon Valley might turn your little startup idea into a unicorn beanstalk. To get a better idea of the Silicon Valley scene and how to successfully network, we spoke with Dea Wilson, Founder and CEO of Lifograph, a free people search engine with 500K profiles and 1.2M connections, matching people and companies based on their needs, skills, interests and real-life relationships.
In your opinion, is networking in Silicon Valley different from other parts of the US? And if so, in what way is it different?
Networking is at the core of Silicon Valley. It is how business gets done here. What makes Silicon Valley great is people’s willingness to help each other. There is a special culture of “pay it forward” in the Valley. People want to help others succeed because they believe in “giving before getting”. Networking is the conduit for making it happen.
What is the best result that you have had from actively going out of your way and networking in Silicon Valley?
While networking in Silicon Valley I was able to meet and connect with many movers and shakers in Silicon Valley, from investors and founders to journalists and tech executives. People do business with people they know, trust and like. In order to build that kind of relationship level, you first need to get to know people, that’s why networking is super important.
The more you network, the more people you get to know. The more people you know, the more business you can win. It is a fairly predictable cycle.
Who is the most interesting person you have met while networking?
I’ve met so many… I’ve met 3 generations of VCs from the Draper family, I’ve met Dave Mendlen – the General Manager of Microsoft – who wrote speeches for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, I’ve met Robert Herjavic – from the TV Show Shark Tank, Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook, and many others.
I understand you are also the founder and CEO of Lifograph. What originally inspired you to create this platform?
Lifograph is The Wiki of People – an online networking platform that allows people to connect based on wiki contributions and a digital visualization of their network.
A while back I was looking to reach a few people to do business with. I did a lot of research about their industry, people they worked with, boards they were a part of, etc. It was tedious and time-consuming, but I got the job done. I wanted to share my research with other people looking for the same information and save them the grief, but I could not find a suitable platform, so I decided to build it.
As a startup founder, I am always looking for team members, customers, investors, etc. The best way to find people is through referrals and warm introductions. But it is hard to know who is the best person to reach out to. Lifograph helps you discover invisible links between people, links that might not be obvious without the help of technology and visualization techniques.
Do you have any case studies of interesting or successful connections that have started with Lifograph, and what became of those connections (ie Startups, investment etc…)?
Yes – I’ve seen companies get funded by various VCs and angels, startups that got into Y Combinator and 500 Startups, products pitched on Shark Tank TV show, and other success stories.
I can also see from your Lifograph that you are an Angel Investor. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to network with the intent of securing investment?
Meeting investors is not enough. You need to build a relationship with them. Once you connect with investors try to add value in any way you can, whether by helping them discover interesting startups, sharing relevant articles or referring talent for their portfolio companies. This goes back to the principle of “giving before getting”. You also need to keep potential investors in the loop with regular updates about your startup.
Investors invest in people, before they invest in ideas. Ideas may change, startups may pivot, but people are harder to replace. People are the common denominator of most successful startups. An investment requires the investors and founders to work together for years to come, so you need to make sure that there is a good fit for both parties. The only way to find this out is to build a relationship over time.
Do you have any general advice for entrepreneurs looking to widen their network?
Building a network requires time and commitment. It took me years to build mine.
You have to attend many networking events like the events we organize in Silicon Valley, but most importantly, you need to follow up with the people you meet at these events and try to help them out. My golden rule that served me well through the years is to do three favors a day. Because “giving before getting” is the secret to successful networking.