How to Network in the Nation's Tech Capitol
U.S.-based hedge funds may be pulling out of Silicon Valley, but there’s a new guard rushing to take their place: overseas investors.
While hedge funds conducted 38 percent fewer venture capital deals in Q4 2015 than the prior quarter, Asian investors are stepping up with fresh capital. Snapchat, for instance, secured $200 million in investment funding in March 2015 from top Chinese retailer Alibaba. The same month, Lyft won a whopping $530 million from Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten.
For investors and entrepreneurs alike, Silicon Valley’s luster isn’t wearing off -- it’s simply being polished with new cloth.
Silicon Valley networking secrets
In the country’s tech capitol, a new crop of investors means new opportunities to form valuable connections. But even in the on-demand city, relationships can’t be rushed.
A few years ago, for instance, I met a talented iOS engineer. My drone company, Skycatch, had no need for iOS development at the time, but because I maintained a relationship with the engineer, I was recently able to ask for his help with an iOS integration. Even though the project was outside his usual work, he made an exception to work with us.
So, whether you’re meeting an investor, developer, CFO or whoever, make time to nurture that relationship. Even if the person can’t help you then and there, he or she may be able to introduce you to someone who can. If you break the first link in that chain, you’ll never get to see where it leads.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you should take a shotgun approach to Bay Area networking. If you go to every event in San Francisco looking for that next investor or full-stack developer, you’ll find a lot of noise. The startup boom has created a gold rush, which means some events are packed with people whose only objective is to get rich quickly. If you want to build a valuable network, don’t be one of them.
Build your Bay Area network.
Networking -- wherever you are, but especially in Silicon Valley -- is about quality over quantity of connections. Plan to attend three or four key events per month, and use the following tips to make the most of them:
1. Start small. Always network with a clear objective in mind. As a former CTO and engineer, I know the importance of pairing a business-minded CEO with a technical co-founder.
Be choosy. Don’t work the room; invest your time in finding that one person. Go to that first connection for advice, not a handout. Ask him (or her) for 15 minutes of wisdom, and you'll most likely get it.
2. Find a matchmaker. When I was searching for investors interested in drone data, I contacted my friend Naval Ravikant, the CEO and co-founder of AngelList. Naval gave me feedback on which investors might want to speak with me, helping me to make the most of each meeting.
Don’t be shy about sharing your vision with others. If people don't know your end goal, they can’t help you find those with the wisdom and resources to reach it.
3. Be clear about your purpose. When you go to an event, it’s essential to understand the value your company can bring to others. If your only goal is to make a quick buck, you’re going to recruit people with the same intentions.
In Facebook’s pre-IPO days, CEO Mark Zuckerberg brought aboard a lot of people who were hoping to cash in. Then, when Zuckerberg turned down Yahoo’s billion-dollar buyout offer, many of his company leaders abandoned ship. The exodus was a painful lesson for Zuckerberg, but it did help him separate Facebook’s long-term contributors from those simply chasing cash.
4. Build a “most wanted” list. Written goals are much more likely to be achieved. To create a record of connections and a reminder of purpose, build a list of people you want to meet. After each event, update your list with new targets, and cross off those you’ve connected with.
Don’t be afraid to think big with your list. Mine, for instance, includes Space-X founder Elon Musk. And, while I may never meet him, my list has helped me win investment from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Others I’ve met on the list include Ram Shriram, a founding board member of Google and Richard Branson of Virgin Group.
Networking is about strategy, but it’s also about fun. Remember: We’re talking about meeting friends and advisors for the work of your life. Invest your heart and mind in these people. And maybe, eventually, they will invest in you.