As the SILTA S23 cohort comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on my experience in our beloved San Francisco. I ended up building an amazing in-depth network in the Bay Area simply through authentically connecting with people, for which I was crowned as the “social queen” of our batch. So, I thought I’d share some tips to help you build meaningful connections that help you grow as a founder (and human being):
1. Don’t pitch, connect.
Rather than asking repetitive and superficial questions like "What are you building and how do you make money with it?", stand out by genuinely getting to know people. Ask about their story, the motivation behind their work, and what keeps them going, especially during tough times.
For example, use these questions:
- What excites you the most in life right now?
- Why are you building what you’re building?
- What motivates you on a daily basis especially when things are tough?
- If we met for a coffee in 5 years, where would that be and what would your life look like then?
2. Be genuine & build your authentic personal brand
Be real. There are many methods of networking, but you need to find what works for you. In order to do this, you need to know yourself & your brand. Discovering that is a good place to start.
What are you known for? What is your story i.e., what makes you YOU? Identify what sets you apart and what defines your story. This is your opportunity to convey your unique qualities and experiences.
3. Focus on helping people
Provide value to the people you network with instead of only benefiting from others. Embrace the concept that good deeds never go unnoticed and people will appreciate your assistance, potentially reciprocating it in the future. In other words, focus on giving value and trust that you will gain in the process.
4. Make the most of your meetings
Establish clear agendas and boundaries for meetings, particularly when navigating the startup environment in San Francisco as a female founder. Trust me, you don’t want to end up on a date without realizing it’s a date. Avoid miscommunication by expressing your interest in meeting and specifying the purpose, such as discussing specific thoughts over lunch or coffee.
Use this template:
“Hi xxx, it was lovely to meet you last night at the xxx-event. I’d love to dive deeper into your thoughts regarding xxx over lunch/coffee. Would you have time this/next week?”
Note: If they ask you out for dinner/drinks, suggest a lunch/coffee instead to communicate that you want to meet in a professional setting or clarify the purpose of meeting after hours.
5. Cultivate genuine friendships and communities
The saying “Your network is your net worth” exists for a reason. You are the combination of the 5 people closest to you, so choose your inner circle wisely and build meaningful friendships.
Note: A good way to measure the depth of your connections is: if you ended up in a hospital, who would come see you?
6. Host events to expand your network and personal brand
Hosting events is an excellent way to network, enhance your personal brand, and showcase your industry expertise.
We hosted an event celebrating feminine entrepreneurship & leadership. The event was a success and led to requests for more events in SF + retreats.
7. Step outside the box: explore unconventional networking opportunities
Networking doesn’t need to look like speed-dating at specific events. It can also entail hikes in the beautiful scenery, sailing in the Bay, day trips to Napa, and picnics at the park/beach. Make it fun, and make it your own: this is an amazing opportunity to showcase your brand + do activities you enjoy while getting to know new people.
8. Be open to everything/anything
Going to one event can lead to a business deal, funding, or even a close friendship. Be open to anything and everything whether it’s the premier at the ballet, jazz in Tenderloin (just make sure to Uber there and back), Warriors basketball game, or a private penthouse afterparty enjoying the city skyline at night. Your life (and business) can change in one evening, keep that in mind and enjoy the ride without being obsessed about the end result.
9. Spend time alone, reflect & recharge
Integration is a crucial aspect of networking that is often overlooked. After events, take some time to write down your thoughts & learnings. Reflect on your communication skills: what went well? What do you want to improve?
10. Practice makes (perfect) improvement
Networking is its own language in many ways that you learn throughout life. Give yourself time to learn how to present yourself, make room for self-discovery in growing as a human being, and communicate with others by reading verbal (words) and non-verbal (bodily) cues. Be kind to yourself during this - similar to you learning the basics of Spanish from Duolingo,(“¿hablas espanol?”), this too is difficult in the beginning but gets easier with experience.
Now you’re ready to charm the world, so take these tips and start practicing!