While it may not be something that New Zealand entrepreneurs and startups consider themselves instinctively good at, understanding the ‘rules of engagement’ will help open doors. That’s the advice from NZTE North America Beachheads Advisor Kelly Hoey.
Most people don’t know how to network, says Hoey, a former lawyer who moved from British Colombia, Canada, to New York City. In just a few years she went from being an outsider in the New York tech startup ecosystem in 2011 to a recognisable and respected name.
“Networking in this day and age is more important than ever before,” explains Hoey.
“We can fool ourselves with platforms and technologies, client management systems and the rest, but at the end of the day, it’s people who make ideas happen. What is different now – and where New Zealand companies have such opportunities – is that where you have previously been isolated geographically, because of online platforms, from LinkedIn to Snapchat, you have more ways and more information to either connect with people or understand how ecosystems and networks work, even though you’re physically not there.”
What is different now – and where New Zealand companies have such opportunities – is that where you have previously been isolated geographically, because of online platforms, from LinkedIn to Snapchat, you have more ways and more information to either connect with people or understand how ecosystems and networks work, even though you’re physically not there.Kelly Hoey
NZTE North American Beachheads advisor
Equally important is looking to your peers for advice. Rather than thinking: ‘how can I meet new people?’ Hoey recommends leveraging off those you already know for introductions, particularly any entrepreneur or startup who’s gone before you and knows the market.
“With networking, so many people are looking up the food chain rather than looking parallel on the food chain and saying: where are my peers? How am I connecting with them? While people want to help others, a busy VC or investor doesn’t have the time for every new company entering the market. But another startup founder can give you a whole lot of advice and probably a lot more relevant advice – who to meet, what to do, where to spend your time.”
It’s also about being a coachable entrepreneur, who’s going to listen and take advice, then synthesise it and go after it. The biggest thing you need to do is put your ego aside for a minute so it doesn’t get in the way of building a good company.
Four tips for effective networking
1. Reframe your perception of networking
“It’s not sitting next to the ‘right’ person at a cocktail party or conference. It’s your business card, the signature on your email, your profile picture on your social media sites, whether or not you post business updates on social media – those are important things for startups in particular.”
2. Stay visible and relevant
Connect with people regularly. “One of the most effective things a startup can do is send regular email updates to people they know telling them what’s going on in their business.”
3. Value quality over quantity
You may not have the Harvard, MIT, Stanford alumni network to tap into, but it’s not a question of volume, it’s a question of quality, stresses Hoey. “You don’t need a network of 500; if you go into the US market and you have five really good contacts who can help you, start pulling strings from there. You have to be willing to reach out and be aware of the need to follow up. You also need to exercise that continuous muscle of keeping everyone in your network informed, whether they’re in the US, the UK, Wellington, Auckland, wherever they are – that’s what will keep feeding it and growing it.”
4. Follow up. Be polite and grateful
“It can be as simple as thanking someone after they’ve taken the time to meet with you. Email them two months later to let them know what you’ve been up to. That kind of follow-up is more likely to generate the things you need.”