I always wanted to be the kind of person who eats oysters. The trouble is, they’re slimy, briny, and still alive as you tip their shells into your mouth—just the thought of them used to make my stomach turn. That’s why I developed a little practice called Try It Until You Don’t Hate It Anymore: It took four months of forcing down bivalves, but now, I can happily slurp Kumamotos all day long.
Building my network was like eating oysters. There were awkward meetings and even weird, slimy ones—but in the end, I learned to love the art of storytelling, of meeting people and making them believe in what I was building. It’s because of my network that I raised $6 Mn in funding, even as a solo founder. It’s because of my network that I brought on the right advisors, found the best mentors, and hired a team I’m proud of.
Here’s the step-by-step action plan that got me there.
Make Face-to-Face Connections
As an Indian expat, I came to New York City with no mentors, no accelerator batchmates, and no cofounder—which meant I had to build my network from zero. Connecting offline made all the difference.
On any given night (especially if you’re in startup land on the East or West Coast) there are a dozen entrepreneurship events on Meetup.com, Eventbrite, or my personal favourite, Gary’s Guide. Seek these out and go with an open mind: If you plan to shove business cards in as many hands as possible, these events will feel like bad speed dating rounds. If, on the other hand, you look for the people you get along with and admire, you’ll start building relationships for a lifetime.
The event itself, however, is just the beginning. Psychology tells us that trust is built over multiple experiences—so afterward, I like to meet with founders I’ve connected with in different, one-on-one contexts. It’s only after a month or two that I finally ask for an introduction to someone they know. Repeat the process with those new contacts, and you’d be surprised by how quickly your network can grow.
Aim High on Twitter and LinkedIn
Offline events are a great opportunity to connect with founders who are at your stage or just a bit further along than you are. But if you want to reach your heroes? Turn to social media.
My process is simple: Follow the founders, investors, and advisors you respect on Twitter or Linkedin. Since you’ll still be a stranger at this point, the challenge is to make them aware you exist by retweeting, favouriting posts, or adding thoughtful commentary.
After two to three months, you’ll notice that the people you follow will start to engage with you—and then, you have an opportunity.
That’s how I landed a meeting with Uber’s Andrew Chen, advisor to Silicon Valley startups like Dropbox, AppSumo, and AngelList. For months, while hopping from one San Francisco hostel to the next, I got acquainted with him over Twitter—and finally, I sent him one last tweet just before leaving the city: “All I wanna do is meet @andrewchen . I flew all the way from NY and it wouldn’t be worth it if I don’t.” He agreed to coffee the next day.
Does this process take time? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. My board of advisors is living proof.
Let Rejection Be Your Motivation
Think of every single meeting you take as an open door. You’ll face countless rejections along the way—investors who pass on your business, potential employees who turn down offers—but the challenge is to keep that door open, even if there’s only a sliver of light shining through.
When someone rejects us, it’s tempting to say, “Screw that person! They don’t get what I’m building!” That’s ego talking, and if we let it get in the way, we miss an opportunity to build something better. Instead, I like to focus my energy on one question: “What can I do to fix this?”
Let’s say, for instance, an investor passed up on your business because you didn’t have a team. Send her two sentences back via email: Thank you for the advice. I really value your time, and I’d love to keep in touch. That’s it. Now, get back to work. The next time you contact that investor in a few months, it should be to share news of your first hire, proving that you’re the kind of person who can deliver.
Remember: Rejection is tough, but you are stronger than you know. You’ve already made the hardest decision of your life—the decision to build something—and once you accept that, you’re ready to face rejection.
Once you face rejection, you’re ready to succeed.
[This post by Ajay Yadav first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]