Startup series: Startup culture and the art of networking

There is a saying - “It’s not who you are, but whom you know.” While this is an obvious exaggeration, there is definite value in the art and science of “networking”.

By Mahesh Bhalla

There is a saying - “It’s not who you are, but whom you know.” While this is an obvious exaggeration, there is definite value in the art and science of “networking”.

Which is the most popular game amongst corporate honchos? While a few may dabble with tennis or even run a marathon, Golf comes out as the clear winner. What is it about this sport that has so many business people – of all ages – obsessed with chasing a ball around 18 holes on the course? There is some merit to the Golf enthusiasts’ argument of being close to nature, therapeutic effect of walking for several hours, and even to the assertion that Golf is a game where you are really only competing with yourself; in Golf, there are too many variables to master and you only get better with practice. But one real solid reason for its popularity amongst the CXO suite – as a vast number of golf enthusiasts will evince – is to do with the opportunity to network. Everyone has heard stories of how “such-and-such deal” was concluded on the golf course.

Building strong relationships is the cornerstone of one’s ability to maneuver in the business world. And at the heart of building these relationships is the size and strength of your network. Having thousands of people on your social network is not important, but the strength and depth of your relationships is what counts. People do business with people. When the deal is complex and there are many variables to be considered, everything cannot necessarily be weighed through a business case or cost-benefit analysis. There is a definite weightage of reputation of the players concerned, and what they bring to the table in terms of trust & credibility has immense bearing on how the negotiation actually turns out.

As an entrepreneur looking to build strong relationships and a great network there are a few things you could do.

  • Keep your commitments. With whomever you know/deal with. People generally promise things very flippantly, even when they have no intention of following up. How many times have you heard someone say - “Sure, I’ll connect you to XYZ who’s a personal friend of mine”? It’s very important that you are seen as someone who does what he says he will do. And in the rare exception where you are unable to deliver for any reason, you must keep the affected person(s) informed. Having strong trust is the bed rock of building credibility, a critical ingredient in building strong relationships.
  • Meet people and take a genuine interest in them. Attend seminars and conferences and meet-ups. But only in areas/topics where you have a genuine interest in the subject - Nobody appreciates a wannabe who hangs around with the sole aim of ‘mooching’! Do your homework on the people you intend to meet & associate with. What are their interest areas? What are their views on things? Why will associating with you be of any benefit to them? Writing to people asking for funding is likely to elicit fewer responses than requesting for mentorship / guidance, especially when you are an early stage start-up. It’s like marriage – you don’t ‘pop the question’ on your first date. You meet several times, establish compatibility and then let things take the natural course.
  • It works. Except if your looks belong to the face of a lecherous villain in a B grade Hindi movie.

And yes. If you get do get the opportunity to play the odd round of Golf, grab it. If nothing comes of it, there’s at least the 19th hole!

The author is an angel investor. He is actively involved in the start-up space and serves on the Advisory Board of Innoventure Partners LLC.

This is the fifth part in a series on the startup ecosystem in India. Follow this space for more.

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