- Open networking events are designed to help entrepreneurs to get together and exchange everything from business contacts to ideas.
- But to really get value at these events, you either need to keep an open mind, or be very purposeful about your goals in these events.
- Networking events are a tool, and how useful they are to an individual is heavily dependent on how they are approached.
At its core, the idea of a networking event for entrepreneurs can be appealing. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs (or entrepreneur-wannabes) to get together and exchange ideas about the ecosystem.
These could be the events where you’ll meet your next co-founder, or build those crucial connections you need to take your business to the next level. Or, you could simply meet fellow entrepreneurs and talk about the mutual topics that interest you both.
However, these events also have another reputation: that people only go to namedrop their business, that you can’t really find the connections you need at these events, or even that it’s just an excuse for people to dress up and chill with their friends.
As someone who writes about businesses, I’ve made my way into such events before and have gotten a couple of articles out of them. But I can see some truth to those statements too.
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations about the tech and entrepreneurship scene in Malaysia at open networking events.
So this made me wonder: how do other attendees feel?
There are quite a few people who are regular faces, so we reached out to them to find out what they think.
Michael*, a senior manager, said, “There is some value in these events as a chance to get to know who is who and what roles certain people play. However very rarely do these contacts pan out into real life connections because there is no follow through.”
“You would meet designers or professionals during this sort of event and if you’re persistent after the event to get in contact with them, it’s mission done. But a lot of people use this event to name drop and from there non-substance in getting things done.”
He clarified that he agreed with the concept of these events, but small businesses in similar types of events tended to struggle.
Another respondent, Anthony*, thinks that “there is close to zero value attending events like that”.
“It’s flooded with too many common faces or same faces we already know or have already met previously,” opines Anthony.
“The true value comes from the uniqueness of attendees. The more new attendees, the more value. It’s a networking event after all, not a homecoming or a get-along event where we meet the same 90/100 people who are at the previous networking event you went to.”
He thinks that these events are usually filled with “wantrepreneurs” (wannabe entrepreneurs) that “give absolutely no value to people who are already doing their own sh*t”.
If you’re looking for a tech person, for example, Anthony thinks that they can be found at tech events instead, like hackathons.
But for many others, a networking event is what you make of it.
Johnson Khoo, founder of Wowwwz, spent 9 years being the guy asking everyone if they knew how to code.
“You’ll find that you’ll keep seeing the same people at events, which is great for catchups, but if you’re building a startup, then that might not be the most efficient thing to do. You should probably spend your time focusing on building your product and business.”
Instead, he found his current CTO and co-founder through a warm introduction. But if you asked him if there is value in such events, it’s a resounding yes for him.
“It depends on your context, what you’re looking for and where you’re at now.”
“If there’s a speaker or a sponsor that you’d really like to meet, or someone you’d like to get to know who’s at that event, then that’s a perfect opportunity to go up to that person, say hi, get their contacts and follow up with them.”
“But you shouldn’t expect to have much time to have a quality conversation with them at the event though, so you would need to be good at making a good impression and following up with coffee or tea some other day.”
Kenneth Ho, co-founder of BEAM (which has run its own open networking events) answers positively as well.
“Some of the closest and most valuable connections I’ve made to date came from random, unexpected places such as these events.”
“However, on the flipside, it’s also important to have a goal when going to these events. If it’s to network and make many friends, then network. Get out of the comfort zone and network. If it’s to meet a specific person, ask for an intro. Often times organisers are very willing help.”
Nicole Chin of Photobook Worldwide echoed Anthony’s thoughts, but has a more positive experience.
“I’ve come to realise that the attendees of each event can be subjective. For example, there was one occasion when many of whom I met were all accountants, who don’t really benefit my professional network much.”
“But then other times there were many entrepreneurs as well. What has been clear to me is that many are either SME owners, skilled freelancers or early stage founders so if that’s the network one is looking to build upon then yeah, sure.”
So why do frequent attendees like it?
“I know a lot of people see it as free marketing, offering business cards before handshakes,” said Amir* with a laugh.
“But others see it as an opportunity to meet other people in the industry and build social circles. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, so it helps to be around other similar mindsets and immerse yourself in the community which I think is a key if you want to leapfrog your success.”
In fact, some of Amir’s biggest turning points have come from making a new friend or hearing a word of advice.
“You never know who you’re going to meet at these events, so go meet everybody,” advises Amir.
Kevin, a frequent attendee of DrinkEntrepreneurs (DE)—an open networking event celebrating its 4th anniversary in Malaysia this year—thinks that, “If you’re going for an event looking for a person involved in logistics, for example, you may end the night disappointed.”
“Even if you do meet the person you’re looking for, you rarely go into the nitty-gritty business details then. You usually set up a more focused meeting afterward.”
“It usually happens the other way round, where someone may come to you looking for an app developer, and you will be like ‘Yea, I know a guy from DE‘ and you work your way from there.”
“I think the idea is, with open events like this, you cast your net wide and be aware of the space and the players in it. So that when an opportunity comes, you know where to look roughly.”
Shalini* had the good fortune of meeting a designer and web developer at a networking event, and “the best part is, you get to know the person well before doing business with them. Something you don’t really get when you google ‘web-developers'”.
“In an ever-growing and changing marketplace, the best way to learn about ‘what’s new’ is by meeting people from different walks of life who shares with you their new ideas, visions and goals.”
What we can take from this is that entrepreneurs should see networking as a tool. Similar to something like Ad Manager on Facebook, some people might not be as equipped or can use such tools.
In a networking event, those who tend to be more introverted or do not make good first impressions might not be able to gain a lot from the event.
Others might simply be using it for the wrong reasons, and should recalibrate their expectations and goals before attending.
But in many real-life examples, the proper use of this tool can grant attendees access to a pool of people they may not normally be able to contact, either professionally, or even simply as friends.
And it is these people who can benefit the most from open networking events.
*Names were changed upon request.
- Heading to a networking event but you’re painfully introverted? Check out our previous article with tips to help an introvert make some new connections.
Feature Image Credit: BEAM