Alex's Tech Thoughts

Writing as Networking

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Many people talk about writing, blogging, and contributing content as a way to get their thoughts out there. The thought process is that if you write enough about something, you will be seen as an expert in that. This is great but I think there is another reason to write and that is networking.

I used to go to 3-5 events a week. Some events were good and maybe I would meet 10-20 new people. Other events would be a waste of time and I’d meet no one. As I got more and more involved in the NY tech scene I went to less events. Now I maybe go to one every two weeks. Instead I use writing as networking.

What I mean by “writing as networking” is that if I write four short posts a week and have a few hundred people read each one, my voice and ideas are reaching many more than I could ever reach or connect with by physical networking. I post each article to all my social networks and for every post I write I receive a few emails and comments. This is the perfect way to continue networking without the laborious running around from event to event.

If you aren’t writing right now, maybe start with “writing as networking” in mind.

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Two Things To Know About Networking

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Networking, physical and digital, is a crucial piece of Business Development and Partnerships. I have written about it many times- but I think there are two things that not everyone knows and would be helpful to share.

You Don’t Always See Immediate Results

This is very important. When you put in a lot of time into networking, there is a chance you won’t see immediate results (there are also times when you do see immediate results- and this messes people up sometimes- expecting immediate results at all times). If you don’t see immediate results, don’t get discouraged, it WILL work out. You just need to continue meeting new people and strengthening ties with existing people. I see people give up all the time, thinking that nothing came from networking, but if they would stick at it- they would eventually see results. I’ve never met a well-networked person that hasn’t gained something from having a good networking.

Finding Pockets At Events

Make sure you are attending events where you know at least one person that knows other people attending. This leads to being sucked into pockets at events. These pockets are hubs of people congregating and can led to meeting a bunch of new people. This is a good thing and what I call finding pockets at events. 

You don’t always need to go to events with people that know other people, but that assumes you feel comfortable going up to strangers and starting conversations. You’ll still need to find these pockets, but it will be substantially harder.

Both of these things aren’t the biggest things by themselves but are key things to understand about networking.

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The Most Important Thing You Need To Know To Be Successful At Networking

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Having a good network is very important in BD. I always say that having the ability to get in front of any company and/or person (whether it be a reporter, investor, or someone else) can be the difference between success and failure in a BD role.

But what about the actual work of networking? How do you get good at growing and building your network?

The most important thing you need to know to be successful at networking is that it’s all about finding your vehicle and being able to communicate it properly.

Your vehicle is best described as what your “deal” is. Two questions really: “Who are you?” and “What do you do?”

For example, my vehicle is that I run business development and partnerships for online integrations at Dwolla. I also spend a lot of time writing on my blog here, and I contribute to Forbes every two weeks. Having this vehicle allows me to answer the networking questions.

The biggest concern I hear from people who shy away from networking, is that they don’t know or don’t feel comfortable talking about what they are doing now. Someone in finance, real estate, or accounting, says they don’t know what to tell people when they meet them. The easy answer to that is you need to troubleshoot and position your vehicle for maximum success.

If you are a lawyer with a passion for early-stage education companies and looking to break in, your vehicle is this exact story. You are currently a lawyer and very passionate about education startups. You need to read up about education startups, the companies, the latest news, and everything in between. You need your vehicle but you also need to be well read in the industry you want to break into it.

Once you configure your vehicle and read up about the space you are networking in, you are ready to go out and be successful at networking.

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4.74 Degrees Away From Anyone

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Last week there was a report about the NSA admitting to searching “3 hops” from suspects. In many of these articles they mention that anyone on the Internet is about 4.74 degrees from anyone else. This piqued my interest (this is not a post about whether or not this is right or wrong).

In business development and partnerships you want to be 1 degree away from any company. If you need something from someone (i.e. you need to talk to FB’s API team because you are having an issue) you have to either know the right person or know a person that can get you to the right person.

So when I read that everyone is only 4.74 degrees from someone else I think that getting 1 degree away from anyone is truly possible with enough networking and time.

The task doesn’t seem so daunting anymore!

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SXSWi (Baby Please Come Home)

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SXSWi 2013 is here. March 8-12. For those that haven’t been before, it is glorious. SXSW is a religious experience for some; a congregation of people who are looking to better the world with technology.

This is my third year and I know how to plan. Here are a few quick tips:

1) RSVP for everything. You don’t know where you will end up and it is best to have all your options open.

2) Rep your startup with your startup T-shirt. Only bring your startup T-shirts. I learned this the hard way. When I was at Aviary I brought 4 shirts for 5 days. The last day, I was interviewed by CNN without my Aviary T. You never know what will happen. Always rep your company (and that means don’t get stupid drunk with the company T on. That’s when you take it off :D)

3) Bring good shoes. My feet always hurt by the end. Or rent a bike. Probably something I’ll do next year.

4) You don’t really need a badge. SXSW is all about the networking and events/parties. I got a badge one year and didn’t another. It’s not a must. It only helped when I needed it for the Jay-Z concert last year. Besides that, it wasn’t necessary.

5) If you are going and want to be added to my curated party list, let me know. It is a Google doc. Email me at Ataub24@gmail.com.

See you in Austin!

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It Is “Who You Know,” But There Is A Silver Lining

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There was a great post on a Hacker News a week or two ago called “It’s all who you know?”  It’s a great piece that everyone should read.

It is also very true. Everyone starts off on a different playing field. But the silver lining is that you can network your way in anywhere. All you need is a little confidence and some time. Some people may have family connections, others may not. But at the end of the day, whether you have a pre-existing network or not, it all comes down to what you actually do about it.

So whether you have the network you want at this moment, remember it is about who you know, but there is nothing stopping you from getting to know the people you need.

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Cutting Down On Networking Events

I’ve cut down on how many networking events I attend. The past 3+ years I have been to at least 1-2 events a week, ranging from events I organized (BD Meetup, Digital Learning Series, Speaker Series for VCs, etc.) to just enjoyable events in NY startup scene.

I am not recommending that everyone cut down on how many networking events they go to. On the contrary, when you are looking to break into the startup world, attending networking events is your lifeblood. For me, though, I have found other ways to network without attending meetups and spending 2-3 hours after work running around NYC.

At this point I am very selective with the events I attend, and try to make up the networking by doing a few things:


1) Writing four times a week and contributing to Forbes
2) Being active on social media (Twitter being the biggest one)
3) Skillshare classes: I haven’t taught one since the end of 2012, but Skillshare is a great networking tool to meet like-minded individuals. I will be releasing a hybrid online skillshare class fairly soon. So stay tuned.

I have found that doing these instead is giving me more time to spend with my wife and focus on the business at hand. Networking is great, but spending a few hours at events after a long and exhausting workday can take a toll. This plan helps me balance my life.

Do you have any tools on building your network that doesn’t consist of physical networking?

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Alternative Ways To Network

I am a big networker. Over the past three years, I’ve gone to and ran my fair share of networking events. They are a lot of fun and I always meet interesting new people. I enjoy meeting new people. But after a certain amount of time, physical networking can take a toll. Going to three or four events a week can cause you to burn out quickly.

I’ve put together a list of a few alternative ways to network.

Start A Blog
I started a blog almost two years ago and it’s been one of the best decisions of my career. Writing can be very therapeutic, but it can also be a great way to bring your ideas to the masses. By writing four times a week, I am effectively networking with the people who read my blog. More than once a week, complete strangers in the tech space reach out to talk to and connect with me because they’ve read something on my blog. I know that if someone is reaching out because of my blog it is someone I should connect with. It most likely means they like technology, startups, biz dev, or something else that I am passionate about.

Teach A Skillshare
I’ve been teaching Skillshare classes for the past year. I have three courses, Intro I, II, and Practical Business Development & Partnerships at Startups. Not only do I make a pretty penny from teaching, I also get to meet a ton of people interested in the business development world. I’ve taught over 30 hours to over 500+ students (although there are definitely duplicates, as many took all three classes). Many of my “students” end up becoming friends/connections/deals/etc. I teach three times a month instead of going to networking events, because it is a networking event to me.

Get Active On Twitter
I’ve met some great people in the NY tech space on Twitter before meeting them in real life. Twitter, being an interest network, is a great place to connect with like-minded individuals. Get on Twitter, get active, find your people.

Get Active In The Comment Section
There are pretty awesome communities in the comment sections of some of the best blogs on the web. A few great communities are AVC.com, Fred Wilson’s blog, BothSidesOfTheTable.com, Mark Suster’s blog, Uncrunched.com, Michael Arrington’s blog, etc. Comment and contribute something meaningful. You may just find you next co-founder or investor there.

Engage and Use Early Adopting Community Platforms
I’ve had some great success with meeting new people on early stage community platforms. I think I’ve told this story before, but when Turntable was on the rise I met a guy in a music room at midnight who ended up becoming a launch partner for something we were working on at Aviary at the time. One current cool early adopting community is App.net. I’ve already met a few cool people. This is another great way to network.

All of these ideas are just ways to help you amplify everything you are already doing. I’m not advocating stopping attendance at networking events but rather to diversify how you are meeting new people.

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Connect With Everyone You Meet

If you would have told me a year ago that I would be at a payments company, I probably would have laughed at you. You never really know where you’ll be, what opportunities might arise, in the next few years. Because of this idea, I connect with everyone I meet.

What I mean by this is, if there is no obvious and immediate opportunity to work with someone, I still follow up with every new connection and say it was great to meet them and we should stay in touch. I follow that with a Linkedin connection and Bam! we are connected.

About a year ago I connected with a guy who was at a consulting company. We met at a hackathon. Fast-forward to today and he is working for one of the big POS (point of sale) players and I’m at Dwolla. We are starting to work together and it would not be possible if we hadn’t connected a year ago.

These type of opportunities seem to be happening to me often because of this very idea. 

Lastly, I would also make sure you sign up for the email alert Job Change Notifier, it has done wonders for keeping tabs on industry folk.

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Getting Involved

I currently run three events in NYC and need help with all of them.

Since I’ve joined Dwolla I have not had the time to organize the events I typically run:

BD Meetup, Digital Learning Series and the NYVC Speaker Series.

Even though I only do BD Meetup and DLS every two months, I don’t have the bandwidth to get everything set up for them.

That is why I am writing this post, I would like to find someone to help run these events with me. Megan Towe already helps me with BD Meetup, but because it has become a massive meetup I’m sure even she could use the help.

Here is what I need for each event:

BD Meetup

The event is looking for a new location. We have outgrown Cooley, General Assembly and any other place. We need a place that will seat 200. Megan helps me run the event, but could use help from someone looking to take some initiative with the event. The person would figure out a new venue, help pick the next topic, be involved with choosing the panelists and helping the day of.

Digital Learning Series

This event is held at General Assembly and there are typically five education companies demo’ing. I need someone to help pick those companies and lead correspondence with those chosen. They would talk with GA about setting up the event and making sure everything is ready. This event takes place once every two months.

NYVC Speaker Series

This event is held at Dogpatch Labs and there is one investor who gives a short presentation and fields questions from the audience. The event is once a month (Monday of the last week). The person helping would lead correspondence with the investor who is talking at the event and help set up the day of.

If you are interested in getting involved, this is a great opportunity. Only reach out if you are serious about helping. Email me at Ataub24(at)gmail(dot)com

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Success Stories About People Getting Business Jobs In The Tech World

Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/JsyL6V 

Let me know your thoughts!

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Networking Recon

People think that the networking part of business development is simple.

You RSVP to an event, you show up, you meet people, you find ways to work with them. Repeat.

This is far from the truth. It takes time and effort to get good at networking and use your time well at events to get the maximum results out of attending.

If the event you are attending is on Eventbrite, most times, the list of attendees is available. Figure out who you want to meet there. Depending on the size of the event, it will take no more then 30 minutes to make this list. Do some basic research on all of them- show up prepared.

When you get to the event- try to spot them out and introduce yourself. Don’t get all stalker-like and tell them that you know who they are, what they do, and where they went to dinner last night. Just be a normal person.

If there is someone you want to meet, but either you miss them or they don’t show up, just hit them up on email with a short nice note saying you were looking forward to meeting them but didn’t connect at the event. Ask to sit down over coffee if you really wanted to pick their brain and/or tell them about what you are working on.

Bottom line: do your homework and you will have a higher chance of getting returns on networking events.

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How Not To Act At Networking Events

There are two main things/ways you should not do/act at a networking event.

The first is interrupting people and the second is not identifying yourself properly.

By no means should you ever interrupt two people in an actual conversation at a networking event. For all you know one of the people could be pitching their startup/idea/partnership. Wait until they are done.

I was in the middle of speaking to someone about sponsoring an event that I’m putting together, and someone I know asked me to take a picture of them. I was deep in conversation and the person came up tapped me on the shoulder, asked me to pause my conversation and take a photo of them with a friend. I was dumbfounded. One should never ever do this. I didn’t even know the guy that well. He is a nice guy and I’m sure he didn’t realize- but you need to be aware of these things. That really bothered me to my core.

In terms of properly identifying yourself. Unless you see or hang out with someone at least once a week- you should ASSUME that they don’t remember who you are. It’s not an insult, people just have a lot going on. Just say your name and company. It is a really simple starter and the conversation will go much smoother.

Sorry for whining but the first one still really bothers me. I have definitely interrupted people before, unknowingly, but I try my best to gauge whether one of the parties is in “pitch mode.”

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Yes, there are stupid questions

When people tell you that there are no stupid questions, they are mistaken.

In the age of the digital world, yes there are stupid questions.

And I have probably asked half of them.

That doesn’t make me stupid.

It just makes me look lazy and uninformed.

If you are interested in the tech space (or any other space for that matter), there are a million ways of finding out information. Before you take a meeting with an individual (or a company)- you should find out everything about them. You have Google, Crunchbase, Company Website, Blogs and of course, QUORA! for that.

Some questions make people look like they have no idea what they are talking about. It’s not just being clueless about a specific thing, but also not fundamentally understanding an entire industry.

I have had more than my share of stupid questions.

And have learned- it’s totally fine to say “I don’t know” or “I am not familiar with.”

What isn’t fine is asking someone a question when the answer can be easily found online.

The only non-stupid questions are opinion questions. For example, What are the best tech blogs? What networking events should I be going to in NYC? Etc.

So the next time you think of asking someone what the difference between Tumblr and Wordpress is or what does “this” company do?, just take five seconds and do a quick internet search to find the answers out for yourself.

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