Networking is a key factor for any successful entrepreneur, so why (and how) do some of them try to ‘bypass’ it? Why isn’t ‘networking’ taught in Entrepreneurship courses?
- ‘Networking or not working’ seems to be the motto for most business entrepreneurs, but not tech ones.
- Is networking a business issue only?
- If networking is important, why isn’t it taught in Entrepreneurship courses?
‘Networking or not working’ could very well be the motto for anyone who wishes to open his/her own company. It is said to be even more so, when the business the entrepreneur wishes to establish is a Startup. But is it?
Before I ‘dive into’ the topic, what is ‘networking’ exactly? Here is the meaning as taken from Investopedia, a ‘dictionary’ of relevant terms for the Startups ecosystem:
‘Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.’
While building a Startup, your network can be vital to your professional success. A strong network gives you insight into trends as well as inside information from other companies and information about your competitors.
Networking has huge benefits for the Startup ecosystem. However, it is considered a major ‘painpoint’ for Startup founders, to which one of the solutions offered was shared workplaces. WeWork was among the first companies which claimed to address the need for Startup networking, as part of its basic goal and they even focused their branding on it. It ended up with huge hype for WeWork, which was valued at its peak at $47 billion — less than 10 years after its founding!
These days social media makes it easier than ever to hone your existing relationships as well as make new contacts. Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, FB and others, allow you to contact most people directly. So how come many entrepreneurs are trying to bypass it?
Networking- Is it just “a Business Thing” for Salesperson?
The answers vary. Working with hundreds of Startup founders, I gathered some of the answers given by tech entrepreneurs when I asked them about their networking abilities and the benefits they gain from it:
- “I’m too shy to network and I don’t feel comfortable with it.”
- “I’m a tech person, not an aggressive salesperson.”
- “It is not my position in the company to network. It is not related to my tech focus.”
- “What for? My task is coding. I’m good enough at it. When I need help, I have my tech forums on the web.”
- The answer of Startups who have only tech founders and no business ones, “I don’t mind paying people who already have a good network to help me with business issues like fundraising and business development”.
As mentioned, the above answers were given mainly by tech entrepreneurs. It seems that most Startup founders who are handling the business side, agreed that without networking they couldn’t meet their business goals, sign significant deals, or gather the necessary information to bring business to the company. Networking is the way for them to get important information not available to the general public. For example, who is the decision maker for the potential customer? what offers did the latter get from competitors? what is the right timing for making an offer? who are the people most trusted by the decision maker? etc..
I believe that answers 2–4 may indicate a misunderstanding of the value networking can have. For a start, networking is not only necessary for salespeople to close a deal. Tech people seem to believe that having ‘tech forums’ to deal with certain tech issues is ‘all the network they need’. However, while your tech forum can answer your tech questions (tactical issues), helping you with your immediate tasks, it has no value for your personal growth in the long term. Comparing it to tech, I believe the difference between a tech forum and networking is like the difference between tech support and developing a new product in R&D.
Having a good networking strategy in place could open the mind and make the entrepreneur spend more time thinking. It could also serve as a key way to access new trends and to work through strategic issues. Answer questions to yourself like, ‘what is the right thing for me to do?’, ‘why am I trying to operate the way I do?’, ‘is there a better way to approach the challenges I have?’, ‘how did others approached the challenges I’m facing? etc. Furthermore, unlike networking, ‘tech forums’ can’t really inspire. Inspiration is a must to find the next step for the company’s tech. Networking can provide inside information about the competitor and how they plan to address the same issues. Moreover, if needed, networking can help entrepreneurs find their next job.
“Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes.” (Ronal Burt)
True. Networking can be uncomfortable and almost painful for some people, as indicated in the first answer (“I’m shy”), but it is something we must all do. The fact remains that networking accounts for roughly 70 percent of jobs landed by job seekers. It is the most successful way of gaining employment — even if it also feels like the most difficult one.
As for the fifth answer given by tech startup founders for not networking much (saying “I’m willing to pay someone with the right network” to do a certain task). Well, as an investment banker myself, I can honestly say that my job is to work with Startups while using my network to get the task done. However, when I ask them how they found me, they usually say “someone from my network advised me to reach out to you”….I guess my view of networking comes from a business attitude which believes that even tech entrepreneurs can find business partners just by networking.
However, I recall an entrepreneur asking me something about networking which I couldn’t answer, and as I explored further, I was even more confused. He asked me, “if networking is so important, how come it is not discussed in Entrepreneurial courses?” And indeed, he was right. I went over 20 curricula of Entrepreneurship courses in Universities and colleges and could not find anything about networking. Why is that?
So, what do you think? Is networking important just to businesspeople? Please feel free to share in the below comments