18. October 2012–
Here at VentureVillage, we’re big fans of regular networking events. Berlin Startup Academy founder and man-about-town Christoph Raethke is not quite so enamoured…
Networking events. There are weeks when there are at least two of them on any given day, sometimes leading to a perception that the Berlin startup crowd spends more time there than in the office.
Me, I’ve always found the way how the regular events offer just an empty space, plus occasional drinks and food,somewhat shallow. If you’re new in town, or working on a new idea, my feeling is that being there won’t help you much. Events that don’t do more than putting a case of beer in a room and offering Amiando tickets just don’t add sense of purpose or a common cause to the gathering.
I believe that it’s precisely that – purpose and a cause or context that unites attendees – which has people make connections. If you don’t have that, you’ll only have groups of friends talking to each other in isolated groups.
So how do you know which events to attend? Which events are the ones that organisers pour effort, meaning, and “love” into, so that you as an attendee looking for input, cooperation, money, or just serendipity, will truly profit?
Simple – it’s the events that you host yourself!
Let me explain. First off, one of the magic concepts in Web 2.0 times was “one-to-many communications” – the concept of user empowerment through the opportunity of building one’s own audience. While in ancient eras, in order to reach 100 people, you had to post 100 messages, Web 2.0 was about dispatching just a single one reaching a hundred at once.
This is a great and useful thing, and it’s valuable to keep in mind that this works in real life, too. When, at an event, you’re one of the many attendees, how many people can you possibly address over the course of a few hours?
In contrast to that: if you’re the guy up on stage, you may not necessarily get to know more people from your end – but a lot more people will get to know YOU. Which is rather good if you have a story to tell, an idea to vent, or a customer base to build.
Berlin, city of event hosting opportunity
This, secondly, is helped by it being so very easy to host any sort of event in Berlin. One of the real reasons why Berlin is such a good place to be is that here, it’s so easy to become a protagonist instead of remaining on the sidelines. International artists discovered that many years ago – they just started turning every wall, niche, and lamp post in Mitte, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain into their presentation space.
The same opportunity exists for budding entrepreneurs. From upscale venues like BASE_camp off Friedrichstraße to humble co-working spaces on the edge of town; from meeting rooms at law firms and venture capitalists to just about any open space at startup offices or agencies – finding a decent room for hosting and presenting rent-free is wonderfully easy in the city by the Spree.
Provided, of course, you make a credible effort to create meaning…
An easy way to do that is throwing the challenge you’re facing or the vision you want to make real into the open and turn it into a workshop. The difference between this and a “meetup” is to:
- Set an agenda
- Aim for halfway specific results, and
- Convince someone with a bit of a name and outreach to speak/mentor at your shindig.
You’d be surprised how easy the latter is. It helps if he is American, but essentially, any foreigner or employee of a celebrity startup will do. (I’ve argued in another piece that there may be too many events already that take for granted everybody’s willingness to chip in for free – but if that’s so, why shouldn’t you and your event be the ones to profit from it?)
Do *not* forget the evening party
The masterstroke is to finally present the outcomes of your workshop at an evening party. This evening party is the real networker, because there is context and a purpose – and you’re the person publicly connected to it. Because one of the essential secrets of networking is that the best of it doesn’t happen between the attendees of a conference, no matter how expensive the tickets. It happens between the speakers and organisers. The real deal is being not on the floor with the peasants but backstage with the gentry.
Add speakers, venue, controversial motto and stir
Here’s a practical guide. If you and your startup are all about, let’s say, social commerce: come up with a “Social Commerce Day”. Invite VCs who have investments in e-commerce companies. Invite owners of niche online shops, plus one of the founders of DaWanda. You’ll host the whole thing at Ahoy co-working space, which:
- is in the same building as DaWanda, and
- may even provide facilities for free because, well, it’s in Charlottenburg.
Lastly, shell out a controversial motto, like, “Social Commerce: why it’s never going to take off like people are expecting”.
Boom – there it is: you don’t even have to have all the answers to be a host instead of an attendee; you only need to make a meaningful attempt at addressing questions in a way that invites others to participate. The event will be a prime way for you to generate massive (free!) content, interviews, pictures for your social media outreach, too. And afterwards, everyone will know you and your company as THE place to turn to when it comes to the social commerce thing – plus, you will have met all investors and company-owners in your ecosystem backstage, on eye-level; you’re one of them now.
There’s even more benefit. Apart from meeting potential co-workers or even co-founders on the occasion, doing this sort of outreach massively supports your appeal with investors. Because there’s nothing that VCs like more than founders who step out into the real world and talk to their ecosystem, to experts, customers, and business partners in a structured way.
And there you go. The only events in Berlin that you’re guaranteed to profit from are your own.
FOR MORE BY THIS AUTHOR, TRY:
Why startups should read Plato – philosophical pitching could lead to faster VC cash
“Screw the karma, give me cash!” Why free labour is the unfair fuel of the startup scene
The sweet poison of the internet: why following your passion is bad for business