March 23, 2013
Taking Your Business from Molehill to Mountain
You’re looking to break into the entrepreneurship scene in a new city. You want to be in with the “cool kids,” running startups, throwing parties, and getting acquainted with the people who are making moves. How do you get started?
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
First things first: Why are you trying to break into this city in the first place? Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Is this where your market lives?
- Is this a place where you can attract talent or investments?
- What resources exist in the city? Are there other startups, people to network with, and organizations and events to get involved with?
- What is the quality of life like?
- Will you be able to afford/retain your talent here?
- Is there an abundance of knowledge and resources to support your company here?
Taking these considerations into account will help you narrow down the most appropriate location(s) for you and your business to flourish. But it may not be enough just to find the right location. You’ve probably heard the saying “It’s all about who you know” when it comes to business — naturally, then, the next step is to start getting known.
Know People Who Know People
For me, it all started with a tweet. I wanted to break into the startup scene in Iceland, so I tweeted about organizing a team for Startup Iceland. A VC, @BalainIceland, saw my tweet, and we met up soon after. He told me about a major startup event and within five minutes, I was in his car — he couldn’t get rid of me.
If you want access to people, find the super connectors. Go to events where you can meet people who are highly connected in the scene. These are the experts, so ask them who else you should meet. The simplest way is to ask. Walk into a room and ask who the coolest person is. Usually, people will point you to someone interesting.
When I was in Iceland, I infiltrated the scene by making sure to meet all the event organizers. Who are the influential startups, or who would be interesting to meet? I met them, they invited me for dinner and drinks, and we ended up staying out to see the Icelandic sunrise.
In a big city like New York, you could spend your entire life meeting people. In addition to getting an “in” with the cool crowd, offer to help organize events. Find the organizer of events and volunteer. Volunteering to run the registration/check-in table at the event is a great place to start — you will literally meet every person who attends, including VIP guests. And not only is this a networking tool, it’s a great relationship-building opportunity.
Be Your Own Super Connector
The only thing more effective than helping others with events is creating your own event. Even co-hosting can be a great way to start. Team up with a friend who’s hosting an event where you can add value. People often get busy and don’t have time to run their events and meetup groups alone, leaving you a great opportunity to take over.
When I was connecting with the people who ran one of Iceland’s major startup events, I asked them what their biggest problems were and offered to help. They told me they struggled to find mentors and networking opportunities with people who had experience. My solution: I told them I could bring American entrepreneurs to their conference, and the rest is history.
As you continue to meet new people and build relationships, start building your contact list of other entrepreneurs. If you are serious about developing long-term relationships with people in a city, you need to actually position yourself as a super connector for the long term.
Ask yourself, “What does the community need?” I’m a huge believer in leaving things better than you found them, so look at what things other cities have and consider how you can bring them to your community. This is your “in” to meeting heads of government, VCs, influential entrepreneurs, other event organizers, and anyone who plays a role in the economic development of your city.
Remember, relationships are not built overnight, so you need to look for ways to add value to the community while building a great reputation with the people who matter. Relationships take effort to maintain. With the right intentions, people will see that you truly want to make a difference in the community. By doing this, you’ll not only connect with the “cool kids,” but you’ll become one, too.
Matt Wilson is the cofounder of Under30Media and is looking to help every young entrepreneur on the planet. Extending the Under30CEO brand, their team just launched Under30Finance, Under30Careers, and Under30Experiences. Reach out to Matt on Twitter @MattWilsontv.
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