Recently, YEC spoke with Rioja about his experiences networking and his advice for others aspiring to improve their own experience. His best advice is below.
What is one practical tip you’d give a young entrepreneur who is just setting out to build a professional network?
There is no better network builder than providing value. When you provide value to someone, that person will tell their friends and their network will start reaching out to you. There’s no bigger turn off during any interaction than one when you can clearly tell someone is just in it for themselves. If you put the other person first instead of yourself, you will see that the other person open up more and is more willing to develop a long-term relationship with you.
Describe one situation in which a casual networking connection ended up later having a big impact on your business. What was the key to making this connection a lasting one?
Perhaps the most memorable connection was when I met my co-founder of Flux Ventures, Miles Anthony, during a casual lunch at one of the dining halls of UCLA. When we first met, we were not thinking about starting a company or anything, rather we were just having a good time chatting and brainstorming some ideas. The key that made this connection a lasting one was the fact that we started with a friendship that later turned into a business. By the time we thought about launching our business, we already knew a great deal about each other and we trusted each other to death.
What is the no. 1 quality a successful networker/connector needs to have, and why?
Empathy. Understanding where the other party is coming from is crucial to forming a great relationship. If you are able to see the other person’s beliefs, struggles and ambitions and propose solutions that align with that person, you will stand out in their eyes because not many people are able to do so.
Which venues or events do you recommend other entrepreneurs use to make solid business connections?
Lately, I’ve found that highly curated Facebook groups are great for meeting like-minded people. My favorite group by far is the “All Things Social Media” Facebook group, where influencers, social media marketers and experts share their knowledge with the community. Nowadays it is more common for me to meet someone on the internet before you meet them in person.
What systems, practices, or even apps/tools do you use to simplify networking and follow-ups?
I cringe every time someone hands me a business card. I find those so outdated and I rarely end up connecting past the first email, if at all. What I find very useful is connecting with that person on their favorite social media platform. That way, I can keep up with what they are up to (and also keep them updated with my projects).
How can entrepreneurs introduce themselves memorably to a potentially important contact? What should they avoid?
The key to making an impact the first time you meet someone is diving deep into a topic and exploring it in detail rather than simply engaging in small talk. You will never remember someone you briefly chatted with but you will definitely remember someone who you explored the intricacies of the blockchain with, for example.
What was your biggest networking faux pas?
One of the biggest struggles in networking is networking without a purpose. I used to go to networking events with a very vague idea of what type of people I wanted to meet and then never ended up establishing solid relationships. The conversations never went past a quick chit-chat. When I got serious about networking and determined that type of people I wanted to attract to my business, it was much easier to build more meaningful relationships.