Recently, YEC spoke with Brandon about his experiences networking and his advice for others aspiring to improve their own experience. His best advice is below.
Find Something Interesting to Say
Research online to find something innocuous or interesting about a person, then email them about it. It shows you’re genuinely interested in striking up a conversation, and that you’re hopefully not a crazy person. But in all seriousness, a young entrepreneur can cut through the noise of a potential connection’s inbox by taking the time to find something interesting to say.
Here’s an example from my own life. When I was 21 years old and working on my first internet venture (RothIRA.com), I read an article about a billionaire investor who had an interest in high-dollar domain names. In it, he talked about his love of the board game Monopoly and how he’d played it as a kid. Well, I was a big Monopoly player as a kid myself, so I emailed him about it. We started a conversation and decided to meet when he was in town. That one-off email has led to a longstanding relationship with him as an unofficial advisor and mentor in my business life. All because we shared two simple interests: Monopoly and domain names.
Maintain Your Passion and Energy
Endless energy. To build a network, like anything else in life, you have to work at it for years. You have to be willing to travel, go to events and stay out late at the hotel bar. You will have countless conversations. Some will be more interesting than others. It’s like dating, really. To be successful, you have to maintain stamina and desire. Remember that it’s all serving a bigger purpose: building your network. So bring the energy.
I’m not keen on technology automating the process of networking. You’re still after a one-to-one, real human connection. So do it old school. I would say the best practice is to maintain that energy and curiosity by reaching out to people who you find online who are interesting. My partner and I call it “sending a love letter,” and I try to do it a few times per month.
Attend the Events Where You Want to Make Connections
The venue will depend a lot on who you want to surround yourself with and learn from. I’ve always enjoyed smaller events, regional events or retreats with a curated group of people in my industry. Look at an event like Big Omaha. It’s a pseudo-SXSW event with designers, creatives, marketers and investors. It’s not a huge event at the Javits Center or in Vegas, so it’s easier to navigate as a young entrepreneur. Go to the parties and walk right up to people and introduce yourself.
Be Interesting, but Don’t Overdo It
It’s important to present yourself well and be “interesting” in some way or another. Look in the mirror. What is unique about you? When I was 21, it was that I was fresh out of college and had just put together the deal to acquire RothIRA.com. These days, it’s that I’ve sold two companies and am president of my own online insurance agency at 28. Keep it simple and don’t boast, but realize what the average person would think is relatively unique about you and make that part of your introduction.
My good friend Jim Wang recently wrote an article about networking and he reiterated three or four times not to get too drunk at a networking event. It’s OK – and sometimes almost a prerequisite – to have a drink at the bar to build relationships. But don’t overdo it. It’s not a frat party. You want to be able to look people in the eye the next day at the conference and not wonder what happened the night before.