Tonight I realized a few things, first of which is that I’ve never been inside the Empire State building. It’s not the kind of thing I would’ve believed if someone told me (Brooklyn born and raised), but i couldn’t deny that my reaction to it’s grandeur was that of love at first sight. The second thing I realized is that friendliness is undervalued in the startup community and probably life in general. For your sake as well as mine, I’ll leave life in general to speculation.
It wasn’t my first networking event, or Under30CEO one for that matter, but the experience was novel because I showed up before the set was ready. Like actors scrambling before the curtains open, the Under30CEO crew was moving props, folding programs, and setting the stage for the feature presentation. Instead of continuing to go about their way, the crew (including the two founders), warmly greeted and engaged my friend and I. They recognized they weren’t the only ones in the room anymore and treated us like guests. I was excited to be early, the first one there, awaiting a crowd where “first-mover advantage” gets dropped regularly and recklessly.
Getting settled in and having a chance to speak with the Under30CEO team before the show was on the road was a bit like a backstage pass. As much as I have found my networking experiences fruitful and fulfilling, they’ve all lacked the dash of spontaneity that is often the catalyst to good networking. The saying goes something like the best networking happens when you’re not networking, and the saying is right. While the words we exchanged were no different than your typical networking event banter, it was friendly, impromptu, and consequentially more meaningful.
With my backstage pass experience behind me and dozens of familiar and not-so-but-still-kind-of familiar faces filling the room, I felt more apart of the story line than usual, more in tune with the environment. I was able to talk with people not as someone who had shown up to an event, but as someone who had an event happen around them. The usual ‘networking mode’ was not roused, and it’s absence allowed me to not just network, but connect…connectwork (sorry I had to). It might have been just a good crowd, but I sensed my demeanor was being reflected back at me as I spoke with people. Conversation was more casual and indirect, all the while being more productive and meaningful.
I certainly wasn’t the only reason for the chill mood. Some props definitely helped out, including a keg of Yuengling and a good looking young crowd. The only thing missing was red dixie cups and I would’ve been back in college (clear ones were used instead, which I suspect was on purpose to prevent games of beer pong from breaking out)….and then there was the unorthodox presentation given by a self-proclaimed intoxicated under 30 Hedge Fund Manager Timothy Sykes. Throughout the night I spoke with the founders of Under30CEO with a laxness that comes only from being able to say, “Hey I’m the guy who showed up first, you know, remember?”. In all seriousness, the event was entertaining, productive, and left me with a heightened sense of all the yet to be realized potential that was crammed in to the 60th floor of the Empire State Building.
Tonight was the first time I saw the inside of a building that I would swear I knew had I never walked into it. Something similar happened at the event. Something that makes me want to abandon the stale, poorly branded word, networking, and replace it with connectworking. Finding out what people do and telling them what you want to do is meaningless if you walk away strangers who know three things about each other. Much better to walk away with a familiarity that will practically dial the telephone for you. Connectworking is not based on what two people can do for each other. That’s a question impossible to answer in one night if ever at all given the capricious nature of opportunity. Connectworking is meeting people who you share a moment with that compels you to share more. Tonight was also the first time I saw the inside of a networking event I would swear I knew had I never walked into it.
– Sam Valle