I’ll preface this post by admitting that I am an introvert. I can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable than walking up to people I don’t know at a conference or event and attempting to make small talk.
Covid has fundamentally shaken up the status quo. Social distancing forced us to radically rethink how we work and interact. Post-pandemic, there will be some debate about remote vs. office vs. hybrid. All have their merits. But I believe one clear lesson came from this pandemic that I hope sticks with us well past social distancing: virtual networking is way better than in person.
Before March 2020
Let’s not forget what networking events were like before the pandemic. You’d show up to a venue after work to a room full of people you probably didn’t know. If you were lucky, they might have some food or beer and wine. You’d sit through whatever ruse they put up to get you there: a pitching event or a speaker. There’d be time allotted at the end for networking where, if you are like me, you wander around aimlessly trying to find someone interesting to talk to. Sure, you might luck out. But, more often than not, your evening of networking will be dominated by someone trying to sell you something.
The problem is, networking events are a crapshoot. There is no matching mechanism for putting together the right people at the right time.
Networking in a pandemic
With in-person events out of the picture, the outlet for networking moved online, and in my opinion, vastly improved. I began making more connections in online forums and communities, places like Cafecito and Lunchclub, and Indie Hackers and Startup School.
Over the last year, people I’ve never - and may never - meet person have become customers, collaborators, investors, friends, supporters, and providers of brutally honest feedback.
In fact, I’ve made probably twice as many more true professional connections over the last year than I did in the previous 5 years combined.
Why it works
Rather than spray and pray networking, it became much more targeted. Expectations are the same, and you can be more focused on who you meet with and why. With Cafecito, for example, you set your intentions for meeting someone and are matched on that basis. In Startup School, you speak with founders every week at the same stage as you, who are facing similar challenges.
Further, you are not limited to connecting with people within commuting distance of you. Over the last year, I’ve connected with people worldwide - from London to Indianapolis, Tokyo to Buenos Aires, and everywhere in between. I don’t want to go back to a world where my connections are limited by geography.
Certainly, in-person events can be fun and should come back. However, I believe lots of networking will continue to take place online. But for things like early-stage fundraising, accelerators, even making hires, and finding future co-founders, will likely stay concentrated online. As it should.