How to Network as a Startup Founder

Isabelle Comber6 min
How to Network as a Startup Founder
In this article
  • 6 Strategies for Effective Startup Networking
  • 5 quick tips for Startup Networking
  • Grow your network with Airwallex for Startups

"Your network is your net worth." – Porter Gale, Author and Marketing Strategist

We all know it: networking can often be as appealing as a cold canape. Being trapped in an endless cycle of awkward small talk or cornered by someone looking to sell you the "next big thing" is no one’s idea of a good time. It’s enough to have you searching desperately for the nearest exit.

But for startup founders, business owners, and employees alike, networking is a crucial way to get outside your echo chamber. For startup owners specifically, you can test the waters, and find investors, mentors and supporters. So, what if networking could *gasp* actually be fun and fulfilling?

Keeping it authentic and building genuine connections will help you nail networking and make it part of your success. 

6 Strategies for Effective Startup Networking

How can you build your network without the cringe factor? Here are our top tips for founders. 

  1. Time it right

When is the best time to start networking? If you’re naturally entrepreneurial, you may have 101 business ideas swimming around in your brain at any point in time. Of course, it’s never wrong to start making contacts and getting yourself out there. 

That said, narrowing down your business proposition and taking time to validate your ideas will give you the most solid foundation to start building quality connections. 

Once you gain traction with your MVP and early customer base, you're at the right point to dive into startup networking in earnest. At this stage of your journey, strategic networking can be an exponential force for finding talent, connecting with investors, and growing sales.

2. Focus your energy

Find a network that suits you and your business niche. As startup networks evolve and become more specialised, there’s bound to be a group that offers exactly the support you need. 

While diverse groups are fantastic for broadening your knowledge and contacts, building targeted networks with like-minded startups can be the best way to get specific help. Whether you’ve got a killer climate tech idea or are craving inspiration from other female founders who share your journey, there’s a group that will cater to your unique needs.

It’s also important to go for quality over quantity. If getting the most business cards is your only goal, you’re likely to end up with very few meaningful connections that will develop into real relationships.

3. Think long-term

Making a good first impression is important, but it's not everything. In reality, your initial pitch is just the first of many conversations you’ll have. 

A savvy investor or partner won’t jump on board without building a strong relationship and doing their due diligence, even if you knock it out of the park right away. Keep in mind, that sometimes even the best ideas take a little longer to catch on.

4. Be authentic

Keeping it real is always your best option. It’s better to skip the rehearsed elevator pitches and buzzword bingo and be yourself, explaining your business ideas in everyday language. Be ready to roll with a short USP but try to avoid corporate and marketing speak.

You may well be “a visionary who disrupts e-commerce paradigms," but a down-to-earth explanation of your idea, like: "I hate complicated checkout systems and created a solution to make online shopping easier" is a much more powerful way to pique people’s interest. 

5. Share your ideas in an interesting way

You've got a killer idea, now how do you share it without putting people to sleep? We’re all wired to respond to stories – so find a way of telling one. Explain the problem you’re solving, why it matters, and your journey so far. 

Use relatable examples to keep people engaged. No need to give an extended TED Talk – a good story can be told in a few well-chosen sentences, so keep it brief and to the point.

6. Follow up and keep in touch

Like many things in business (and life) success is all in the follow-up. Making hundreds of initial connections will lead nowhere if you don’t take the time to keep the spark alive.

Don’t let potentially valuable connections slip away without exchanging details. Even if you’re not a fan of old-school biz cards,  there are plenty of digital tools available now that can connect you instantly and showcase you at your best. 

After the event, follow up quickly and keep it simple by sending a casual, personalised message reminding them of your conversation and saying you’re keen to stay connected. Avoid sounding like a sales pitch – instead, think of your follow-up as continuing the conversation you started when you first met.

Use social media to keep tabs on your contacts and touch base periodically. Share useful resources, comment on their updates, and meet up in person once in a while.

5 quick tips for Startup Networking

Here’s our rapid-fire round of tips. Let’s go!

  • Have an objective in mind: While It’s not always about getting a foot in every door, be clear on what you want to accomplish. It could be simply raising awareness and gaining knowledge or finding partners and investors.

  • Be prepared: With a pitch or startup story that taps into people’s interest and gives them a reason to find out more.

  • Listen as much as you talk: Sometimes simply learning and getting new perspectives is going to be more valuable. Asking questions is a great conversation starter.

  • Don’t make early judgements: Great connections can come from anywhere and often the best perspectives come from the least expected places.

  • Keep in touch: Have a system to stay in touch after an event whether through social media, newsletter, quick emails, etc., so that your network can help you.

Grow your network with Airwallex for Startups

It’s a fact that Aussies are right up there when it comes to breeding “unicorns”. At Airwallex, we’ve experienced this first-hand. We believe that investing in networking skills is one of the smartest moves you can make if you plan on joining the club.

The Airwallex for Startups program is your key to building a killer community and a whole lot more. We connect you with like-minded founders, VCs and mentors at our friendly and supportive VIP events. It’s networking, but not as you know it! 

You also get access to grant opportunities, exclusive resources, learning experiences and valuable offers from both Airwallex and community partners.

Apply before 30 June 2024 and you’ll instantly go in the running to win our $10k Business Acceleration Grant. Terms and conditions apply.

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Isabelle Comber
Business Finance Writer

Izzy is a business finance writer for Airwallex. She specialises in thought leadership that empowers businesses to grow without boundaries.

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