If You Are Going To San Francisco… My 22 Tips and Tricks on Networking in the City
July 19th, 2023
- In San Francisco, all communities, meetups, and co-working spots are connected in some sense, and form a giant ecosystem. You can bump into the same people cruising through the city, jumping from one location to another, and they will subsequently point you to other nodes of this giant organism. But how to network efficiently?
- In this article, I list 22 networking lessons learned in the past two months spent in San Francisco. Overall, my personal strategy could be described in short as: everything, everywhere, all at once. An award-winning approach.
The City of Talent.
Every new environment is yet another chance, but also test for your networking skills. After coming to San Francisco, I soon realized that this was not yet just another city, but rather, a magic, layered place that unfolds like an onion — ugly on the outside, but beautiful on the inside.
The concentration of talent in San Francisco is just unmatched. To me, talent is on the edge between professional development and spirituality — you can look at it as an unfair advantage in the job market, or as a bridge between the worlds of gods and men.
Regardless of how you like to look at it, this omnipresent talent is almost like an electromagnetic field, or a breeze from the ocean that affects everyone in the city at all times. To benefit from the opportunities that this colorful environment offers, I had to put my networking skills on the whole new level.
In this article, I list 22 networking lessons learned in the past two months spent in San Francisco. Overall, my personal strategy could be described in short as: everything, everywhere, all at once. An award-winning approach.
1. Just Enter The Ecosystem and Find the Hubs.
In San Francisco, all communities, meetups, and co-working spots are connected in some way, shape, or form, and form a giant ecosystem. You can bump into the same people cruising through the city, jumping from one location to another, and they will subsequently point you to other nodes of this giant organism.
As a consequence, it does not matter which starting point you will choose. You just need to enter the ecosystem and then, ask around for recommendations for the people and venues you seek, and keep exploring the whole new land of possibilities.
But once you are in, you need to start looking for the hubs: the local “influencers” or “community managers” who host their own meetups, online communities (via Slack, Discord, or other platforms), gather local following via Substack, are respected on Twitter (or, X), or release newsletters listing all you need to know not to miss out on local events.
The small-world structure emerges naturally in almost all ecosystems, and the startup world is no different than that. After a while you will notice that following 5-15 key figures will give you massive amount of information and will keep you in the loop.
By the way, one life hack that I came up with myself: it’s efficient to increase the small-worldness of the tribe by yourself, by connecting hubs with each other. This makes the overall flow of information in the network even faster (it’s easy to show mathematically) and the hubs will be grateful for spreading the news about their hubness and talking highly of their hub-like activities.
Mind that the people and you seek are not necessarily those who are the loudest and always in the spotlight. For instance, it’s often the case that while a CEO is energetic, noticeable, and focused on making buzz around their project and making as many superficial connections as possible, their CTO is standing right next to them hidden in the shadow and behaving much calmer — listening, observing, and looking for deeper, strategic connections.
Similarly, communities best for you are not necessarily the largest, most visible groups meeting in the most prestigious locations. Sometimes you can find them in the back yards, basements, local bars, garages, and other hippie places.
There is some conservation law here: the more people think about the venue, the less time they have left for thinking about the content. So, don’t judge the book by its cover.
And especially in the Bay Area, all the groundbreaking innovation in tech was originally incubated in small and informal circles, by friends tinkering together at home, meeting in local hacker spaces, debating by a beer in local bars. This culture of building innovation in a decentralized and bottom-up way was preserved until today, despite the big tech and VC firms transforming the landscape of the maturated IT industry.
OK, so let’s assume that you hustled hard and found your people in San Francisco. Well, bad news: it’s going to be way too many people and meetups to win them all every time. Of course, the vision of becoming a socialite by going everywhere is tempting.
BUT, it will either end up in a burnout or, in the best case, pull you into full-on networking mode where your time for deep work shrinks to zero. Not mentioning that walking around exhausted and looking like a zombie doesn’t make you any favor.
To make your networking sustainable, you will need to choose carefully and limit yourself to a few meetings a week. Plus, come to every meetup with fresh energy regained after many hours of peaceful deep work and self-care such as good sleep, meditation, exercise, or whatever makes you reset. Balance, balance, balance.
2. Adjust Your Networking Scheme to the Tribe.
While traveling around and interacting with multiple working cultures, I couldn’t ignore the local differences between written and unwritten rules for networking. For instance, while in Amsterdam you are expected to first send an email before trying to call someone, in the US people call you during the day without a notice.
At first, it was annoying and I found it difficult to fully indulge in deep work knowing that the phone can ring any moment… But eventually, I developed enough cognitive flexibility to adjust. I also noticed that people tend to call less over the weekends, so I deliberately made weekends my working days to take advantage of silence on the line.
Another example of a seminar difference in working culture between Amsterdam and the Netherlands is the time line of deal making.
Americans are natural deal makers. Just like elsewhere, there is no free lunch in America… BUT people are much more patient here when in comes to (time) investments and building social capital. They will share information with you and help you out with your projects, hoping that you will remember their contribution and pay back when necessary, even if it means waiting 10 or 20 years.
On the contrary, Europeans are instant deal makers: I give you apple, and you give me an orange backer pay cash. Now.
Adjusting to this difference also took my a while. I initially expected that once I give people something, I will receive something back right away. But I soon realized that the mechanics of networking in San Francisco don’t work that way: you can expect that your good karma will unexpectedly come back to you one day, usually in the form of a positive recommendation or invite to some private event. You don’t know when and how.
In the end, I started helping people without asking much in return. While networking, I chose having interesting discussions over sales as my main KPI and focused on contributing in order to reach the wisest and the most experienced of the local people.
Please find more findings about the differences between European and American business culture in my article “Startup Culture in Bay Area vs Startup Culture in Amsterdam.”
3. Networking Isn’t Traveling In a Conventional Sense of the Word.
In traditional, common understanding of traveling, the time necessary to walk from point A to point B is, roughly, proportional to the distance between the two points. Intuitively, it should work similarly with networking: the more handshakes between you and your target contact, the more time it takes.
My personal impression is, however, that networking undergoes a different metric: it resembles “the intentional machine” as described in the classic piece “The Never Ending Story” by Michael Ende. In “The Never Ending Story,” the time necessary to get from point A to point B would reflect your desire to get to your destination: the stronger your desire to get there, the faster you will achieve your goal.
Once people notice your hard work, talent, and enthusiasm, they will help speed up the process for you. You will be surprised where you can get once people see flame in your eyes.
Of course one element of the desire is also focus. San Francisco is full of temptations: clubs full of attractive people, arts festivals, open concerts, famous touristic sites.
I’ve met multiple people who came to the city on behalf of their startups, and then instead of living modestly and lazor focus on the networking events in the field, they were spending thousands and thousands of dollars on lodging, restaurants, parties, and sightseeing. No wonder they didn’t get anywhere.
4. Always Ask Yourself “Why” — and Multitask.
Time is not made of rubber, so use it wisely. Before making any major investment in your network, ask yourself a simple question: “What so I aim to achieve? If this action really worth the effort?” It might turn out that even the best possible outcome remains a loss of time.
Furthermore, especially if you do not have anyone to delegate your branding to, you need to learn how to multitask. Prioritise tasks that support multiple goals at a time.
For instance, on May 12th 2023, I organised a a charity career development workshop at Noisebridge, one of the major Hackerspaces in San Francisco. Casting this one 4-hour event contributed to seven of my personal goals at a time:
- Building relations within Noisebridge — always good to be an active contributor to a legendary community like this,
- Building my case for my incoming visa application — charity work on behalf of American labour won’t hurt,
- Building my reputation as a public speaker,
- Getting new contacts and potential leads from out of my comfort zone for coaching and other services,
- Getting leads for cybersecurity jobs so that I might potentially get affiliate commissions from cybersecurity companies in the future,
- Promoting my recent book among the workshop participants,
Helping my friend Nicole with building her portfolio and reputation as an event organizer.
You get the idea.
I also believe in multitasking in networking as a rule of thumb: review your social capital and all the active contacts you have. Group people of similar background, expertise and interests together. When you ask one person in that group out for lunch, you could invite others too. In that way, you can keep in touch with multiple people at a time, develop a stimulating conversation, and become a networking hub at a time.
5. “How To Win Friends and Influence People.”
Referring to classic book by Roberto Cialdini, on the fundamental level networking in person is simple. There is always a way to warm up someone to the idea of getting top know you, for instance by praising them. And if you have nothing to praise them for, why do you want to network with them in the first place? There must be something to think of!
The best and most sneaky ways to immediately catch a good vibe are to say something that doesn’t sound like a compliment and yet, most people enjoy hearing it. For instance, the grass is always greener on the other side.
I soon noticed that most Americans enjoy hearing that they think or act like Europeans — just as if it was any form of achievement. Coming up with these original, non-obvious yet efficient strokes (without lying in the process!) is a great game in itself, and rewarding for both sides. I luv it.
Also, learn your game! Ambitious people tend to be ambitious in all areas of their lives and always attempt to “win it all” instead of consciously choosing when to go for the win and when not to care (or even, when to lose).
For instance, when playing poker or board games with friends, they put all their mind power into winning and get irritated or even mad at their companions when they don’t. I used to act this way too. Now I usually tactically get myself beaten up whenever I feel that winning would not support any of my core life goals, and use this opportunity to praise people for their intelligence and mint new friends.
6. How To Find the Right Person at a Meetup?
Let’s be real: most (business) meet-ups are too brief to even get a chance to shake hands with all meet-up participants. Of course, you don’t want to spend the whole meetup chatting in the corner to a few random people only to figure out that you have nothing in common and the conversation doesn’t clay, only to find out that the lights go off and it’s time to go before the party even started for you.
My approach to this issue is as follows. When I attend a birthday party from a friend or family dinner, I chill. It is leisure time with no particular objectives other than bonding with people by spending some time together. BUT when I attend a business meetup, I am at work and there ARE deliverables. So, I need to focus and make sure that my time is spent well.
There are two possible cases here.
The first case is when I know precisely whom I need to meet or what piece of information I need to learn. In that case, I simply ask around as precisely as possible and I let the attendees guide me toward the right corner of the room.
I know that many people (and especially guys!) have hard time asking questions, but believe me: entrepreneurship is NOT a type of activity you should get on your plate if you cannot ask for help.
The second case is when I don’t have a specific aim at the meetup, and yet, I’d like to spend the time in a productive way. In that case, there are a few approaches line can take.
The Leisure Approach.
Just join a few circles of people speaking (I’m talking about a typical standup meetup here) and stick to one where the conversation absorbs or intrigues you. Even if you feel you have nothing to add to the table, you can approach the participants later, praise them for interesting insights, and ask them follow up questions one on one.
The Detective Approach.
On the contrary to what many people believe, the most important people usually behave modest and keep themselves in the shadows.
Actually, the top dogs tends to behave quite the opposite: they often prefer to take strategic positions in the corners of the room from where they can observe the whole room. It’s usually their lapdogs who mingle with the crowd and act like attention seekers.
The Blunt Approach.
You can approach the staff (e.g., people checking in the guests or a bartender): “Who is the organizer?” and then go straight to that person, congratulate them for a good meetup, and introduce yourself. If you are bold enough, you can even ask “Who is the most important person here?” with a wink. You might actually get that news too.
The “Why Are You Here?” Approach.
In the worst case, you can always look for someone who looks like a newbie in the room: “What attracted you to this meetup?” They might tell you about some interesting person or activity at the meet-up who is definitely worth your attention.
7. Prepare For Meetups and Train Your Memory…. And Follow Up After the Meetup.
Networking is not rocket science; it would be hard to come up with an algorithm for how to make best out of any generic meetup. BUT obviously, fortune favors the prepared.
You can expect the fastest results from your networking endeavours if you are selective: you choose meetups in a specific niche and browse for confirmed speakers and participants beforehand, attempting to memorize as many relevant points in their resumes as possible.
Obviously, no one is born with memory prepared for uploading hundreds and hundreds of LinkedIn profiles, but you can be sure that your memory will get increasingly better. For instance, if you loudly say these names multiple times during a conversation, you not only make them feel more appreciated and heard around you, bit you also better remember their names. Two birds killed with one stone.
Next, if you notice that some of your stories make most people smile or get them intrigued, keep them at hand so that you can tell these stories as an easy way out to bond with people.
For instance, I noticed that people in the Bay Area enjoy listening about Europe and about the cultural differences between the local business and “business on the old continent.” This is why I wrote an article dedicated to this topic and then, I shared the link to this article whenever it felt appropriate in a conversation.
Or, I noticed that my hand-made LinkedIn bands for my profile photo that stand out make people smile. So, I was making comments about it every time I connected with someone own LinkedIn at meetups.
Furthermore, for you, a meetup should start way before the doors open up to participants …and end way after the doors close behind you. Make sure that you send follow-up messages to all your new contacts and make sure that they remember you.
Of course, we all live busy lives. A good practice is to keep some weekly schedule here — for instance, sit down to your new contacts every Friday afternoon and take the time follow up, plus plan and research your meetups for the next week accordingly.
8. Keep Your Elevator Pitch at Hand… While Letting Others Speak.
Developing an elevator pitch is not as easy as it seems. I still have hard time introducing myself in one sentence, given how many different activities I am occupied with.
One possible solution to this is: prepare a few versions of an elevator pitch and aim to always ignite the conversation and ask the other party what they do, professionally. Then, while introducing yourself, choose the version of the pitch that is most likely to get them interested. It is literally like selling a product — and the product happens to be you.
Also, let other people speak about themselves in general, even if this leaves you with little room to introduce yourself. It might sound counterintuitive but people will actually remember you better if you let them speak instead of making a speech about yourself.
The truth is, people remember you for the emotions you bring to them, not for the information. And the feeling of being appreciated is the greatest among all. People adore speaking about themselves, no matter what age, culture, social class, profession, or background story. It is a universally effective ice breaker to give another person a floor to present themselves, and show genuine interest.
Not mentioning about the classic rules of negotiations. As a rule of thumb, whoever speaks last, wins as they understand their partner and their needs better. So, the moire you let the other person talk, the better you understand what they value and what they might be seeking at this moment.
If you need more hands on advice for how to make people enjoy your accompany and get to like you, reach out for the classic bestsellers such as “How to Gain Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie or “The 48 Rules of Power” by Robert Greene.
9. My Approach to Networking at Meetups: Netweaving + Triangulation.
So, what do I do after finally getting to the meetup? I typically set the frequency in my mind on the net weaving rather than networking channel.
If you are down wondering: net weaving is the opposite of networking: instead of trying to find people who can help you out, you try to find people whom you can help out. Net weaving feels much more relaxing than networking, and frankly, it is also much more efficient at building relations.
So, if I join the meetup and recognize some faces from social media, I quickly look for ideas for what to advise them right away, I just approach and introduce myself. If I don’t, I just start a conversation with a randomly chosen person, I throw some general chat up lines toward them, get to know them a bit and try to figure out if there is any value I can give.
When I talk to two or more people, net weaving does not make all that much more sense anymore. Why would person A be interested in listening to me talking to person B about their needs? In that case, I switch to triangulation: I try to figure what these two people have in common or what all three of us have in common. If I remember a few facts about both of them, it’s usually easy to come up with an idea. Once the connection is established, I can carry on.
After coming back home from a meetup, I often send a follow-up messages. These are polite messages to remind the other party who I am and that they can count on me. Something along the lines:
“Dear Aditya, it was great meeting you today and best of luck with your journey into the VC world! Even though I am not into climate tech like you, I hope that some of my contacts might still be useful to you. If there is any valuable introduction I can make for you, please let me know and I will do anytime.”
People meet dozens of new faces at every meetup so you will stand out and be more memorable if you message your new connections.
One more comment about netweaving: in my experience, it greatly helps in overcoming social anxiety. In the post-pandemic times, many of us, including myself, feel tempted to work and network from home. Why to face inconvenience and put yourself in jeopardy of getting judged when in theory, you can network from the comfort of your own bedroom, in pyjamas and with your hair undone?
I had the same thinking. At some point, my reluctance to go out and meet other people went so far that I was getting somatic reactions before any meetup or conference. Every time I was about to dress up and leave my place, I was feeling dizzy and fatigued, or even getting fever on my forehead. As soon as I was taking the decision to take care of myself and stay home, all these symptoms of sickness were disappearing in split second and I felt fine again.
And then I focused on netweaving. I was telling myself: “you are not going there to help yourself; you are going there to help others.” And all the somatic effects of stress went away.
10. Learn a Magic Phrase.
And that phrase is: “How can I help you?” You wouldn’t believe how many interesting contacts one can get out of this one simple question.
The truth is, we are often unaware of how much we have to give until someone enlightens us. For instance, to my mind, 7,000 follows on LinkedIn is a micro-following. However, during my stay in the Bay Area I figured that to many tech founders, a shoutout from someone with that following (especially given that most follows come from PhDs from top-notch universities in North America and Europe) is valuable.
Besides, if you pitch for yourself as a person pursuing acts of kindness and open to collaboration, people will pay forward information about you while networking. And as a matter of fact, hearing about someone from second hand is much more powerful and encouraging than hearing their own pitch.
11. Make Yourself Useful…
…whenever possible. As a rule of thumb, it is beneficial to make friends with meetup organisers as they are typically well informed about the local environment. So, observe the staff at meet-ups — perhaps they need something you might provide?
For instance, if you have a good camera on your phone and you don’t see any professional photographer at the event, you might ask the organizers if they are interested in receiving your photos afterwards. Meet-ups and conferences are often understaffed and you might bring relief to the crew if they know that they no longer have to worry about the photos. Simple gestures go a long way.
Furthermore, founders at early stage count every dollar. You might think thank giving someone a lift after a meetup or sharing a discount code for a local conference is a little gesture, but for them, saving $50 on a deal might be a great help that they would remember for years.
Next, founders often struggle with self-image. They are at the stage of their careers when they hear “no” from leads and investors every single day. Despite sleepless nights, they have to put on a kind face in the morning and pretend that everything is cool.
So, don’t hesitate to let them know if you notice their genuine talent and or hard work put into their project. Don’t repeat tje empty all-American phrase “Och, it’s amazing!” Put some effort into your words and elaborate on what is so amazing. For so many people, it’s all they need to keep going in challenging times! And yes, they WILL remember.
Lastly, as I also mentioned in the article “Startup Culture in Bay Area vs Startup Culture in Amsterdam,” the American startup culture is based on the economy of favors. People make favors to each other and remember “the open tap” even thirty years later.
Of course, not everyone has a chance to ever become a successful founder, for all sorts of arbitrary reasons. Your job is to use your talent assessment and business development skills, bet on the most talented individuals and make sure that you help these people first, before you help anyone else. Harsh… but that’s the way to go if you treat networking as a part of your professional career.
12. Learn How To Finish a Conversation.
People typically complain that it’s hard to start a conversation. However, in my experience, most people have hard time finishing a conversation.
So, don’t “go to a restroom” the whole time around! Everyone knows that it’s just a cheap excuse to end a chat. Not mentioning that while saying restroom,” you are planting an image of yourself peeing in someone else’s mind. It’s much better to end the conversation by saying “Let’s keep in touch” or “Pleas let me know if I can help you with anything. Hope to see you next time!”
13. Set a Stop-Loss.
Now let’s assume that the conversation doesn’t go in the direction you wish. For instance, you aimed to talk shop while the conversation flows towards talking about life or leisure. In that case, be patient. If you take time to properly bond with people, you will gain something from it sooner or later, no rush. Plus, the conversation might turn into an enjoyable and interesting ride despite it derailed from the chosen track.
However, sometimes, despite your best efforts, the conversation doesn’t go absolutely anywhere. The words just don’t clay, and the more you try, the more awkward it gets. In that case, pushing forward does not make any sense.
So, fail fast and go forward instead of trying to win everyone over. If it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t — don’t put more emotion into (business) networking than necessary. The day only has 24 hours, so with people, it is always quality over quantity anyway.
The way I like to look at it is as follows. I always approach a new person with open mind and open heart. In a conversation, I present a package. Namely, I attempt to give them a flavour of who I am: what I know, what I can do, and what kind of personality I have.
In a way, I send a signal to outer space and put on my little antenna listening carefully if there is any response. Some people resonate with me and respond on the same frequency while others don’t (well, many of them don’t when I think about it =]). And if I hear nothing back, I pass.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. I believe that in my twenties, I was way too pushy and annoying as I couldn’t accept the spoken or unspoken “no.” I must have been pain in the ass to many. Don’t repeat my mistakes.
14. Support Net Weaving in Real Life by Net Weaving Online.
Follow people in your network of interest on popular social media such as Threads, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Jump in once in a while to check if they don’t need any help or piece of wisdom by any chance.
These days, people don’t hesitate to openly ask the online crowd for opinion, contacts, advice, or even for a job. React to those inquiries promptly and it won’t go unnoticed or forgotten.
By the way, it is often the case that people have an uneven number of followers on various social media channels. Whoever is a major influencer on Twitter, might have a relatively small following on LinkedIn and vice versa — as these audiences have different profiles.
To contact someone with a large following, you can make use of this disproportion by choosing their non-dominant media outlets as it will give you much higher odds of getting noticed.
You can also get noticed in other, more indirect ways. For instance, if you follow a person on Twitter and then follow and on their first-hand contacts and get active in the conversations under these people’s tweets, they might actually notice and follow you (conclusion that you have common network so you might indeed have a lot in common).
There is even a scientific term for this: “social proof.” This heuristic (or, a cognitive bias as some people prefer to think about it) lets people follow the actions of their friends, following the philosophy “if so many friends find it good, it must be good.”
It is a really strong effect. Many C-suite members of Fortune500 companies invite me to contacts only because they noticed that we had had dozens of common contacts.
Of course, if you build interesting conversations online, it’s worth trying to bring the connection to real life. Who knows, perhaps you have even more in common than you realize at first and this person might become your client or business partner. Many startups and investments launched via Twitter threads.
You might be wondering: how to effectively network on social media in times of plurality? Twitter alone got a massive competition in recent months, including Bluesky, Mastodon, Threads, and many others — and it seems that the online society becomes an increasingly thin soup.
Well, as you might know. plurality is a natural feature of any biological system and any self-organizing network such as the (online) society.
Such complex networks tend to naturally arrange themselves into highly modular networks with uneven distribution of connections known as a small-world distribution.
Similarly, as platforms for online communication, social networks will evolve to the point where any Internet user will be able to choose between multiple platforms offering a variety of micro-cultures, features and perks.
None of these platforms will eat the whole market as it just goes against the rebellious human nature — as soon as some platform tries to win it all, ten new hippie platforms will pop to “give people a choice” and take a piece of the cake. And then a good chunk of the young generation — who always look for alternatives — will jump to the new platforms. Of course, advertisers will follow these users and their money.
However, the market leaders will likely stay the market leaders. Every maturated biological network reaches some point of equilibrium in which the main players occupy the most of the market while the tail of the distribution is diverse and dynamic.
So, don’t be worried about your social media — the largest outlets such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram should still be there in 10 years from now.
15. Create a Consistent Image.
When you function in a multi-cultural environment, it will be hard for people to memorise your face. After all, our brains are specialised to recognise faces of our own ethnicity.
So, make it easy to remember and recognize you. For instance, if you often change your hair style or hair color or if you use different photos of yourself on all your social media, it might be deeply confusing.
16. If You Can Write or Tell Stories, Use These Skills On Behalf of Building Your Network.
People love following and connecting with those who have their own, original point of view.
For instance, if you are into blogging / writing essays, you can launch your personal blog on Medium, Substack, or Beehiiv. These outlets allow you to easily share your opinions on popular (or, controversial subjects) or your own findings and then drop them to people who might need this advice, e.g. when you meet people on events. Written word is still seen as noble and lets you utilize one text to make multiple connections across multiple environments.
If you prefer to talk and you have a gift for telling stories, you can try something else: use free transcription software such as SpeechTexter to talk to the screen, and then edit the text or use ChatGPT, Claude, or other LLMs to edit this text so that it reads like an article. And then, rince repeat: post online and spread the news.
If you are a good talker and enjoy talking to the camera, you might also start a YouTube or TikTok channel, or even create a podcast. Nothing makes people bind with you better than inviting them rot a podcast and enthusiastic introduction in front of the viewers.
17. Find Yourself Mentors.
Find yourself mentors with 20-30 years more experience than yourself. Well, this might be the first point on the list but as a matter of fact, it’s hard to find mentors on day one. I would raster say: observe well and your mentors will reveal themselves in the process.
Plus, don’t choose for yes-men; look for people who will be critical in a constructive way so that they will ruthlessly point out all your mistakes. First you will cry, and then you will thank them.
And especially in environments such as San Francisco, the business culture supports informal mentorship. The Silicon Valley is like a temple where the more experienced noblemen are eager to help the youngsters grow. You would be surprised how easy it gets to find yourself good mentors.
18. Don’t Ignore Quiet People.
In the startup world, it is usually the case that CEO takes the front while the rest of the C-suite works “on the backend” of the project. Sometimes, both CEO and CMO are outspoken and hustle hard for the project, while the CTO works in the shadows.
When you go to meetups, it is worth talking to the quiet members of the C-suite though. While the CEO is fully focused on impressing others and drawing attention to themselves and the project, their quiet team members might be more inclined to actually talk and be curious about what you do.
By the way, the decision power in a startup solely depends on equity, not popularity. Even the calmest CTO has the same decision power as the outspoken CEO if they started from equal equity share. Therefore, it is often the case that CEO is the head while CTO is the neck. Talk to the neck.
19. Watch Out: Your Reputation Is Gold.
As much as I enjoy the accompany of Americans, they are eager to put labels on people. They often develop opinions about others after one brief conversation. They use their gut and they either “buy you” or they don’t.
So, you have to always keep your reputation on your mind while making lifestyle choices — especially given that San Francisco is a small city after all. For instance, if you attend multiple late-night dance or pool parties as a lady, you can easily end up with a label of a “party-girl.” Or, if these parties are attended by VCs looking for entertainment, controversial artists and drug lords, you can end up with an even worse label.
Even if you limit yourself to business meetups and public working spaces, you still need to be careful. Americans tend to observe and judge your every move, including your alcohol consumption.
It was a shock for me to discover that my American friends were following me at meetups and counting how many drinks I had. The other day I got a comment that “I got hammered” after drinking three cups of plain lager — which is a laughable amount of alcohol in the Netherlands where I live. So, be careful about your behavior at meet-ups and better sip your drinks veeeeeery slowly.
In the Bay Area, the business culture is tribal — when you invite someone to your network, it is a declaration of support for their tribe as well. Therefore, watch out whom you show yourself with on social media. It might be that your good friend ruffled some feathers the wrong way and an innocent photo in which you hug each other might close some doors for you.
Lastly, don’t let others pull you into slander talk.
One of the detrimental American tribal habits that I also encountered was criticising behind others’ back. Well, there are two types of people: those who make friends by praising people together and those who make friends by slandering people together. Avoid the latter.
You need to build a reputation as a person who makes other people feel (1) heard, (2) safe, (3) appreciated. So, build trust by becoming a person who focuses on the positives and mediating between people and who doesn’t share any destructive opinions behind others’ back.
By the way, you might know the phrase “kill’em with kindness.” The truth is, while creating a safe place for others to speak, you become safer too. When you become widely known for being kind and helpful, no one can suddenly slander you without consequences for themselves.
Having that said, there is a great difference between being kind and naive. Better not to be a person who views the world as a happy pony land where everyone does a great job and has good intentions, there is no evil, and every story has a good ending.
It’s not how the world works, and looking at it through a pink lens won’t make it any more Barbie-like. It’s best to be brutally honest with yourself, mindful, observant, and have a fair judgment of people. It’s just that you better filter your worlds and keep some of your opinions to yourself – that’s what kindness is.
20. Patience and Consistence.
Of course, from time to time, you will experience inflection points on your way to become a well-connected person; you will just bump into the right person at the right place and time.
BUT in general, building a personal network is a compound effect of thousands of small, everyday decisions such as “Netflix at home or a meetup in the city?” Don’t count on luck — develop the right habits that lead to a strong network in the long run.
People often wonder: “Why should I network if I have nothing to sell just yet? I first build my MVP and go networking when the time comes.” Well, you always have something to sell: yourself. If not about projects, you can have a regular conversation about life philosophy and values.
Or, just ask questions and listen. Investors are tired with people pitching startup ideas to them 24/7. From experience, I can say that they typically enjoy it when someone is wiling to have relaxed conversation and listen to their life wisdom instead of trying to sell them something. Besides, social capital is like money in the bank: you accumulate it will use it later when you need it.
Furthermore, building strategic contacts and genuine friendships is more about paying small effort over a long period than having a great time and exciting adventures together just once.
So, show some initiative and catch up with people. Build trust by taking little steps toward others and little gestures over time. Use opportunities such as Christmas time or New Year’s Eve to ask them how they are doing and make personalized wishes. Also, don’t be pushy and don’t disturb people; don’t call them without notice and give them time to respond — for instance, record a voice message via WhatsApp rather than calling without notice.
Lastly, don’t buy into the rhetoric that everyone needs to be a leader. This narrative is one of the pivotal parts of the hustle culture, pushing you to fight for attention and place on stage, regardless of your personality type or natural talents… while so many people thrive behind the scenes rather than on stage.
When I came to the Bay Area in August of 2022, I had this first instinct to become a leader too. That’s what they all tell us at school, at work, on the media… Success equals leadership.
And so I started organising community meetups for founders in the South Bay under working name “Phantom Boss Network.” I had no plan, no personal brand in the Valley, no resources, no visa to stay around, and no knowledge about how networking in this area of the world even works.
I don’t even own a car, and after participating in a few car accidents (including one earlier this year), I am too terrified to drive. In these conditions, organising yet any event on the American soil was a formidable challenge.
After miraculously managing to put together a few small events — mostly due to the immense help of my friend Nicole Borgaard & the serial Founder & then-CEO of Hacker Dojo, Ed Choudhry — I felt exhausted.
I forged a few precious friendships in the process, and the sentiment after the meetups was highly positive. But eventually, I realised that I am not supposed to play a role of a leader. Not here, not now. In my own business, I am the unquestioned leader and captain of the ship. But here, in the Bay Area, I was meant to be a follower.
And, being a good follower is as important as being a good leader. Communities are not created by leaders but rather, by their faithful followers. Those who acknowledge the leadership, cherish the community, attend the meetings, disseminate information, spread good word, listen to other participants, connect people, throw good ideas, help out.
Here in the Bay Area, there are dozens of strong community leaders who need engaged, active followers. As an engaged, active follower, you will be welcome everywhere and feel like you were on the womb of sorts. Plus, being an active follower and a connector gives an unmatched degree of freedom and mobility.
So, if you feel like a spectator or a maverick in the local community, don’t be sad 🙂 Perhaps, you are about to become the most useful and the happiest person in the room.
21. Treat Networking Like a Game and Keep on Learning!
Young people these days often report hard time networking in person. In times of social media, we grew apart so much that for many, if feels uncomfortable to approach strangers in person, even in such controlled conditions as a business meeting.
But hey, don’t buy into this “snowflake” rhetoric! Indeed, we are all getting increasingly better at syncing with technology and at the same time, increasingly worse in direct communication with humans… but that’s not the reason to give up. It’s a reason to pout more attention to learning and care more.
You can actually get professional training in-person communication for free, e.g., at YouTube channels such as Charisma on Command. You can also train your memory, e.g. visiting the channel Ron White Memory Expert. There is a (free!) medicine to almost any of your issues with networking, just browse for it.
Also, treat networking like a great game with amazing real-world rewards such as friends, (mental) health, money, unforgettable experiences, or even love. So, try to find joy in this game. Experiment. Personal networking style is like a diet — there is no “one fits all.”
San Francisco is a mixed bag. In the process, you will meet imposters: those who seem to be people- and problem-oriented, and idealistic on the surface, while in fact are calculated, greedy, or even sociopathic on the inside, and feed on other people’s ideas and achievements.
And, you will meet gems: young people who look and sound goofy, and yet, turn out to be hard-working visionaries with a background and network from Ivy League universities building solutions to the biggest problems of the today’s world.
You need to develop your own, unique strategies as your own life hacks are the most satisfying among all. So, experiment! Sometimes, it takes counterintuitive actions to achieve your goals. For instance, in order to fly you need to first learn how to… swim. Yes, it’s true — you cannot get hired as a steward or stewardess without being a great swimmer.
Similarly, I noticed that in order to learn how life in San Francisco / Bay Area works, I need to first learn about the topography and customs in… India. The local Indian minority is so prominent yet so undervalued that as little effort as learning a few greetings and meal names in Hindi and watching a few Bollywood movies opens many, many doors.
Another example. I discovered that on LinkedIn, choosing a reaction to a post which wasn’t chosen by other users (among 6 options to react) draws attention of the author of the post to my profile.
I also found out that in principle, it is beneficial to the the first person to comment on posts, and using open-source speech-to-text tools such as SpeechTexter make me really fast.
Another example. I have bright green eyes with dark ring around the iris. So, when I take a seat at a business meeting, I tend to choose seats that let a beam of light shine onto my face, as then I get piercing eye sight and I can stare at the other party like a wild cat.
And so on and so forth. You get the idea.
22. Learn a Few Brutal Truths About Networking.
Last but not least, it is good to accept a few simple truths about networking that might be harsh and yet, so helpful.
- If people say they don’t care about something, they do care about it. For instance, when they say they don’t care about age, they DO care about age. You can recognize that someone doesn’t care about something when they never mention the thing.
- If people say they don’t have time, they don’t have time FOR YOU. 99 times out of 100, it means that you or your problem don’t matter and you should capitulate instead of hoping they will find time for you in the future.
- When people say “I’m not judging but…” Yes, they are judging.
- If you tell a story and the only thing you hear in response is the phrase “It’s interesting,” it usually means that it is NOT interesting at all — your interlocutor is bored to death and probably hasn’t even been listening to what you’ve been saying.
- If you cannot develop a fluent conversation with someone, you are boxing and you go down to the level of meta-discussion about communication styles and rules, it is probably not going to work between the two of you and you will end up with a communication breakdown regardless of how much energy you put into it. So if you don’t need that person for your networking purposes, just run at that point.
- People only care about themselves. Your job is NOT persuading them that you are worth caring — this approach is doomed to fail! Instead, your job is to find synergy between your goals and the goals of the other person, so that by working together, you both win.
- If you believe that you can make everyone like you, you will end up bitter and disappointed. The truth is, no matter how kind and helpful you are, your success always raffles someone’s feathers. The only people who don’t have any antagonists are those who achieved nothing. So, manage your expectations… and if you feel like everyone enjoys your accompany then well, that’s probably bad news.
- If someone is guarded in your presence and doesn’t take off the mask, you won’t force yourself through. You either click with people or you don’t. People can be self-protective and keep you away from their real identity and their circle for many reasons: safety, different environment, different outlook on life or politics, just (justified or not) lack of trust. And sometimes, you and your demeanor just don’t appeal to their personal taste, that’s all. All you can do is to make one little step toward them: open up a little, and observe if they are willing to return the favor: make a small step in your direction, and “dance with you.” If not, you just have to go on.
So, did I succeed in my networking endeavors? In the end, I made a few good moves. I organized a charity career development workshop at Noisebridge, one of the iconic hacker spaces in San Francisco, and spoke about job market for women in tech in times of AI at the Google Developer Groups #DareToBe Event. I built hundreds of strategic contacts around the city found myself mentors and friends.
Of course, I could have done better, but I’ve also seen worse. But hey, networking is all about learning on the fly and I’m sure my next trip to San Francisco will be much more fruitful.
What is most important to me, I keep my personal networking style without making compromises. I am slow but steady and systematic. It’s a long-term game after all — and I’m planning to live really long!
And lastly, is it worth visiting San Francisco in times when it resembles Gotham City more than a regular town? Well, I believe that we live in times of technological AI revolution, and since San Francisco is the cradle of AI, I expect the city to profit from the associated outburst of productivity.
That’s why I feel optimistic about the city. I believe that one day, America will recall that its wealth stems from here and finally deals with homelessness, crime, drugs, and social inequalities. But only time will tell.
Please also take a look at some of my previous articles on effective networking strategies:
- “Make Strategic Networking a Part of Your Career Development Plan: The Depth vs The Width of Your Network,”
- “Top 11 Rules For Effective Networking on LinkedIn,”
- “How To Live a Good Life? A Note On Confucianism and What Can It Teach Us When It Comes To Building Professional Networking Strategies,”
- “10 Good Reasons To Build Efficient Networking Strategies and Treat Networking as a Mindset.”
Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2023, July 19th). If You Are Going To San Francisco… My 22 Tips and Tricks on Networking in the City. Retrieved from: https://nataliabielczyk.com/my-tips-and-tricks-on-networking-in-san-francisco/
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