14 networking tips from a sports tech startup insider

24th Jul 2020

As a follow-up to our previous blog post ‘Why every sport startup founder needs to be a part time networker’, sharing the 9 Types of people founders need to have in their network, we dug a little deeper and asked SportUp Program Manager Kristof De Mey to share his best networking advice.

Over the years, Kristof has meticulously build a wide international network on the intersection of academic R&D, sports innovation, sports technology and the startup ecosystem.

Below are his 14 pieces of advice on how startup founders, lacking the right network, can (quickly) find the right connections and nurture them in order to gain short-term or long-term value.

1. Look for the 'network hubs'

Start asking questions and let your research lead the way. You’ll notice that when you start researching your idea, the same names and people will start popping up. Those are your first leads to a wider network. Go visit trade shows and events in your niche. It’s okay to start by blindly shaking hands with everyone (or bumping elbows, nowadays), but always aim to find the people within relevant organizations that are the ‘network hubs’.

2. Create a roadmap and prepare for what’s to come

As a startup, you won’t have infinite resources. So you’ll want to be as efficient as possible, which means you make sure you don’t have to start looking for people at the moment you need them, but a little bit earlier. That’s why you want your roadmap clear: if you know what you aim for to accomplish within a few months, you’ll know who you should start looking for now.

3. Focus on what you really need.

Spend your time on what you need for your business. Be it clients, international partners or distributors when you’re focusing on selling, investors when you’re looking for funding, or specific experts or technical partners when you’re working on a new version of your product. Be clear and focused and avoid wasting time.

4. Create meaningful relationships

Building your network is more about quality of your connections than the number of connections on LinkedIn. Spend time to get to know people you meet at the events and practice the art of relationship building.

5. Find the right events and communities.

We suggest you to join the SportUp Community, attend the SportUp Meet events, and connect with Victoris ;-)

6. Seek leadership opportunities.

Step up to be a leader. There are many opportunities for you to contribute in a relevant way, without enormous investments: can you join the board for a non-profit organization? Can you become a leader of a niche Meetup group within your industry? If the opportunity you were dreaming of does not exist, consider creating it yourself.

7. Find a ‘cheerleader’

Most founders have a lot of mentors. These mentors will provide you with valuable insights and input on important business issues. But there are times when you just need someone who can help you keep going. As a startup founder, you will go through a rollercoaster of emotions. There will be times when you will be ready to give it all up. Find someone you can trust to get through the tough times.

8. Use Linkedin

Depending on the stage you’re in, you might want to spend 1 hour a week up to half an hour every day on LinkedIn. It’s an amazing tool to find and connect with interesting people. I advise you to always add a personalized message to your connection request. Interact with their content to build up the relationships. Ask questions, but make sure you’re not too pushy. Your goal in networking is to get to know someone and to understand what that person does and needs. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t mention what you’re working on - tell them what you do and how you see the connection with them.

9. Get yourself on the radar

Spend a few hours each week following and interacting with potential investors, mentors, and industry experts online. Find them on Twitter, comment on their Medium posts, offer them to help, and keep popping up on their radar as an interested and interesting connection.

10. Go live. Lunch meetings are the best.

It’s amazing what food does to people. We connect better over a nice meal, so get out and share lunch. There’s no better way to build and nourish a personal connection with someone. A coffee or tea is great as well ;) Also, spending time together helps you really find out whether someone’s a relevant and key connection, or not.

11. Listening > talking

Listen! Listen to what people are up to. What’s their situation, where are they headed, what are their challenges or lessons learned, what opportunities do they see for themselves, … Get the context of others clear, so that you know what is useful and useless to talk about.

12. Be real and don’t waste someone else’s time

After you listened and got a clear view on the context of the person you’re networking with, be clear and talk about the things you need to talk about. Be transparent. Find out if you can provide something for each other right now, and if not, both go your way. Maybe next time!

13. Give value before you ask.

There are two extremes in the world of networking: founders either ask too soon or they forget to make an ask altogether. Make supporting others a part of your regular networking practice. Share your knowledge, introduce your network and provide value, regardless of whether you get something in return. This builds your connection and creates a positive brand image of yourself. And when the time is right, make the ask. You will be surprised at the support you receive.

14. Make things tangible

After connecting with someone, try to offer something tangible. Even it’s only a small thing. In my case, I offer support to startups to e.g. get some research done (through connecting them with students looking for a Master thesis subject). Or I consider to speak at their event. Or offer them a stage at ours. Offering simple but tangible things can lead to bigger opportunities. This fits nicely in with the previous point about providing value up front.

And as a closing remark: your network will not grow overnight. Build it, nurture it, and manage it.

It will take time and effort for you to become ‘connected’. Don’t wait for the perfect time - it will never come... so start building today.

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