Networking for Introverts

The Power of Networking:

I once read this tweet about how important networking is:

“If you fail to introduce yourself to someone it at least cost you a friend and could at most cost you a million dollars”

Being a bad networker could cost you a million dollar opportunity. The tweet really scares me because I believe it is true. Meeting the right person could change your life. The reason it scares me is because I hate networking. I’m an introvert. When I meet someone new I don’t think, “wow, meeting this person is a great opportunity”.  Instead I think, “wow, meeting this person is a lot of work and I’d rather be by myself reading something”.

You wouldn't believe how many times I skip opportunities to network and then wallow in the fact that I'm letting opportunities pass me by.

Four years ago I attended the Mashable Social Good Conference in New York.  I attended because my colleague Levi and I had made a video for Oren Jacob, a former director at Pixar and one of the presenters at the conference. Oren played the video during his talk. After the conference there was an invite-only dinner for presenters.  We weren't invited, but Oren courageously marched Levi and I (along with my wife) up to the top floor of the Four Seasons Hotel and grabbed us a seat at the private dinner party. Oren is one of the most extraverted people I’ve ever met.

At the dinner was the CMO of Mashable, some New York Time columnists, some top marketing guy for Pepsi and on and on. What did I do? I talked with Oren and Levi the entire night about Finding Nemo. The whole night. Except the few times I was forced to hand one of my cheesy business cards to someone who wandered over and interrupted us. That dinner party might have been an extraverts dream but for me it was painful.

As I left New York I felt like I had blown a big opportunity. I should have passed out more business cards. I should have sold some videos right there and then. Maybe Mashable would have become a client. I probably blew a million dollar opportunity that night because I was too shy.

Is Networking only for Extraverts?

Maybe I have to put up with the fact that I’m a second-class networker in a world where bad networking can cost you a million bucks.

But then...

A few months back I was asked to speak on a panel for a networking event for the alumni of Whitmore College. One of the questions for the panel was “Why is networking important?”  I read that question and cringed. I knew networking was important but I had nothing of value to say. I was ready to just admit that I’m horrible at networking and that somehow I succeeded anyway.

Then it occurred to me: Somehow I succeeded anyway.  It got me thinking as to how an insecure introvert was able to succeed in an extraverts world. Here is what I shared on the panel.

An Introvert's Guide to Networking: Create value first.  Network second.

If you are truly an introvert it is going to cost you way too much energy to network. Don't burn that energy on networking. Instead use that energy to build something of value. Then, after you created the value, networking will follow naturally.

I started Epipheo with three friends in 2009. Our goal was to make simple explainer videos that communicated the true value of products.  That first year we were begging people to hire us. We spent $5000 on a list of emails so we could spam people about how awesome we were. We got a couple clients that way but nothing to sustain a company.

Then Google Wave came out. Google Wave is a web app Google was building in 2009. It was suppose to revolutionize the way we do email.  It subsequently died a slow death and was abandoned by Google. But back in 2009 everyone was buzzing about it. Google Wave was in closed Beta and you could only get access if you were invited. So everyone on the internet was asking two questions: “How do I get an invite to Google Wave?”, and “what exactly is Google Wave anyway?”

The only thing that really explained Google Wave was a 90 minute presentation by the creators of the app. Only geeks who don’t socialize well with others watched the entire 90 minutes. I watched it. And I thought Google Wave was a fantastic idea. I realized I had the opportunity to create a short explanation of the true value of Google Wave. I wanted the video to show off what Epipheo could do. For the next two days I didn't go rub shoulders with anyone. I stayed at home in my spare bedroom and worked on that video.

I wasn't paid to do it. I just saw an opportunity to create value. One of my partners came over at around 9PM and by midnight we had finished up the animation, uploaded the video, sent a few emails out to tech blogs with a link, and went to bed.  The next day it was shared all over the internet. Within two week it got us Google as a client.

What if I had tried to network with Google the old fashion way?  I probably knew someone who knew someone who could get me a meeting with someone who might hire us if I said the right things. But that would have been a social nightmare for me and guaranteed not as impactful as the video. We didn't have to network our way into Google. Google reached out to us. Networking became a natural byproduct of the value the video had created.

When you build something you won’t always strike gold. But you eventually will create something of value. When you do doors will open up.

I left New York after the Social Good Conference feeling like a networking failure. But Mashable became a client anyway. The CMO saw the video we did for Oren and liked it. He saw the value.

So, You are an Introvert

Introverts are well suited for building things of value because we have the focus to sit down and work on something for long periods of time.

So while extraverts seem to have all the fun, make friends fast, and create opportunities with their charm, remember this: Introverts have the patience and focus to hunker down and create value.  Do this quietly, do it consistently, and you will become a well connected person.

Jonathan Collins

I resides in Portland, OR with my wife and two sons. I'm a co-founder of The Bible Project and Epipheo. My mission is to Explore and Explain

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