How to Have a Better Startup Networking Event

Monday I attended Entrepreneurs Helping Entrepreneurs, a networking event sponsored by the Mayfield Fund and First Round Capital. Roughly 100 founders were invited to come network over finger food and the chance to win a mentoring session with a famous founder like Jay Adelson (Digg), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Aaron Patzer (Mint), Gina Bianchini (Ning), Max Levchin (Slide), or Mark Pincus (Zynga).

There are a few things that made this event stand out from others that I’ve recently attended. I recommend the following for a better startup networking event:

  1. Curate Who Gets In

    I don’t recall which blog wrote about the event but they encouraged any founder to apply for an invite. I don’t know how many applied but I was very pleasantly surprised at the ones who got in. I didn’t hear a single bad pitch. That’s more than I can say for most open house events. I’m all for meeting a variety of people but curating who got in was one of those things you think wouldn’t work but it did quite well. Whatever the selection process was, it did a great job of bringing together a diverse group of founders with solid ideas.

  2. Offer an Incentive Just to Attend

    Every event you attend could be the one where you meet that key customer, advisor, investor, or make one of a thousand other crucial connections. But there’s never any guarantee. You could attend a hundred events and not find anyone useful at the event. So it’s really nice when the host guarantees something valuable to some of the attendees. Typically, this means the attendees furiously compete for money or press (e.g. TechCrunch50, SF New Tech, etc.). Entrepreneurs Helping Entrepreneurs just raffled off mentoring sessions with respected founders. You were entered in the raffle just for attending. I like having no pressure to do anything but attend and the chance to be rewarded for doing so.

  3. Don’t Force Competition

    This is closely tied to #2. Startups are competing all day (and night) with big companies, people’s mindsets, their runway, and time itself. It’s nice to have a break and simply bring people together instead of continue to push them after a full day of work.

  4. Feed Founders Something Other than Ramen

    Silly, I know. But I enjoy eating what I wouldn’t buy for myself on a bootstrapper’s salary.

I could probably say more about the venue, the dress code, and other details but 1 – 3 are what really made an impression on me.

What good experiences have you had at networking events? What’s missing from my list?

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