Lessons from Seattle Startup Week
Last week I was lucky enough to attend Seattle Startup Week. Determined to make the most in the time that I had, I attended 17 sessions over 4 days. Seattle Startup week pulled together amazing presenters and fantastic networking opportunities. I learned SO much and by the time the conference ended I was exhausted. Once it was all over, my notebook was filled with pages and pages of thoughts, ideas, and takeaways. You could feel the rooms buzz with creativity and electricity throughout the conference. This week I’m sharing a few of my key learnings from the sessions.
Key Take Aways
Networking is like Rolling a Dice
Everyone has different opinions on networking and how effective it is. But when it comes down to it, Networking is ultimately just getting to know new people. Now, at these events there are a LOT of people, at one point I heard that 3400 people had gone through the 150+ sessions and one of the key benefits that Seattle Startup week offered was the opportunity to meet like-minded people.
So, how is networking like rolling a dice? For one thing, you’ve got about a one in six chance you are going to connect with someone and have relevant, meaningful conversation. These are gold. Maximize these connections and follow-up with the people later. Meet them for coffee and do your best to continue the conversation later.
Now, on the other hand, you also have about a one in six chance of getting stuck in a conversation that’s not going anywhere. Maybe you got cornered and can’t escape a conversation, or maybe the person is really passionate about a topic you’re not even the tiniest bit interested in. Knowing how to politely excuse yourself from a conversation is a skill any seasoned networker should perfect.
Building Networks versus Building Relationships
Most networking conversations started with a handshake, a quick introduction and the “What brings you here?” or “What do you do?” questions. These are great but tend to be really superficial. Building relationships is a lot harder. I’d say I probably spoke to over 200 people while I was at startup week, but there’s probably about 10 people who I made really strong connections with. I actually spent 2 1/2 hours sitting at a tiny table with one person. Of all the connections I made, that was probably the best. My new friend and I just seemed to vibe really well. The conversation flowed really easy and it was pretty obvious that we’d built a relationship. And just in case he comes across this, Hi George!
The next big takeaway was the idea that you should give first. Think about your relationships with others like a bank account. When you start building a relationship, you should make deposits into your checking account. Do that by giving, helping, and advising. Maintain relationships with your network so that when the time comes that you need help or a favor, you’ve built up a big enough balance that you can make a withdrawal. Focusing on building your network before you actually need it, so that when you do need a favor, you know who to ask.
Working at Startups
I spent a lot of my time on the “Talent” track so I could learn more about what Startups look for when hiring employees. While startups and smaller companies aren’t usually able to compete with the Amazons, Microsofts, and Googles of the world, they have a lot to offer. The rooms buzzed with energy. Everyone I talked to was passionate about their work and you could see eyes light up when they talked about the business. There’s so much opportunity to build skills and influence change at a smaller company. They’re more nimble and flexible than bigger organizations.
Startups and small companies have to work hard to recruit the right people, and those employees become irreplaceable. If you decide that you want to work for a startup, chances are, your benefits and paycheck aren’t going to be as competitive. You’re going to work a lot of hours. The office might be a co-working space or someone’s basement, but it’s probably not going to start out being super sexy. On the plus side, you’re going to learn a lot. You get the opportunity to really stretch your skills and have multiple roles. They’re usually a lot more flexible with vacation, but you’re definitely going to earn it. Your team is going to be really close & you will build some amazing relationships with your coworkers.
Tell Good Stories
Throughout the week, there were some amazing stories. Stories are incredibly powerful tools to connect with people. Whether you’re giving a presentation, having a casual conversation with someone or even interviewing, stories help people understand you. We are all storytellers and the more you practice telling your stories the more powerful they can become. Think about how you use them in your day to connect, communicate and share. Be conscience of the message you send with your stories and how they’re perceived, especially if you are in a position of power. Think about a leader who talks about the importance of work-life balance but contradicts that with stories about consistently working late or never taking a vacation. The leader’s personal stories and behaviors will make the bigger impact on how the team works and manages their own time.
It’s Okay to be Vulnerable
One of the common threads during the week was the power in vulnerability. I went to a session called “The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship” where five leaders told their stories about failure, self-doubt, and depression. It was probably one of the most impactful sessions for me. Being vulnerable helps people connect and relate to you. Have the ability and self-awareness to admit when you made a mistake or need help on a project.
At another session, Jenn Briggs talked about focusing on 80% instead of 150%. You can’t do 150% well, but if you keep a little bit of time for yourself, you’ll end up happier and more productive. I’m a wife, a mother, and a business owner. Most days it’s pretty difficult to balance everything. It was really helpful to hear that it’s impossible to be good at everything at the same time. There are days when I am going to be an amazing business owner and not a great wife or vice versa. The key is to have balance and most of the time we know when we need to make adjustments.
Over the next few weeks, I’m focusing on applying some the key takeaways to work. My focus this week is on spending time reviewing my notes and working through my list of action items from Seattle Startup Week. I’ve committed to taking at least one day off and reconnecting with one person in my network each week. What are you focusing on?