6 people entrepreneurs should look for at a networking event

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Dubai is an unusual place. The startup scene is small but growing rapidly, the majority of people are expats, and there are dozens of universities and MBA programs.  Many people socialize only in their professional, national, or alumni circles, but could gain a lot by stepping outside these networks.

At MBA events, I often hear of people looking for opportunities to invest, while at startup events I usually hear of startups looking for investment. This always makes me wonder, “why aren’t these two groups talking to each other?” In a previous post, I suggested that some startups could benefit from looking to the MBA community to fill gaps. In this post, I’ll tell you the 6 people to look out for if you crash one of these networking events. 

One thing to keep in mind is that just like startup founders or programmers, not all MBAs are the same. There is no single ‘type’ of person that gets that degree. However, nearly every MBA class produces people that could be helpful to a startup that is struggling to find the relevant expertise. It’s not that that advice is exclusive to MBAs; these types can be found around the ecosystem as well; but I’ve noticed that these are the types of graduates that startup founders could easily get in touch with at networking events.

Of course, as a founder, you should never bring someone on board who isn’t a good fit, regardless of what they promise or what you need. It goes without saying that startups should consider bringing people on initially on a trial basis, and ensure that compensation is tied to performance (cash for cash deals, equity for non-cash deals). It’s also not a requirement that someone be an employee (or cofounder); these people can help as advisors and support in a number of different ways. Here’s who to look out for, in general:

  1. Ms. Industry Connector - She’s got great contacts in the industry that you are entering, whether it be healthcare, education, retail, or electronics. She’s worked in the industry for a long time on the strategy team or in operations, and can tell you everything you need to know about the key decision-makers and how to sell to them.

    - What to ask for: Help defining the customer decision-making process, introductions to key people, her to join your advisory board.   

    - What to offer: A commission on any deals made via introductions.
     
  2. Mr. Aspiring Angel – He’s worked in management consulting or banking for nearly a decade, and has the savings account to show for it. Bored of his job and looking to get into startups, he loves technology and has invested in several of his friends’ companies. Although he won’t close your whole funding round by himself, he can be a great place to get started.

    What to ask for
    : A meeting to show off your startup, a small seed investment, and introductions to other classmates who are looking to invest.

    What to offer: Equity, depending on the size of the deal, the opportunity to buy into future rounds of investment.
     
  3. Ms. Venture Capitalist – Lurking somewhere in the back of the room is the venture capitalist. She’s there more to network with classmates than look at deals, but if the right deal comes along, she’s willing to hear you out. Instead of asking for a meeting right away, try building up rapport with her first, or build rapport with classmates who can bring her the deal and talk you up in the process.

    - What to ask for: Advice on your pitch deck, and a meeting, preferably via someone in her network.

    - What to offer: A pitch deck and answers to all of her questions in a way that shows you have thought it through and know how to scale and generate a return.
     
  4. Mr. Business Developer – Although previous employers have tried desperately to keep him, he’s hopped around from company to company to try new challenges, closing deals in a variety of industries. His network is huge, he’s no stranger to a contract, and he’s more concerned with getting the deal done than nitpicking at tiny details. He’s done deals in your toughest markets and knows exactly how to find local partners who are trustworthy.   

    - What to ask for:  Help establishing partnerships, especially with any companies or industries he has a background in.

    - What to offer: Depending on whether it’s a full-time role,  a commission on deals signed (for cash deals) or equity in the business for non-cash deals (based on size of the deal)
     
  5. Ms. Office Opener – She’s spent the last five years living in different countries, opening corporate offices and getting them up and running before moving on. She has experience in many different markets, speaks a lot of different languages, and loves the lifestyle of living on the edge. She’s a natural when dealing with lawyers and regulators, can get operations set up in a snap and knows what to look for in a great sales team.  

    - What to ask for: Help expanding your startup into other markets.

    - What to offer: An employee role, either as a ‘starter’ or as the head of a foreign market.
     
  6. Mr. Serial Entrepreneur – He founded his first startup during the tech boom of the late 90’s, sold it, and used the money to put himself through business school and start more companies. Several startups later, he’s between ventures and advising some government agency on starting a tech ecosystem while mentoring startups in his spare time. 

    - What to ask for: Ask him to join the advisory board, as well as make introductions to other classmates that could be helpful for sales, investment, or partnerships.

    - What to offer: Equity in the startup. 

If you encounter one of these people at an event, get a meeting with them immediately and see whether they are a good fit and what they can do to help you.

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