1. Conferences and Events

How to Keep Making New Connections During the Covid Era

How have you met new people during the pandemic?

I actually made my first in-person professional contact in more than six months last night, as he’s an agency CEO dating a friend of mine, and my friend invited him out when we got together for drinks.

Between March 14 (a day I remember clearly, thanks to getting together with Online Geniuses founder David Markovich and some of his friends) and August 25, I hadn’t met a single new person face-to-face. The three other people I caught up with in person over the past month were all people I knew well already (Markovich being one of them).

My pace of meeting people has slowed, but I’ve hardly stopped making new connections. Here are some of the most effective ways I’ve done so, along with other methods I’ve attempted with mixed results:

Upstream: Founder Alex Taub told me about Upstream well before it launched, and I couldn’t wait to try it. The best thing Alex had going for it at first was the network he curated in his group of beta testers and early adopters. Since then, Upstream launched the killer app of brief 1:1 video chats in a curated form of speed networking where you meet four people, and now often hear from a guest speaker, all within a half-hour.

I’m addicted to the format and joined several Upstream groups; you can check out the Serial Marketers outpost there to join our next event after Labor Day. There are terrific groups I can recommend for PR, business development, and other topics. It’s rare that I join an event and don’t follow up with someone at length afterward.

Lunch Club: This has been a mainstay of my job resources listed further below. Eric Tash invited me earlier this year, and right away, I made some connections that I’ve stayed in touch with. Its algorithms do their best to match you with the right people, and as you invite others and take meetings, you can use the points you accumulate to be more specific with who you want to meet.

While I love the flow for how it schedules meetings, there is bound to be dilution in terms of network quality as more people join. Additionally, the more precious someone is with their time, the less likely they are to make themselves available for 45-minute meetings on Lunch Club. Perhaps Lunch Club can roll out 15-minute meetings or other formats to make it lower risk and higher reward and also put in guardrails so it’s not all sellers selling to each other.

Select online communitiesMichael Bendit‘s Trusted Referral Network is a community for business development professionals and other connectors to source potential deals, and he’s doing more to bring everyone together. Rob Beeler of AdMonsters fame, and now Beeler Tech fame, produces a ton of media and events for ad ops professionals. Jeremy Goldman says his Mosaic group is top-secret, but he put it on his LinkedIn profile, so I’m plugging it here and you can tell him you never heard about it from me. Bill Kenney’s done a brilliant job curating Soft Land Partners to help businesses navigate global growth. Oldtimers List is one of my best ways I stay current in digital media. OOH Today runs an informative happy hour series about the out-of-home industry. Online Geniuses Pro has put on some networking workshops where I’ve met smart people and taken a lot of notes. There are a few others I’m not mentioning as they may be even more secretive than Jeremy.

Now, let’s state the partially obvious and potentially obvious: there are a lot of white men here. Put all these people together, and they’re quite the accomplished group, but they’re not a panel that any self-respecting event organizer would have on stage at the same time. The group I curated in my talk this spring, How to Build and Run a Successful B2B Community, includes a much more diverse roster. As a white male, a lot of those other communities don’t exactly make sense for me, ally that I may be. I always welcome recommendations for more diverse and inclusive groups to check out and promote, so keep recommendations coming.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn reminds me of the current debate about New York City: yes, it’s less safe than it’s been in a while and not as fun as it was, and there’s a disproportionate share of people on there who seem to be mentally unwell or asking you for money, but there’s still no place quite like it.

Often enough, through posts, comments, and some serendipitous connections, I still make meaningful connections. Like my current experience in Manhattan though, as I venture out and about there, I spend a lot more time looking over my shoulder.

Shapr and Bumble BizzI wrote about this last year, in the BC era (before Covid). I still would love models like this to work. The quality control is terrible on these apps with a high noise to signal ratio. A few people have joined Serial Marketers thanks to Bumble Bizz. I just went through another period of installing and uninstalling Shapr. Maybe Lunch Club and Upstream have better approaches, and these swiping models will fizzle out. If you’ve found a way to use these successfully or know of better ones, I’d love to hear about them.

Wrapping this up, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Through Twitter and Instagram, I’ve made a few new connections and mostly deepened others. Facebook, with all its flaws, remains a way I stay in touch with friends. A few virtual events have been very good, and I’m seeing some clever uses of the Remo and Hopin event platforms, along with Shindig which I’ve followed for years and has come a very long way.

Also, it helps to run a community. We reached 1,000 members in April and now have 1,400. Just yesterday, I did a Google Meet call with a newly referred member of the community (he found Michael Bendit’s group first, and then a member there referred him to me) which went so well that I already connected him with a client to discuss a potential deal.

I’m at the point where if I spent a workday hour with each member of the community, it would take 16 months to talk to everyone. If I used a combination calculator correctly, it’d take 927 years for every current member of the group to meet everyone else one-on-one. There is so much potential to unlock there, but there are many others doing incredible work, so I will continue to look to Alex Taub, David Markovich, and others to see how we can keep creating value together.

What’s working for you? What am I missing? What do you want to see out of communities? I love this topic too much, so send me any and all of your thoughts.


PS: Here’s a speaker gift that really socks. Ascent Conference didn’t toe the line with the usual gift ideas. This is nipping at the heels of the best speaker gift I’ve ever gotten. I’m just going to plantar fasciitis myself here and keep going.

Or maybe I won’t. The Ascent Conference is coming up where they’ve assembled the largest gathering of early stage investors anywhere. For general registration, use the code SERIALGENERAL to get in free. For startup registration, use code SERIAL95 for 95% off (the other 5% is refunded after the event). You can’t get a better offer, so don’t bother putting your foot down.

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