The Stigma of Networking

I am a learner so I easily get attracted by a conference invite. As I chose to stay sitting and reading during the networking coffee break in my conference today (as most fintechs were geared to retail), I remembered the conference I went back in June and my post at the time so dug that out.

The Blockchain Alternative Investments Conference #baiconf was one of the first ones I attended around Blockchain, but more importantly, focused on institutional investors and banks. Was a bit of a killing that Goldman got mentioned 15 times within an hour of the start of the conference. I liked it despite that, good content, focused on where I am focused, where will this go to become a ‘boring’ pension fund like type of investment. Good food for thought.

At the genesis of many of these conferences is networking.

At some point the noise coming from people at the door chatting was so loud that I had trouble focusing on the speakers. Lunch was organised to continue this and off I went thinking how I could minimise it. Don’t get me wrong, I was meant to be networking and finding potential investment opportunities but

  1. I was not yet entirely comfortable in the space
  2. I was in so much pain and barely able to eat or speak despite the painkillers i kept taking
  3. I hate it but don’t tell anyone. I am an introvert and networking events can be excruciatingly hard for me to engage.

As I decided what to do with myself during the 15 mins I had left I see a few people leaning against a wall, looking, like me, without a conference buddy or any intention to introduce themselves to a stranger. I stay close to one and wonder if I stay quiet. And then I think – no matter how much discomfort, I have to talk to at least one person in this conference.

So i end up with the obvious ‘are you alone’ as an ice breaker.

That was my best shot at that point (admittedly I could have just asked what she thought of the conference, maybe next time). She started by saying that she was not really there to network, after which I offered to leave her in peace. But that’s now what she meant – it was more of a justification of why she was not with the crowd. And out of chance we found that we were both there thanks to the Harvard Club and that’s it, we bounded. Oh the H bomb, or should I say the H bond! Like me, she could only bring guests in day 2 and like me she was there to learn about the space more than anything else. We end up talking about ICOs, Blockchain in emerging markets, mpesa and challenges of banks to invest in anything other than regulation. A proper chat. If that was the outcome of my networking, one decent and productive conversation I am quite pleased.

Networking is often perceived as a negative word, often for me. I love meeting new people and have productive and active discussions with them. I just dread the concept of cheap talk and business card exchanges.

And so networking where we easily find a way to talk, that I welcome!


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