In the 1992 film version of Glengary Glenn Ross, Alec Baldwin’s acronym loving character Blake gives the advice of ABC- “A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” Blake could have been talking about the Silicon Valley business mantra, always be ready to sell, always have your 90 second “elevator pitch” at the tip of your tongue… always be closing.
Ireland has had a long affiliation with the US through a history of emigration, travel, culture, and, more recently, business development. Over 30 million Americans claim Irish ancestry and this large Irish Diaspora have played a vital role in all aspects of American history. And whilst it is always important to remember our shared history; business, is less sentimental, and for Irish business to thrive in America success is purely down to business skill and to succeed in Silicon Valley a person must network.
The networking culture of the Silicon Valley/ Bay area is unique. People regularly travel up to 60 miles to discuss technology over wine and finger food. It is this enthusiasm, and yearning to know more that has made Silicon Valley the technology Mecca for entrepreneurs worldwide. “Networking is an invaluable business tool”, says Kate Gunning, Regional Director of Biolink USA-Ireland, who is based in California. “Not only does it help with achieving increased sales or gaining investment, it also helps your own professional advancement, it ensures that you keep getting fresh ideas and it allows you to be on the cusp of all current and future trends.”
According to Chris Gill, President of the Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs (www.svase.org), “In the start-up world, what you know often takes a back seat to who you know, and who knows you. The vast majority of founding teams and early employees come through personal relationships, as do introductions to potential investors, partners and customers. Networking to build up relationships, before you need to ask for that favour, is an invaluable tool for any entrepreneur, and networking events provide ample opportunities to develop and practice that skill to empower them to succeed.”
Organised networking events occur in Silicon Valley every weekday- morning, noon and night and their importance cannot be underestimated. The website www.workit.com lists timings of many of the Silicon Valley events, categorised by sector, it is a virtual library to what is happening. With such choice, it is important to leverage networking opportunities, chose the ones that are most relevant to you and your company.
Whilst networking remember the mantra A-B-C. Always be closing. Be prepared. Rehearse what you are going to say. It may be a cliché but first impressions do last. David Taber, from Taberconsulting, quotes motivational guru Leil Lowndes when advising on introductions- “You have 10 seconds to prove you’re a Somebody.” “People make important decisions with the subconscious mind, which quickly assigns meaning and impact to events.” First impressions count.
The instinct of many American US Marketers is to make their business or job portfolio sound bigger than it is. A self-depreciating or humble style is not appreciated as much in Silicon Valley as it may be in Ireland. The assertive, confident approach is a must.
After spending just a few minutes with someone at a networking events it is okay then to move on to the next person, especially if your respective industries have little in common. In Ireland you would nearly always find a common link somewhere. It is not considered rude to do this, and don’t be insulted if it is done to you. Networking in Silicon Valley is like speed dating, you will meet with a lot of people, you will remember some and forget others and it does not assure success! However, networking does guarantee meeting with potential clients, investors and it expands opportunity.
Enterprise Ireland’s the US west coast manager, John McIntyre, describes Silicon Valley networking as “cold calling at an executive level”. Not everybody is comfortable in such a situation, but practise allows you to break through the nervousness, and it also allows you to perfect your “elevator pitch”. McIntyre, who himself was involved in the start-up Innerworkings, prior to joining Enterprise Ireland, knows the value of networking. A meeting at an Enterprise Ireland post event networking reception was the catalyst for Innerworkings gaining funding. McIntyre says that “many Irish companies are not used to the density of potential opportunities which are in Silicon Valley. At a networking event the people you can meet and speak with are all potential customers, partners or funders. Have your pitch ready, and seize the opportunity, sell yourself strongly and be prepared to do so everywhere!”
More recently times Irish business networks have been established. Irish Connect, an umbrella group promotes and provides information on over 25 Irish organisations, clubs and societies based in Northern California on the website www.irishconnect.org.
Amongst the members, is the Irish Network of San Francisco. Since its inception in January 2007, the Irish Network of San Francisco has grown considerably.. “The network was created to provide Irish professionals in the Bay Area a means to network and get to know each other,” said Eamonn Markham, the INSF President. The network holds regular events throughout the year including meetings on the first Thursday of every month at various locations in San Francisco, as well regularly holding special events of interest. “With more than three hundred and fifty members and friends I’m constantly amazed at the depth and breadth of those who join and attend our events,” Markham said. “Our members represent a wide variety of industries and levels of management,” he continued. One of the network’s goals for this year is to boost membership and to continue to provide events of interest and opportunities to network for INSF friends and members. “An important next step is to organise some events for our compatriots in Silicon Valley and expand our reach there,” Markham said. “There are a tremendous amount of successful Irish in the Bay Area and we think that they should have the chance to know each other and to do business with compatriots.”
The Irish Technology Leadership Group was launched this past March. The ITLG is a group of Irish and Irish-American senior executives, who are committed to sustaining the development of Irish Tech companies and forging further links between tech industries of Ireland and Silicon Valley. ITLG is yet another way to help formalise a method to help companies make contacts with senior individuals in major companies.
For networking to work, a person must be proactive and be aware that results will not be instantaneous. A person must take advantage of networking for the opportunities it provides, not be discouraged by the opportunities that it may not. When visiting California contact Enterprise Ireland, their help and support are there for you. Prepare your elevator pitch. Practice. Know your targets. Seek out your opportunities. Take the risks.
And remember: “Always be closing.”