Using The Friend Paradox to Maximize Your Effectiveness at Startup Networking Events

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I’ll never forget the first large tech conference I attended after joining Redpoint. Held in the movie theater in downtown Redwood City, the TechCrunch conference attracted several hundred entrepreneurs, investors and journalists. Not one of whom I knew.

After a handful of conferences and a few awkward quick-name-badge-glance-then-say-hello conversations, I started to recognize faces and became friendly with the conference regulars.

Walking into a room and working it by building a network person by person is an essential part of entrepreneurship (and venture capital). That room might be filled with potential customers to sell, investors to woo, candidates to hire, or in my case startups seeking capital. For many founders and VCs, these networking opportunities occur at least weekly if not almost daily.

I’ve often wondered how to network better in those types of events. Sometimes, I scour the attendee list and make notes of people to find in the crowds. But Ferenc Huszár has a better way called the Friend Paradox.

The Friend Paradox is a heuristic that maximizes the odds of finding well-connected people at networking events. It’s a two step process:

  1. Pick a random person in the crowd, and ask her (or him) if she knows anyone at this meetup.
  2. When she points at someone, go talk to that person instead.

Based on probability, the friend paradox identifies the most connected people in the room. Those superconnectors will likely to know more many more people given the scale free properties of social networks. Naturally, this means superconnectors can identify and introduce members of their network to potentially important people - a very helpful contact and friend - and precisely the kind of person to meet at a networking event.

Published 2013-09-24 in Best Practices 


Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


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