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Meeting new people gets you out of your own head. It’s a good way to get outside perspective on your projects and look at them in new ways. A conversation with someone who works in a completely different field could spark the idea that changes your company, argues Ludovic Huraux from Shapr, a free app for professional networking. His suggestion is to focus on meeting people who share your values and interests, and to make networking part of your daily habit.
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InfoQ interviewed Huraux about how networking can help when you’re developing and launching new services or products, how the Shapr app supports professional networking, and about the cultural differences when it comes to networking.
InfoQ: What makes it so important to meet new people when you’re running a business?
Ludovic Huraux: When I founded my first company, I was a brand new entrepreneur and relied on my network to grow the business. It was through friends that I got recommendations on talented people to hire and through friends that I met investors. I also relied on my network to help test new prototypes and exchange ideas about new services. One of the people in my network introduced the person who walked me through television advertising for the first time, which became the most important part of our marketing strategy that year. As a business owner, I would say that your network is the most important tool you have for growth and success, and you should make it a priority to meet new people. Meeting new people also gets you out of your own head, because you realize that many professionals have similar concerns and challenges.
InfoQ: Can you give examples of such concerns and challenges, and how networking helped to address them?
Huraux: Sure – product launches are a big challenge. They involve a lot of internal conversations about how to shape and market your product. When launching a new product, you always need to consider your users, and make sure they understand the benefit of your service and how to use it. I think sharing your project with new people face to face can be a good way to get outside perspective.
For example, when we first launched Shapr, we saw initial downloads but not a lot of retention, and realized we needed to make some changes to the product. I personally met with 150 users, to ask them what they wanted from the app, what was working, and where we could make improvements. These in person conversations helped give us new ideas on what to build, and also caused us to scrap specific elements that people were not understanding, or revise things such as words and descriptions that were unclear.
No matter what industry you work in, having people to exchange ideas with is terrific. A conversation with someone who works in a completely different field could spark the idea that changes your company. That to me is serendipity – and you can increase your chances of serendipity by talking to as many people as possible.
InfoQ: What is Shapr?
Huraux: Shapr is a completely free app for professional networking. Using Shapr, you can easily share your points of interest such as #tech #marketing, your goals, and a bit more about your background. Shapr then uses a smart algorithm to introduce professionals in your area who would be up for networking. Each day, you will get a batch of profiles to view, and can swipe right or click “Meet” on the people who you’d like to start a conversation with over Skype or coffee. All swipes are anonymous and you will be notified when there is a match, meaning both professionals have seen each other and both are interested in meeting. You can then use a pre built icebreaker or write your own!
Shapr has over 1.2 million users and has helped people to find mentors, cofounders, clients, business partnerships, and more. However, the main goal is just to get out of your bubble and start conversations with new people, making networking a regular habit. It makes meeting the right people a lot easier, and increases serendipity in your life.
InfoQ: How can companies find out if their investments in networking are paying off?
Huraux: I don’t think of networking as investments. I think of networking as building relationships. You should always focus first on meeting people who share your values and interests. Build a relationship by giving first, and trying to be helpful with no expectation of a return. Meaningful professional relationships will often turn into your best advisors, or people who help you make important connections at the right time, but this isn’t something to be measured. The best measurement is how many coffees you got with someone new each week, or how many recent connections you reached out to continue to nourish the relationship.
InfoQ: What about cultural differences when it comes to networking; what differences do you see and how can we deal with them?
Huraux: I have definitely discovered that people in the US are a bit more open to the idea of networking. In the New York specifically, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing to get a professional to join Shapr and grab coffee with someone new, since that is already part of the mindset. However, I have definitely seen a shift in Paris in the last few years, and I think people are starting to get more comfortable with the idea of meeting for coffee with someone new! I hope that Shapr is helping add to that mindset 🙂 🙂