Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
When I moved to Silicon Valley from post-revolutionary Egypt three years ago, I had almost no connections.
I was nearly broke, sleeping on my childhood best friend's couch in Berkeley, and I knew nothing about tech or startups.
But I was hungry to learn and eager to forge new connections with the Bay Area's brightest.
Three years later, I've bootstrapped a million dollar company that got many of its over 250 customers through cold email, and I've built deep relationships with some incredible tech founders and sales leaders.
Here's how I did it, and how you can do the same thing:
Step 1: Do Your Research and Map the Landscape ASAP
Whether you're moving across the world or trying to break into a new industry and make a career change, it's hard to navigate a new landscape.
The Bay Area has a lot of great opportunities, but like anywhere else, there are also malicious scammers and aimless "wantrepreneurs" who will suck your time and energy like a leech.
When everyone is a "founder" or CEO of a tech company, it's hard to know who is legitimate or not at first. You have to learn the landscape fast or you will get scammed and waste your time on too-good-to-be-true projects that never go anywhere.
Just like when I moved to a new country (which I had already done five times), I immediately started to conduct a combination of offline and online research to figure out the lay of the land.
First, I searched for popular tech blogs and news sources about startups online. I tried to compile lists of influencers and leaders in the space, which I adjusted over time as I learned more about "who's who," and which things were legit or not.
Step 2: Identify Influencers and Key Players to Connect With
I also had several coffee meetings with some friends-of-friends in the tech industry where I asked them to list their favorite tech companies, tech blogs, and entrepreneurs.
The other thing that really helped me was asking them questions about what the best metrics were to evaluate tech companies, and what kind of criteria could help me figure out who was the real deal versus a wantrepreneur.
They told me to look at which series of funding the company was at, how much it raised, how many employees it had, and who had invested in it. This might have seemed obvious to those who already knew tech, but coming from developmental economics, this was all new to me.
From there, I was able to conduct extensive online research on Linkedin, TechCrunch, and Angellist to make lists of whom I wanted to meet with.
I even used a virtual assistant in the Philippines from Odesk (now Upwork) to help me research these people and build out spreadsheets with their contact information and other relevant details.
Step 3: Find Out What People Want and Start Conversations With Them
You won't have many fruitful conversations or build lasting relationships if you are a narcissist who only thinks about yourself.
I cringe whenever I see "green," self-entitled startup founders cold emailing me or my friends to "get advice" or "seek mentorship," while offering nothing in return or any social proof.
The only people who are going to respond to these requests are people who also don't have a lot going on for themselves. People are much more receptive to starting conversations and building relationships when you can add value for them or help them solve a problem.
Everyone has something valuable they can offer.
If you don't know what that is, you should spend some time figuring out what your "superpower" is, and how it can help the people you want to connect with.
For me, my superpower has always been writing. Well, writing and economics.
I got to know a lot of people in my early days in Silicon Valley (and still do) by cold emailing them to ask for an interview for an article or podcast.
But I also leveraged the fact that I had unique economic insights into emerging markets with a number of other people, including Kai Huang, the founder of Guitar Hero.
To quote the great Zig Ziglar, "You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."