The search for a job makes you realize how small you are in the world. I had been living in San Francisco for over a month and hadn't received any callbacks on the countless resumes I had sent out. Lex Luthor and kryptonite are to Superman as Craig and his list were to me. For every position I sent my resume to, there were hundreds of other shiny, young college grads doing the same thing. Once the money I had saved up had started to run out, I began thinking about reenlisting in the Army, since I knew Uncle Sam would always welcome me back. It was around the time that I started looking up recruiting officers in the Bay area that I attended a friend's going-away party. I knew there would be plenty of unfamiliar faces there, so I decided I would network and schmooze to the point that I would make Donald Draper look like Rick Moranis.
I already had some drinks in me, thanks to a few rounds of drinking games, and started asking around where people worked and who was hiring. For the most part, everybody had the same answer:
"Oh, I work for digital a startup."
"Fantastic! Are they hiring?" was my standard response.
This went on all night and the more people that told me they were working for a startup, the more I realized that this city is the Mecca for up-and-coming companies. Plenty of folks have taken their dreams out of their bed and made a pilgrimage to San Francisco with Zuckerburg-esque aspirations. This was encouraged by the success of companies like Twitter and Facebook and further escalated by smartphones with high-speed browsing capabilities; thus giving everybody access to the majority of the Internet in the palm of their hands. Digital companies today are the new appliance stores of the '50s. With the right connections and know-how, anyone can start a business, and where else to do it but the young and aspiring atmosphere of the Big City on the Bay?
The schmoozing paid off and lo and behold, I landed myself a job at a digital startup in SOMA. I threw out the thoughts of getting back to Army barracks -- shaking off flashbacks of tiny beds and the smell of Simple Green cleaning solution burning my nostrils -- and found myself in a growing ad network specializing in digital advertising.
This new position was unlike any work atmosphere I had found myself working in previously. There was no human resources department, the office was above a Thai restaurant and our CEO supplied us with alcohol for flip-cup tournaments.
I fit in right away.
As the months went by, I came to understand the startup environment. These companies are in the same situation as I was when I moved to the city. They know they can provide the service and skills to accomplish a certain demand, but nobody knows who they are. For every company that is getting things accomplished in the digital industry, there are hundreds of other shiny, young companies doing the same thing.
In order to overcome this dilemma there are always the usual ways of networking through normal advertising. However, in order to genuinely call Donald Draper a bitch, they must throw their own version of a going-away party to effectively schmooze the knickers off of all those that cross their path. This is how I discovered Startup Crawls.
Picture a typical pub crawl. You have a designated meeting area and those leading the crawl take you to several different drinking establishments. They usually provide you with a free drink at each venue and it brings in new business to all of the bars included in the tour. Well, this is the same principle for the Startup Crawl. A certain company in its infancy stages will start things off at their office. Free drinks will be provided and they will give a small pitch about the goings-on within their workspace. People network with one another and after a short amount of time, everybody is lead to another company's office within walking distance. At each destination, the company hands out free marketing gifts such as t-shirts, sunglasses, rubber duckies, etc., and then gives an elevator pitch about what they do within the confines of their office walls.
After attending a couple of crawls, I began to see familiar faces and realized that there is an underworld of young professionals that seek out these events, looking to network and drink free alcohol. For every new face, each conversation was a carbon copy of the last one:
"Oh, I work for a digital startup."
"Fantastic! So do I!"
Once the crawl ends, people's pockets are filled with business cards, new companies have gotten their name out to the vibrant work force that flows throughout the city and the office cleaning crew has to throw out an amount of beer bottles that rivals a frat house.
Bringing unfamiliar faces together in a social setting can accomplish more than any written advertisement or job website ever could. At the end of the night, each startup company accomplishes the same thing I did at the going-away party; they continue to survive in a world with hundreds of competitors trying to accomplish the same thing.
Check out websites like Plancast.com and Eventbright.com to see if there is a Startup Crawl happening soon.
Follow Zachary Ehren on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@zacharyehren