How do sustainable entrepreneurs meet like-minded people and what is the best way to connect with them? Postcode Lottery Green Challenge runner-up, Daan Weddepohl, shares his insights on networking in the USA and in the Netherlands.

What are the biggest differences you encountered when networking in the USA compared to networking in the Netherlands?

People in the USA are very goal oriented when it comes to networking. You can walk up to someone, introduce yourself and what you do, exchange business cards and the whole conversation can be over very quickly if you realize that it’s not useful to either one of you.

In the Netherlands, networking is much less direct and it can take a lot of time. Networking for the sake of networking doesn’t really exist. Instead, people have conversations which can accidentally turn into networking. To be polite, you have to talk for about 30 minutes which can be really nice if you meet a person who could be a great benefit to you. But if you’ve already determined that the person you’re talking to isn’t a great connection, you’re still stuck in the conversation for a while.

How do you meet new and interesting people for your business?

There is a big difference in how I used to meet people and how I do these days. When I was just starting out, I would find networking opportunities proactively.
We don’t have networking events in the Netherlands like there are in the USA. So I would go to topic-specific events and meetups to connect with interesting and useful people for my start-up. For example, when I wanted to connect with developers, I would go to a presentation about new technology or programming language. In my experience, you need something to talk about in the Netherlands, so that’s what I looked for.

Nowadays I’m in a luxury position, since I am invited to speak at many events and I get to choose which places are relevant and useful to my business. Presenting also gives me a great opportunity to reach a lot of people, who approach me if they are interested in connecting. So I would say that public speaking is another great way to meet new and interesting people. 

What are the main do's and don’ts when networking in the Netherlands and USA?

Generally speaking, networking in the Netherlands is a bit like dating. Don’t immediately go to the heavy stuff. Start off with chit-chat and friendly conversation, and take time to talk to the person in front of you. The Dutch feel awkward if you jump to the business topics too fast.

Also, it helps to be aware that people in the Netherlands aren’t as quick to give away their business cards as in other countries. I was surprised to discover that in some Asian countries, for example, you start with business cards first and in some cases you can even walk up to someone, hand them your business card and then walk away. The middle ground is the USA. Don’t expect to get business directly if you’ve talked with someone and exchange business. You might connect or you might not and need to follow-up. In the Netherlands, giving someone your business card means more. It’s not a deal or anything, but it’s an indication that there is an interest in connecting again.

What is your best networking tip?

Consider how busy someone is. When I was starting up, I didn’t realize how incredibly busy entrepreneurs can be. Having one coffee a day isn’t a big deal, but having 50 coffees a day is impossible. Busy people have to be selective, so make it very relevant and very easy for the person you are trying to connect with. Don’t write a long email or ask for a long meeting as a first introduction.
It also helps to remember that people want to work with entrepreneurs that they like and trust. So try to connect with people you feel comfortable with and whose company you enjoy. If you do that, networking will come naturally.

Daan certainly knows the value of networking – his company Peerby is built on connecting with others. At the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, we understand how difficult networking can be, which is why we try to provide our finalists ways to connect to the most relevant people in our network!