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A Very Social Network

Posted by [email protected] on July 6, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Most people going into business for themselves expect to worry about the usual stuff: financing, marketing, sales, attracting new customers, doing their accounts and (if they’re lucky) employing staff. But one of the most surprising challenges for new start-ups can be loneliness. Especially if you’ve given up a career working for a corporate behemoth in order to go out and earn your own dime working from a spare bedroom or dining room table.


After the initial rush of excitement at escaping from office politics, it’s surprising how quickly you miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off like-minded colleagues on the way to the staff canteen. And whilst I’m eternally grateful that Skype, email and web conferencing allow me to do business with a range of clients as far afield as Russia, Minnesota, New York, Glasgow and Shoreditch (London’s so-called “Silicone Roundabout” ) without leaving my desk in Norwich, it can be isolating to spend all day on your own.


Homeworkers like myself rapidly begin to rely on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as sort of virtual-watercoolers, but sometimes you just want to have a face-to-face conversation. That’s why I was pretty happy to find myself at the inaugural SyncNorwich this week. Billed as a networking event for the local tech and start-up community, it brought together members of three different groups – Agile East Anglia, The Norwich Developer’s Community and Norwich Startups - with the aim of creating strength and diversity in greater numbers. And first impressions suggest that it’s working. The event was over-subscribed and the buzz of conversation was pretty deafening, although that may have had something to do with the free beer and pizza provided by the generous hosts, Blurtit!


Unlike other business networking events I’ve attended, there wasn’t a strong sense that everyone was just there to sell to each other, more that they were hungry to learn. In the half-hour before the speakers began, I’d already met a database analyst, a web designer, an SEO expert, a project manager and an IT recruitment specialist. I’m sure there were plenty of people in the eclectic, 70-strong group who were hoping to meet their future employer or angel investor, but there were plenty more who just wanted to share the ups and downs of trying to get their idea off the ground. 


Keynote speaker Colm McMullan gave a very honest account of the highs and lows of his progression from a nice safe (in the worst sense of the word) job with Microsoft to being the one-man startup behind the successful Total Football and Stats Zone apps for iPhone. There were plenty of would-be app-millionaires in the audience who were hanging on every word of Colm’s story of how he found himself featured in Apple’s “Rewind 2011″ rundown of the year’s best apps and The Sunday Times Top 500 Apps list.


Although there can’t be many audiences where Colm’s joke about XML would raise such a huge laugh, there was also plenty of interest to people like myself and the speaker from Blurtit, Kathryn Wright who can both TALK techie, but freely admit that we regard the actual process of coding as a bit like looking at The Matrix. For me, the key takeaways from the evening were Colm’s advice on sticking to what you know and having a strategy when going into business negotiations. His suggested “MILE” acronym (Must, Intend, Like, Extra) is one I know I’m going to use in the future.


Thanks to the SyncNorwich team (see them here!) for organising the event. It’s great to know that Norwich has such a thriving tech community, and to see evidence of the old adage that start-ups flourish when the economy is in the doldrums. Who knows, maybe in a few years time I'll be doing product demos or sales proposals for someone I met last night when their app is conquering the iTunes charts. Or maybe they'll just be people I can share my passion for technology with over a few pints. Either works well for me right now, and it's certainly interesting that a couple of hours of meeting new people has already given my entrepreneurial spirit a much-needed kick start and got me thinking about new opportunities.


For more on Sync Norwich and the next meeting on August 16th, visit the meetup group

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