It happens, often by chance, that you strike a conversation with a stranger and a friendship or business relationship forms. In this instance, it was on a plane. I was really really curious about the man in the seat next to me. He was extremely well dressed, had the best of IT (laptop, phone, charging station), and was thoroughly engaged in his work. As the plane descended, I asked for a charge; my phone battery was super low, I had missed my connecting flight, and I just seriously needed help.

The gentleman turned out to be extremely helpful, polite, and open to conversation. Eventually, I asked him what is it that he does; he’s a heart transplant surgeon and owns an AI company. This was a great opening to more conversation, as I have a genetic heart condition and work for Topos Labs. After I explained Topos’ engine, ‘Gracie’, the doctor immediately recognized its value to the problems he is trying to solve in the medical field. We exchanged contact information, became fast friends, and soon after established a P.O.C. between Topos Labs and his clinic at Northwest Hospital.

Networking is everything in business. It’s your network that promotes you, recommends you, mentors you, propels you… It’s important to be authentic, genuine, and never be afraid to engage with others because, as in this case, you never know where a conversation may lead. Relationships are unpredictable, so begin by being open

Have self-awareness, and think about how you present yourself to others in both appearance and disposition. Do you dress appropriately? Do you show up on time for engagements? Are you attentive? Friendly? As a starting point, consider what you notice first in a person and make sure you’re covering those bases yourself. Bottom line, show up, be present, be sharp, show interest, and the rest will fall into place. 

Be respectful of others and their time. Take into account your surroundings and think about when it is and is not okay to network. Subway? Sure, strike up a conversation. Family dinner at a restaurant? Proceed with caution. Funeral? Definitely not. By being especially mindful of this, you’ll avoid awkward or potentially offensive interactions.

After making connections, maintain those relationships. LinkedIn is such an easy-to-use tool for anyone to capitalize on; all it takes is one click and you’re connected with someone indefinitely. Personally, I like to stay in touch via text or the occasional phone call, so consider going old-school every once and a while and picking up the phone. There are endless ways to stay connected to your network, though. Go to trade shows, meet for lunch or a drink, find whatever is convenient and will allow you to keep personal connections. People often appreciate brief distractions from work, humor can be a great bonding experience in this sense. Forward a cartoon, relate a funny story, but recognize the value of a person’s time, and be intentional in how you act. 

Know not everyone is going to like you. Be mindful of others and don’t try to force a conversation. 

Relationships are built over time. Establishing trust is key. Trust can be instant but usually is earned over time.

When all else fails, remember to be yourself, be authentic, be honest, be sincere, pursue excellence in your work, and show genuine interest in others. By doing these things you will be able to build a great network.