Scott Rozic, 26, ceo of Verge Software Corp., based in San Francisco.
What's Your Problem?
"We're a rather small company in a very big field — Web software and services for helping people structure and share knowledge. How do we gain visibility without seeming too aggressive?"
Tell Me about It
"When we incorporated, back in 1997, we did a quick accounting of our strengths and weaknesses. We found that we had a cool technology, good business ideas, and lots of ambition. But we also found that we lacked experience as well as industry visibility. We decided that networking was the best way to fill those gaps. We also decided that we would go beyond conventional, hit-or-miss techniques — such as hanging out at conferences and swapping business cards."
What's Your Solution?
Turn networking into a science. "We formalized our approach to networking and arrived at a few principles.
"First of all, we aim big. Early on, we formed a 'band of advisers' — an informal counterpart to our board of directors. We found six industry veterans, including top executives of billion-dollar companies, and we approached them directly. Now we meet with them at least once a month, and the insights that they provide are invaluable. They're part of a larger group that we call 'Friends of Verge.' It includes investors, partners, customers, friends, old colleagues, and those who are just plain curious.
"Next, we make sure that people feel like they're getting something out of the network. For example, we put a premium on informal bonding and fun. We've taken our band of advisers skydiving, and I often set up lunches between Friends of Verge.
"Finally, we're good at spontaneous networking. One of our favorite tactics is 'the tornado,' which we use at conferences whenever we want to introduce ourselves to a vip. It's a loosely choreographed, two- or three-person blocking move that allows us literally to surround a person. It may sound aggressive, but it's actually a subtle way to build a quiet conversation space."
Cathy Olofson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor based in Belmont, Massachusetts. Learn more about Verge Software on the Web (www.vergesoft.com).
A version of this article appeared in the November 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.