11 October 2017

Networking for coders and founders

Courier’s senior reporter goes co-founder dating at Hipsters, Hackers, Hustlers.

‘It’s normally quite high energy,’ one guy tells me. Looking around the half-empty room at Google Campus, I am unconvinced.

It’s 8.30pm on a Wednesday night. I’ve been sidling up to strangers with my best awkward party side-shuffle for an hour, and I’m yet to find anyone I really want to give my business card to, let alone start a company with. This, it seems, is founder dating.

Speed pitch

Before the networking and sizing up can commence, I’ve had to sit through a talk on branding and growing social media fans from a guy with 188 followers on Instagram. I then stayed firmly seated while about 20 others queued to brave the ‘speed pitch’; 30 seconds to sell yourself or your business idea, with time marshals armed with water guns ready to shoot down ramblers.

The event – ‘Hipsters, Hackers, Hustlers’ – is marketed as a way to find ‘co-founders or connections’. Yet it has all the trappings of a skin-shudderingly embarrassing team bonding session, albeit without the teams or, it would seem, much bonding.

Developer demand

The problem tonight appears, in part, to be the wildly varied businesses present. It feels like the evening could benefit from a more focused approach.

On stage, a pair hoping to start a ‘Shazam for fashion on TV’ are followed by the founder of a robotics seed fund and a woman with an idea for a dating app for people of African descent. There’s one dreadlocked man from the Netherlands on the hunt for female ‘impact philanthropists’, a politics app hopeful and a food delivery startup founder. If they have anything in common, it’s that the majority are looking for the same thing: a developer.

Essentially, it’s a meat market for coders. Here, people with ideas (‘hustlers’) hunt for people with the technical skills to build those ideas (‘hackers’). I’m just not convinced that this is the best place to catch a coder.

Decent developers are a rare and expensive commodity. They rarely have to apply for jobs, let alone attend meetups to hawk their skills – and many want to do more than simply build somebody else’s idea.

So what calibre of developer, then, would bother coming along? There wasn’t even any of the obligatory free booze or pizza.

‘You have to kind of separate the wheat from the chaff,’ says Rob, a startup founder who’s been to this event a handful of times and says he’s lucky if he meets one useful person each time. There was the one occasion when he got chatting to an ex-Google and Deep Mind developer. Tonight he’s had no such luck.

Yet every two weeks the show goes on. And it’s not the only way founders date in town. Practically every evening there’s a networking event where potential CEOs and CTOs awkwardly size each other up. Entrepreneur First, the London-based tech accelerator, is more upfront; it forces participants to buddy up to continue on its programme and proudly match-made Magic Pony’s co-founders.

Clearly then, these arranged marriages can end happily ever after. But after my first brush with speed dating, I wouldn’t forget about the idea of forming companies with friends or tried and tested colleagues just yet.