“Your network is your net worth.”

We’re told that networking is critical to success, but we’ve also all been to dry, lackluster events that turned out to be a waste of time. So which one is it? To settle the debate, I joined every high-level networking group I could find: Forbes’ YEC, the European Commission’s AI Alliance, MIT Technology Review, the EU Blockchain Forum, Harvard Business Review’s Ascend Select, and Next Gen HQ.

I also went to countless in-person events, including investor summits, startup pitch nights, and big-name events like V20 (a G20 spin-off), the 12th China Bio-industry Conference, Slush Tokyo, the IBM Data & AI Forum, AI/SUM, a Nikkei event, and many more.

If there’s one thing I learned, it’s quality over quantity. One connection with a well-placed investor is worth a lot more than 20,000 social media connections (I know because I have both). An elevator conversation that results in a meaningful edit to your pitch deck is worth more than a 1-hour lecture. Meeting a potential core team hire is usually worth more than a 2-day event on some far-off island.

Alternatives to Networking

Honestly, networking in general is highly over-valued. The time and energy it takes to go to a black-tie event is rarely rivaled by just sitting down, getting in the zone, and working for several hours without distractions.

So, that’s my #1 alternative: Hustle. You might go to a networking event for a few hours because you’re trying to find investors, but those investors would be a lot more pleased with the fact that you were working on the core business for a few hours than the fact that you went “networking” for a few hours.

Think about the giants in business and tech: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg. Do you think they spent their early days “networking,” or building?

Besides, if you really do have a justifiable need to go to networking events, there would be much greater returns when you have more to show for yourself. You never want to show up empty-handed, or even light-handed. The more progress and traction you have on your vision, the better. And networking isn’t traction.