March 25, 2013
Radio Operator: "Maverick, you're at 3/4 of a mile. Call the ball." Maverick: "Roger. Maverick has the ball." Based on the title of this article, you probably expected me to open with a funny quote from the 2005 hit movie, Wedding Crashers (which is about a pair of guys who crash weddings to meet women). This premise seems appropriate for crashing VC conferences, more than you would think to find in the scenes of Tom Cruise landing planes in Top Gun. However, central to the plot of Wedding Crashers is the adoption of false identities in order to sneak into a stranger’s wedding, and if you are going to crash a networking event or conference, you want to be yourself. After all, your goal is to make new professional contacts; you don’t want the benefit of your hard work and daring to go to someone who doesn’t even exist. Instead, let’s focus on our quote from Top Gun. “The ball” is a navy term used to describe the light apparatus used to assist pilots in landing jets on aircraft carriers. Bringing such a large, heavy, and fast-moving jet to land safely on an extremely short and moving runway is no easy task. The light apparatus helps the pilot gauge a safe glide path to approach the runway, and calling the ball means that the pilot has visual contact with the optical landing system and is going to approach and land. Calling the ball is exactly what you need to do to safely navigate your way into a networking event or conference, especially one that you were unable to register to attend. My story begins with my search for a career within the venture capital community. VC is a tough gig to land as it has few job opportunities, and almost none of these opportunities are publicly posted. The best way to get your foot in the door is through your ability to network. VC conferences are a great place to meet people from all corners of the industry, ranging from fund managers to entry-level associates, from established businesses that received VC funding, to new start-ups trying to learn the best way to grow their business. I was reaching out within my community and growing my network when I discovered that a very large annual VC conference was going to take place in my city (the conference usually takes place in a location that is a four hour drive from where I live). Unfortunately, I had already committed to doing contract work on the dates of the event, and didn’t have the nearly-$600 lying around to cover the cost of registration. I’m job hunting, and that is a lot of cash to part with when operating on a limited budget. But this circus doesn’t come to town every day, so there was no way that I was going to miss out on an opportunity this big. I made the decision to crash the event.