By BRAD HOWARTH (reprinted below with permission)
May 16, 2006

One of the hardest parts of taking a new technology into a foreign market is finding the right people to talk to.

Trade shows and government agencies play their parts but without personal introductions to the right parties, many companies find themselves wasting time in useless meetings and chasing dead leads.

Entrepreneur Andrew Grill says the time spent working with the LinkedIn social networking tool translates to time saved when expanding his company, the location-based services developer Seeker Wireless, into Britain.

Created by the Palo Alto-based company of the same name, LinkedIn is a set of online tools for making business contacts. The tools create a network of contacts, with users relying on personal endorsements and introductions to connect to people who might share a business interest.

LinkedIn’s vice-president of marketing, Konstantin Guericke, says 114,000 of the social networking service’s 5.7 million users are in Australia.

Mr Grill says he used LinkedIn in 2004 to find contacts in Britain which led to several opportunities for Seeker. At first he was sceptical of the product but found that 32 of his existing contacts were already hooked into the system.

He describes LinkedIn as an electronic version of traditional trusted networking activity. “This is a fast-track way of doing it,” Mr Grill says.

“The way that things are going, you cannot afford to meet people face-to-face sometimes, so you have to do it virtually.”

Melbourne-based entrepreneur Walter Adamson was one of the first people in Australia to join the LinkedIn network three years ago.

Soon after joining he was contacted by entrepreneur Barrie Harrop about a project involving the development of digital printing kiosks.

That initial contact with Mr Harrop led to Mr Adamson acquiring the rights to the kiosks in China. Mr Adamson describes China as the fastest-growing camera phone and digital imaging market in the world.

“(Barrie) was looking for people who understood the digital world and understood the potential and could connect with investors,” Mr Adamson says. “So I met with him and agreed on a handshake to work with him. The single contact has led to a pretty big project and a massive opportunity.”

The managing director of Adelaide-based secure Bluetooth device maker TDA Tech, Leon Vandenberg, says LinkedIn has been an important tool for keeping up professional contacts since leaving the San Francisco Bay area three years ago.

Mr Vandenberg says its value comes from contacts arranging “warm introductions” to other parties in the network, as opposed to attending networking events or cold-calling. “The response and hit rate on that is not very high,” Mr Vandenberg says.

“With LinkedIn, your response rate and success for getting a face-to-face meeting is quite good. You get a very strong contact, rather than the hit-and-miss you get with networking functions.”

Mr Vandenberg says that in one instance, where traditional approaches to a company had failed, he was able to find people from that company in LinkedIn who were known to contacts within his own network, and organise introductions.

He says LinkedIn was particularly useful for keeping in touch with the Silicon value venture capital community. “I’m grooming my company to be VC-ready in a year and I want to make sure I keep those connections up to speed,” Mr Vandenberg says. “Business networking is just the way of doing business in the San Francisco Bay Area. You won’t kick down the door of a venture capitalist or anyone without with a proper introduction.”