Break the Ice With These 6 Questions at Your Next Networking Event

Networking events are perfect opportunities to build your contact base, but you won’t get more than a few business cards if you don’t leave an impression. Making meaningful business connections requires delving beneath the surface. To pull off that critical first impression, try leading with a creative icebreaker.

These six entrepreneurs share the first question they ask when seeking a new acquaintance at an event. Remember: It’s okay to have fun with it.

How did you get started?

When seeking to learn more about a new contact and their company, sometimes the best place to start is at the beginning. Chris Gronkowski, creator of shaker bottle Ice Shaker, finds that learning more about where they started and how they got to where they are today is valuable for connecting — and even picking up a trick or two.

“This is a great question to ask, because everyone has a unique story about how they got started in business and different techniques that were successful for them, which I like to note,” he says. “It also gives me a chance to learn about this person and their company and how we can benefit from each other.”

Would you rather lose one arm or one leg?

“Asking a silly but thought-provoking question can start a memorable conversation with a stranger,” says Bryce Welker, founder and CEO of CPA review site Crush the CPA exam. This is a great way to break through the noise of the many attendees focusing strictly on business.

“I’ve found that asking off-the-wall questions to potential connections sets me apart from other professionals who ask tired questions that often encourage canned responses,” says Welker. “It’s possible that one zany conversation can lead to opportunities in the future.”

Why haven’t we worked together?

Ryan Bradley, partner at personal injury law firm Koester & Bradley, LLP, understands that making an advantageous connection starts with addressing why you’re both there. So why not cut right to the chase?

“The reason that entrepreneurs and founders attend networking events is to generate business. I never avoid this fact. After the standard pleasantries, I love to ask people why we haven’t worked together before,” he says. “It is an offbeat question, particularly if you are a little outside your direct niche, but it allows the conversation to flow in a positive direction toward a goal: business!”

What’s your favorite book?

You can tell a lot about a person by their hobbies and passions. That’s why Zac Johnson, CEO of blogging business Blogger, asks about a personal interest that many entrepreneurs have in common.

“Many people, especially entrepreneurs, are very passionate about reading. When it comes to books, people like to discuss what they’ve read recently, along with their favorite books,” Johnson says. “This is a great way to open a conversation with someone, and it helps you better understand their interests and passions in the process.”

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Running a successful business isn’t all fun and games, and Sam Miller, founder of strength training and performance measurement technology platform Boston Biomotion, likes to confront this. Asking someone about their biggest challenge opens up an honest dialogue that could prove to be mutually beneficial.

“I prefer this question as a way of getting some depth. This often leads right to learning more about what they do and where they’re at, and also seeing if there’s any way I can be helpful,” he says. “The question is pretty disarming, so it requires quickly establishing some trust and comfort, but some of the best conversations and follow-ups I’ve had have come from this.”

What’s your dream?

“I always like to ask people what their big dream is and if they are currently doing it,” says Dalia MacPhee, CEO of clothing brand DALIA MACPHEE. This goes beyond simply learning about their current business ventures and demonstrates that you value their passions, too.

“There’s never been a time when I’ve asked that question that someone’s eyes didn’t light up and a meaningful conversation ensue,” she says. “I’d rather skip the small talk and be the person that was remembered at an event for helping to light a fire under someone.”


Can Blockchain Prevent the Next Equifax? Not So Fast

Blockchain is a marvelous technology. It relies on sophisticated cryptography to create a tamper-proof ledger across multiple computers, eliminating fraud and mistakes. It’s no surprise, then, that pundits are popping up who say using blockchain can avert the next Equifax breach.

Too bad it’s not that easy. While blockchain is poised to transform a lot of things—from shipping to the diamond industry—it can’t fix sloppy data practices at the credit bureaus.

According to David Treat, who leads the blockchain practice at Accenture, the architecture of blockchains is not designed for massive data sets. He explained that, in the case of Equifax, the company’s business practice is about using algorithms to query a massive repository of customer records in order to spit out a credit score.


Apple Holds Product Launch Event At New Campus In Cupertino

While consumers and companies could use a blockchain to access the score, it’s still up to the credit bureaus to protect the underlying pool of personal information. Doing that, says Treat, requires segregating sensitive data and properly encrypting it.

“Their focus should be on the latest encryption and security techniques for hardening and protecting data sources,” he said, adding the same advice applies for large retailers and other institutions sitting on stacks of personal information.

But while blockchain can’t be a substitute for good data hygiene, the technology will have a role in helping individuals exert control over their identity. For example, Accenture and Microsoft are building blockchain tools that will help migrants and refugees access school and medical records. Meanwhile, Treat predicts that blockchains will be useful for age verification—meaning a young person could use a blockchain app instead of a state drivers license to enter a bar.

The bottom line is blockchain may be marvelous but it’s not a magic bullet. Thanks as always for reading—more crypto and cyber news below.

Jeff John Roberts


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


Some side hustle. Several websites tied to CBS’s Showtime deployed ad code that forced visitors’ computers to mine crypto-currency on the sly. We’re pretty sure CBS didn’t green-light this particular pilot (a rogue hacker is the most likely culprit) but it’s worth noting Pirate Bay deliberately did the same thing recently. What company will try this next?

Hackers feast on restaurants. Cyber-crooks did a drive-by on drive-thru chain Sonic, and are poised to pig out on millions of stolen credit and debit cards. Meanwhile, hackers also struck Whole Foods—no word if they’ll be charging three times the usual price when they sell the stolen data on the dark web.

You say social media, I say surveillance. It’s long been clear social media isn’t just a way to keep tab on our friends—it’s also a way for advertisers and law enforcement to keep tabs on us. But you can turn up your paranoia dial little further: Homeland Security will begin collecting social media data on all immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens (!), while the Justice Department is seeking an order for Facebook to disclose who “liked” an anti-Trump page.

Thanks for a job not well done. Equifax explained that CEO Richard Smith “retired” after his company’s giant data debacle. The retirement should be a very pleasant one: a Fortune review of security filings indicate Smith will collect over $ 90 million in the next few years. Meanwhile, the company is trying to make amends with an apology and credit freeze offers that don’t really cut it.

Losing trust in Telegram. Many in crypo-land have long suspected the secure messaging app, Telegram, is compromised by weak encryption and ties to government. Their opinion won’t improve in light of claims by a former Telegram executive that the company has a Moscow office where staff work cheek-by-jowl with Kremlin sympathizers.

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A young man died suddenly in Colorado this year, leaving his family the burden of sorting out his estate. Little did they know their loved one had been investing in Bitcoin, the digital currency that cost as little as $ 13 in 2013 and recently climbed as high as $ 5,000.

The grieving family stood to inherit a small fortune—that is, if they could only find and access the cryptocurrency.

—An excerpt from The Ledger, Fortune’s new fin-tech franchise, that looks at the challenges of tracing crypto-currency when someone passes on. If the owners don’t tell anyone about their assets (which may be worth millions), they may be lost forever.


A Stanford psychologist on the “art of avoiding a**holes.” For real. Vox has a fun (and useful) Q&A with the author of The No A**hole Rule, a 2010 guide to keeping jerks out of your company. His new work expands his advice to everyday life, including how to take the wind out of an a**shole’s sails.


Google will shore up one of its biggest cloud weaknesses next year

Google is making a major change to its cloud platform infrastructure that will help shore up one of the company’s biggest weaknesses relative to competitors like Microsoft and Amazon.

On Thursday, Urs Hölzle, the company’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, unveiled eight forthcoming regions around the world for the company’s cloud services. The regions are all slated to launch in 2017 and will be comprised of multiple data centers for companies looking to run high-availability applications.

Having a broad distribution of cloud infrastructure is important to Google’s competitive chances. More and more countries are requiring that some types of data are stored in particular geographic locations. And even with high-speed networks, a large distance between where an application is hosted and where its users are located will lead to a slowdown.

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Computerworld Cloud Computing

IBM cloud chief: The next phase of cloud is a race to add value

At 105 years old, IBM has been through more than a few major technology transformations. Arguably, none is bigger than the current retooling of the company around cloud computing – an effort overseen by Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president, IBM Cloud. LeBlanc says IT leaders and business executives aren’t caught up in Wall Street’s worries over IBM’s revenue declines or the pace of the cloud transformation.

BB: Is your sales force fully onboard with selling those cloud services versus the traditional on-premise offerings? What have you done to incent the sales force to make that shift?

BB: Partnerships seem to be another important part of your strategy. You have an expanded partnership with VMware that you spoke about at VMworld. You have a partnership with Workday. Can you explain the overall partner strategy for advancing the cloud position and what should customers expect in the way of future partnerships?

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