(Cocktail served on a dark bar top garnished with a lime by arturasker via Shutterstock)
I push the glass doors open and the party noise hits me like a cold gust of wind.
The room is filled with a blue-tinted glow from the social media-connected screen mounted on the wall, with the silhouettes of startup executives and bankers mingling in front of it.
In the corner of my vision, a woman guffaws with laughter, unknowingly spilling some of her drink onto her dress. The din of the crowd grows louder as I weave my way through a rowdy pack of investment banking interns and arrive at the bar. After working her way through a couple layers of customers, the barkeep swivels to me.
“What can I get you?” she asks.
“Club soda with lime,” I say. I slide a ten across the bar. “And I’m gonna order this as a vodka soda a few times tonight. Do you get what I mean?”
She nods with understanding and turns back to her throng of customers. Bartenders are used to people like me. There’s more sober people out there than you’d think.
I quit drinking when I launched HireKeep for the same reason that many new parents effectively quit drinking when they have their first kid. When you pour every last bit of your energy into caring for something, you just don’t have the time or stamina to be inebriated for a few hours.
It’s a common-sense idea and it has absolutely made me a more productive entrepreneur by improving my physical and cognitive health. But teetotaling in the startup world comes with one challenge that parents don’t have: In many situations, people like me are expected to drink on the job.
How to abstain from alcohol yet still look approachable?
Networking functions with alcohol aren’t unique to the tech sector, but the startup world does clearly have an above-average penchant for boozy events. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just the millennial work-hard-play-hard attitude or maybe it’s related to the unfortunate shift away from “work-life balance” to “work-life multitasking” espoused by some notable companies in our sphere.
Whatever the cause, I’m not writing this article to go on a tirade about startup drinking culture. I’m writing this as advice for other entrepreneurs and innovators who want a subtle way to stay sober and sharp; a way to “opt out” of the booziness of many startup events without offending any potential connections.
Two words: fake drinking.
Alcohol is woven into the social norms of our culture. It’s everyone’s go-to bonding activity, and as a result, we non-drinkers risk coming across as less approachable. That’s why a club soda with lime is one of my most valuable networking tools. It lets me stay alert and operating at 100 percent at tech-sector events, without losing the humanizing effect of a drink in my hand.
Shrewd as it may sound, I also have an undeniable advantage as the more sober party in these professional interactions. The “vodka sodas” I sip at events like Tech Madness help me get closer to important people through drinking camaraderie, but I’m able to choose my words more strategically than in an authentic drunken conversation.
My cold-turkey approach to tech events isn’t right for everyone, and I’m not passing judgement on people who do use alcohol as a social lubricant at these gatherings. However, I recommend that all entrepreneurs try my club soda experiment once. Experience the clearheadedness of sober networking, and you might find that you like it better than keeping a business buzz.