You Get What You Give: Networking With Intention
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You Get What You Give: Networking With Intention

Jashin Lin (HBS ’23), founder of Growbie, discusses her experience at the i-lab’s 2024 Women Founders Forum and how networking is key to her success.

Jashin Lin networking at the 2024 i-lab Alumni & Friends Dinner.
Jashin Lin chats with her mentor Eileen Rudden at the 2024 i-lab Alumni & Friends Dinner, which was held on the evening of the 2024 Harvard Women Founders Forum.

For some Harvard student and alumni founders, networking is a walk in the park. For others, it’s an uphill climb. But regardless of how naturally (or not so naturally) networking might come, its importance in the startup world can’t be understated — especially for founders who belong to underserved communities.

It would be tough to find someone more well-versed in the art of networking than Jashin Lin (HBS ’23), founder and CEO of Growbie, a networking bootcamp for international students building careers in the United States. Growbie began as Jashin’s passion project: Its beginnings trace back to 2015, when Jashin, who grew up in China, was pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

In May, Jashin joined us at the 2024 Harvard Women Founders Forum, a first-of-its-kind event that brought together more than 50 women founders from the i-lab community for a jam-packed day of connection and celebration. Jashin spoke to us about her experience at the Harvard Women Founders Forum, the connections she has built through her i-lab involvement, and Growbie’s progress in the year since Jashin graduated from Harvard Business School.

Celebrating community through sharing hard-earned wisdom

The Harvard Women Founders Forum was “a perfect mix of learning and networking,” says Jashin, who especially loved how the event was “created just for women — it was about feeling seen and feeling heard. The moment I walked into the room, I felt super comfortable and very connected to everyone.”

In addition to forum-wide sessions like “Human Reinvention: The Transformative Power of Human Possibility,” hosted by leadership coach Julie Jungalwala, each participant joined small roundtable discussions tailored to topics of their choice. Jashin came in with a clear focus for the day: marketing. “That’s what I care about at my current stage [with Growbie],” she says.

Jashin’s first roundtable was “Growth Marketing” with Beth Ann Lopez (SPH ‘18), founder and former CEO of Docosan. “Beth has a B2C health startup with millions of users, and what I love is how she really bootstrapped her way there. While we [at Growbie] also have fantastic traction and organic growth,” says Jashin, she’s “a little stuck” on how to take Growbie’s user base to the next level. Beth recommended that Jashin analyze which marketing channel is working best and focus on one at a time. “I think hearing from her on the success that she has had gave me validation in terms of what I should do next.”

After meeting with Beth, Jashin pivoted to a “Strategic Partnerships” session with Alicia Tulsee (HES ’15), founder of modernized medical apparel line Moxie Scrubs. Moxie has successfully partnered with high-profile brands like Sephora, which inspired Jashin: “I was like, ‘How can you do that, especially when you’re such a small company?’” But Alicia shared tips and tricks for securing game-changing collaborations with other brands. After getting acquainted at the Forum, Jashin and Alicia plan to connect again later this summer to check in on Jashin’s plans for Growbie’s partnerships.

“We are quite proud of what we were able to achieve in the past 12 months in terms of customer acquisition. But the Women’s Forum came at the right time. Because I’m able to get 20 [additional customers per month], but how do I get 200? That was my big question walking into the forum. Both Beth and Alicia gave me some answers, and now I’m going to execute.”

The magic of mentorship at the i-lab and beyond

The new connections Jashin built at the 2024 Women Founders Forum were just the latest in a series of i-lab relationships that have served Jashin well throughout the past three years of her journey with Growbie.

“There are a couple of mentors who I’ve loved meeting through the i-lab,” Jashin says. One of them is tech investor and education aficionado Eileen Rudden (HBS ’76), one of the i-lab’s many seasoned volunteer experts who coach student founders on their journeys. Last year, Eileen met with Jashin regularly to refine Growbie’s strategy and provide personal support. Since Jashin has now graduated, the two no longer meet regularly as part of the i-lab’s expert office hours program but have stayed in touch and were delighted to reconnect at the 2024 Women Founders Forum.

And though she’s only been an alum for a year, Jashin is already paying it forward: She recently introduced one of her other mentors, Julia Yan, to the i-lab community. Julia is the former head of growth at TikTok, where she majorly contributed to the short-form video app’s meteoric rise in the social media stratosphere. “She will be a fantastic addition to the i-lab’s expert list,” says Jashin, commenting that Julia will be especially helpful for “B2C companies like mine that want to talk to Gen Z.”

Three steps to get started

If you’re a Harvard student interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, all of this probably sounds great. But where do you start with building these connections? And what if you don’t yet see yourself as the networking type? Jashin recommends three simple steps for nervous newbies to keep in mind.

  1. Just show up. “If you don’t show up, there’s no opportunity after that. Even if you’re stressed out and dreading it, it won’t be as scary as you think,” says Jashin.
  2. No need to have a speech prepared. When you speak to someone new, start by saying hi with a big smile. When it comes to networking in the entrepreneurship world, “there’s a more fun, authentic connection,” says Jashin. With regular corporate recruiting, everyone knows you’re there to get a job, but among founders, “maybe you’re here to pitch your idea, but [the atmosphere] is very light. It’s just part of the culture.”
  3. Stay in touch. Jashin recommends using the LinkedIn mobile app’s QR code feature to easily connect with people you speak to at networking events. “Everybody uses LinkedIn,” says Jashin. Leveraging the platform lets you save the time it takes to collect email addresses and send individual messages to everyone you meet.

But to put these tips in practice, you’ll need to find out about networking events in the first place. “The number one thing [Harvard students] should do is sign up for the i-lab newsletter,” says Jashin. Pro tip: In addition to the i-lab’s monthly newsletter, which features top events and opportunities for the month ahead, student members receive a weekly email with even more options to choose from at Harvard and across Boston’s booming startup ecosystem.

Jashin tables for Growbie at an i-lab event.

Growing with Growbie

What’s next for Jashin and Growbie? Well, “Growbie is growing!” says Jashin. In her first year as a full-time founder, Growbie held a bootcamp every month, with enrollment growing steadily at a rate of around 20 additional students monthly. The company has also added a new revenue stream through the introduction of what Jashin calls Growbie’s “hook product”: a PDF guidebook on how to have a coffee chat.

“We are quite proud of what we were able to achieve in the past 12 months in terms of customer acquisition,” says Jashin. “But the Women’s Forum came at the right time. Because I’m able to get 20 [additional customers per month], but how do I get 200? That was my big question walking into the forum. Both Beth and Alicia gave me some answers, and now I’m going to execute.”

Though Growbie is thriving, “being a founder is the toughest job I’ve ever had,” says Jashin. “It’s thrilling, but also very exhausting.” Leaning on those who understand her position is key for Jashin to survive the stress — from her dynamic team at Growbie to the strong web of mentors, partners, and peers she has woven through the power of networking.