No matter what kind of startup you’re building, professional relationships will play an important role in the growth of your company. From validating your startup’s business model to finding potential co-founders; from engaging with prospective customers or users to connecting with potential investors and advisors, building the right business relationships can help your company start up and scale up.

Networking events, conferences and meetups can help bring you together with some of the people you should meet. Founders can discover the best of these events through platforms like Meetup, Lanyrd, Happening, Eventbrite, Pickevent or TableCrowd.

Angel investors, VCs, advisors and mentors can also help to grow your network by introducing you to useful contacts. But online networking platforms can also play an important role in connecting startup founders with peers, potential co-founders, users, or advisors, and a number of platforms are specifically designed to serve the needs of founders.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the first platform that springs to mind when most founders think of professional networking. However, LinkedIn is largely geared towards connecting users with people they already know, and most professionals use it as a sort of digital rolodex. Useful? Definitely. A good way to discover and engage with new peers, prospective customers, investors, mentors and likeminded professionals? Not so much.

Lens

(Full disclosure: I work at Lens)

Lens has been specifically designed to solve the problems LinkedIn ignores. The platform helps startup founders, developers, and designers discover, connect with, and help people they should know but may not have met in real life. In short, Lens democratizes professional networking, overcoming LinkedIn’s limitations and creating an environment where startup founders can discover and engage with potential co-founders, future hires, likeminded peers, or possible mentors.

Lens is currently invitation-only, but StartUp Beat readers can request early access here.

Quibb

Quibb is a small, tight-knit professional network where users share industry news, offer their own insights and connect with other professionals. Quibb is invitation-only, and users can apply for membership here. Quibb’s founder personally approves or rejects every application based on the applicant’s education and work experience, with approved members generally drawn from blue chip companies or venture-backed startups.

Opprtunity

Opprtunity tackles one of LinkedIn’s limitations head-on by specifically connecting business professionals with people they don’t know. The platform uses a predictive algorithm to match users based on their work history, professional interests and business needs. However, Opprtunity does come with some limitations of its own—users are not able to search for others on the network, relying instead on the company’s recommendation engine, and the platform’s free accounts limit users to 10 connections per month.

AngelList

AngelList describes itself as ‘a platform for startups,’ with good reason. While it is primarily geared towards profiling startups (their product or service, their funding rounds, their founding teams) and connecting those startups with investors, founders can also use the platform to follow, interact with, and message other founders, investors, and potential hires.

Over 600,000 startups and 1.4 million people are now on AngelList, making it a great place for founders.

Geeklist

Geeklist is a professional network where technical founders and other developers can connect and share details about their startups and side projects. The startup was involved in a vicious Twitter storm a couple of years ago following accusations of sexism, but has recovered from the negative publicity and now boasts over 100,000 registered users. For technical founders, Geeklist is definitely worth checking out.

Best of both worlds

When it comes to professional networking there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all for startup founders, but a combination of offline and online networking seems like a sensible plan. Event discovery platforms like Pickevent and TableCrowd play an important role in helping founders find offline networking opportunities, while professional networks like AngelList and Lens can help entrepreneurs discover and engage with people they really should know but don’t.

Phil Hoey is Chief Commercial Officer of Lens, a professional network for startup founders, developers and designers. Lens is currently invitation only, but StartUp Beat readers can request early access here.