Why Do You Network?
I’ve obviously been rather outspoken regarding my feelings about networking, as indicated in my recent Forbes article, and I fully intend to continue. With that said, I wanted to provide an example of how making myself uncomfortable and then following up, making myself uncomfortable again, then following up, took me from a casual restaurant bar on a Sunday to a new friendship and afternoon strategy session in the board room of a $350,000,000 tech giant, with the CEO.
On a Sunday evening while having dinner with my parents, who just happened to be in town from Arizona, we were sitting at the bar of a great local restaurant. As we were eating, a guy walked in and handed the bartender a bottle of wine and they chatted like they were friends (we’ll call him John). I’m pretty involved in wine but I didn’t recognize the label. I overheard John mention that this was their first release (first year they actually bottled and sold the wine to the public) so I asked the simple question, “where is it from?”. We started into a very basic but friendly exchange regarding his winery, their production volumes and methods. After a minute or two of idle chat, I briefly explained that I was working on a wine company, gave him my 10 second overview, solicited a business card and mentioned that we should get together sometime to talk about wine (something we were both very obviously interested in), to which he agreed. Very important note; common ground was found. I wasn’t just asking some random guy to have dinner with me, that would be weird. You absolutely must find common ground.
The next day, not the next week, I sent John a follow-up email to say that it was great to meet him and that we should find a date/time to get together for some vino and learn more about each others businesses. At the end of the very short email, I suggested 2 possible dates. This is important because it eliminates the back and forth of “I can go during this week but not that” and puts the other person to a decision, yes or no. If they’re not interested in meeting up and talking business, no big deal. What do you have to lose? The good news is that we agreed on a date/time and made it happen.
Within a few weeks we had dinner and, well, 2 bottles of wine and were both in agreement that we’d do what we could to help one another in business, with nothing solidified. It just so happens that his 2 business partners in the winery are highly successful tech giants. My new business is a tech company, focused around wine. Luck? From there we’ve remained friends and stayed in touch.
A month later my wife and I were attending the Manhattan Wine Auction and were able to get a couple extra tickets for John, his wife and a few friends. One of the friends was his business partner in the winery and also the CEO of a major IT consulting company that does hundreds of millions in revenues annually. At the event I had the chance to chat with the CEO and he already knew that I was building a mobile wine application (thanks John). We didn’t talk business for more than 30 seconds but it was long enough for me to repeat the same process; I said, “I’d love to learn about your business and talk tech” and he responded, “sounds good”. And that was that, very simple. I was able to get his email from John and reached out to follow-up the next day, thanked him for coming to the wine auction and proposed firm dates on getting together to “talk tech”. He responded, directed me to his assistant and we put a date on the books.
A week later I was sitting with him in the board room at their corporate headquarters talking about his great company, their business philosophies, new products and ultimately PiCK (my newest company). We had almost a 2 hour strategy session and pulled apart numerous assumptions that I had made regarding the business and revenue models for PiCK, resulting in my altering a number of paths in a much more clear and simple direction. And guess what; he’s already thinking of other people to connect me to that could be of help as I progress. What kind of network do you think he has?!
I present this short story as an example of some of the pretty amazing things that can transpire as a result of creating a network by making yourself uncomfortable and properly following up. Without pushing your own limits and making substantial and concerted effort, you will not have a network that will provide you with the necessary and unbelievably helpful resources that, as an entrepreneur, you’ll come to rely on.