I don’t have any connections

I picked up a book recently with an overwhelming majority of positive reviews, but a few negative ones like this:

It’s great to be presented with new ideas for raising capital and meeting contacts, but as an Ivy League graduate, and a former wall-street analyst I think it’s fair to say the author’s contact book and access to resources is a little different than ‘most people’.

I can relate to the reviewer. When I got out of college, I had a lot of ambition, and wanted to start a software company, but… I didn’t come from money or go to an Ivy League school. I didn’t even know how to make software. And I sure as hell didn’t have any connections.

I suck at networking. “Never eat lunch alone,” the book says. I always eat lunch alone. I love it.

When I went to the first Startup School hosted my Y Combinator, all these brilliant kids from Stanford and MIT were in the crowd. Great people to know. But when we broke for lunch, I ate by myself and read a book.

And if there’s an event like a TED talk, I’m the first one to escape the conversations afterward. It’s not that I wouldn’t love talking to you. I would! I just hate the awkwardness of trying to meet.

When we applied to Y Combinator (YC) for seed funding in 2005, we got in!

I know what many are thinking, “YC is the Ivy League for startups. You’re lucky and set-up for life now.”

But remember, this was 2005-2006 - the second batch of YC. There were very few people who’d even heard of it. There weren’t articles in Forbes. And the connections YC was great at - investors - weren’t panning out for us. What we needed were enterprise clients for Inkling, but there weren’t any in our rolodex.

The author of that book, Do Cool Sh*t, is Miki Agrawal.

When Miki wanted to be an entrepreneur and open up a pizza business, she didn’t have the background. She reached out to investors. How’d that go? Terribly. No one was interested. It took persistence to come up with an innovative way to bring potential investors together - hosting a dinner party for them - that got her the attention she needed to raise funding.

When she needed press, she had zero connections. So, she snuck into the offices of newspapers and simply introduced herself.

And when she wanted to meet Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, to partner on business, she emailed and reminded him they’d met. They hadn’t. Now he’s written the intro to her book and investing in her businesses.

When I was 8 my father bet my uncle that the Bears would beat the Patriots in the 1985 Super Bowl. And boy did the Bears beat the Patriots. So we drove to Maine to collect the bet - lobsters. When we drove into Maine, my father had us dress in our Bears gear. We decorated the car and carried signs about the bet and the score of the game. My father called the newspaper, knowing no one there, told them about the bet, and that they should show up to take some photos when he greeted my uncle. They did. We were in the paper the next day.

My father’s behavior with the newspaper rubbed off.

When I wanted a better job, I emailed random people at work trying to help them make the corporation better until I got noticed and promoted. And when I wanted contacts for my business, I emailed Mark Cuban, Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce.com), and on and on. No intros. Just cold emails.

And I got conversations and meetings with most of those mentioned or their companies. We got one of our first deals for $30,000 from this lack of “connections”.

I don’t understand people stuck with zero connections. There’s an entire rolodex in front of us with billions of connections. They’re on Facebook or Twitter or there are plenty of ways to figure out their email. Many entrepreneurs are happy to answer questions you have. There’s Dan Martell’s Clarity where you can call them. There are AMAs (Ask me Anything) on Adii Pienaar’s Public Beta or Reddit where entrepreneurs like Hiten Shah or Alexis Ohanian answer everything. You just have to ask.

See, when I read Miki’s story, I saw her hustling up new users or customers or press contacts instead of spending time whining about what she doesn’t have. What separates the successful and unsuccessful aren’t resources; they just spend their time differently using them.

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.

Or, you should get my latest newsletter.


Now read this

Faster Rails partial rendering and caching. 78% improvement of test application

Using a new gem I created, I was able to optimize a Rails action by 78% (152 ms to 34 ms). The gem takes advantage of Rail’s read_multi method to retrieve cached partials in parallel instead of the traditional route of sequentially... Continue →