My mentor/friend Larry Chiang inspired me to write this story.
It is a story from personal experience of building genuine friendships with mentors, and the value of learning from them.
Last year at the inaugural TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York City, I was unexpectedly introduced (via text message) to the famed man of technology influence, Robert Scoble. My interaction with him was intentionally brief: we chatted for about two minutes and then took a couple pictures on stage afterwards. I was careful to avoid taking advantage of his time. I also didn’t ask him for his business card. Why? Because Scoble lives a radically transparent life; he posts his contact info all over the place on the World Wide Web.
So, how did I come to be introduced to Robert Scoble? Larry Chiang.
A MEMORABLE MEETING IN 2009 LEADS TO A MEMORABLE TEXT MESSAGE IN 2010
Because I was a volunteer at the TechCrunch conference, my badge gave me access to walk backstage and cut to the front seats in the auditorium. At one point, I tweeted about how awesome it felt to be sitting just a couple rows behind several heroes of mine, including Michael Arrington, Ron Conway, and Scoble. About 20 minutes later I got a text from Mr. Chiang.
His exact text was (and I will never forget how pumped I was reading this): “I just emailed and texted Michael Arrington, Ron Conway, and Robert Scoble about you. Go up and say hi to them.”
So, is my point going to be that the secret is to use Twitter to make a wish, and then hope that a ‘dream-maker’ swoops in and takes care of the rest? Not quite.
Let me rewind the story. Let’s go back to one year before TechCrunch Disrupt. I was in San Francisco for the Web 2.0 Expo (you can see my pictures, here) with my brother Phil Exley and our friend Ben Henschel. It was my sophomore year of university, and I was at my very first tech conference. We decided to go to a ‘Birds of a Feather‘ event after the conference called “Peek Into a Secret Society of Entrepreneurs“. Albeit somewhat skeptical about the title, I was intrigued. Guess who was the dude running the show? That’s right, none other than Larry Chiang.
WHO IS LARRY CHIANG?
Long-story-somewhat-shorter: Larry is the Co-Founder and CEO of duck9, a writer for BusinessWeek, the author of “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School“, and the unabashed ‘king of the afterparty’ (my words). In fact, I encourage you to sign in to Facebook and read his “How To Work an AfterParty” post.
At the event, Larry emphasized the importance of not leaving until you had met ONE person you aimed to keep in touch with long term. Larry said that if every person there built one strong relationship with a fellow entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, he would have done his job. I was blessed to meet Ian Spector, and to this day we are good friends.
WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO STAY IN TOUCH
During the summer, I did my best to stay in touch with Larry. I hit him up on Twitter from time to time, read his articles, and even called him once while I was researching the concept of “moonlighting” from your 9-to-5 job to start a startup.
Fast forward. One last story-within-a-story before we come full-circle. It was the fall of 2009, and I was headed to New York City for the east coast version of Web 2.0 Expo. It had been several months since I first met Larry. I was on a Greyhound bus that was stuck in traffic in the midst of a 10 hour trip that began at Clarkson University and ended in Manhattan. Fortunately, there was WiFi on the bus. At one point, it occurred to me that I ought to check out Larry’s Twitter page. I notice that he’s in NYC, planning to attend Web 2.0 just like I am. Typical of Larry, he’s throwing an afterparty on the first night of the conference. I text him, RSVP for the party, and we meet up.
At the afterparty, Larry enlisted my help in preparing the venue for his signature Birds of a Feather event; offering to teach me some public speaking tips beforehand. I ended up taking the lessons he taught me and using them back at my university. They were the theme of my public speaking course’s final speech.
Six months later I find myself sitting in the same room with many technology luminaries, including Robert Scoble. Although Larry is across the country in California, he finds a way to perform an unexpected act of awesomeness. Larry sends a text message that gives me the opportunity to meet the great Scobleizer. I build up some courage, introduce myself, and begin with how I am the friend of Larry. Scoble laughs and says hello, and then I proceed to mention how I just returned from studying abroad in Singapore.
To establish some rapport, I told him how I interviewed Ming Yong, the Founder and CEO of Socialwok while I was in Singapore. Socialwok is a company that he worked with at TechCrunch50 when they won the Demopit Award in September 2009.
I then asked if he would mind if we took a picture on stage. While I admit to simply being addicted to taking pictures, it’s also important to me for a number of reasons. First of all, it helps me to remember the people that I’ve met (and vice versa). In the future, Scoble may remember me easier if he can see a picture of when we met. Additionally, it adds a layer of credibility to be pictured with an influencer in the industry I’m so ridiculously passionate about.
So, the key lessons I learned? Build genuine, meaningful relationships. Help your friends and when appropriate, introduce them to people who they may be able to help or who may help them (but not before reading this!). If you have the opportunity, be confident in going up and introducing yourself to the people you respect. Do your best to ask compelling questions. Finally, follow up! Put in the hustle required to stay in touch. You never know when the day might come where you end up meeting a hero of your own.
Many thanks to Larry for everything he’s taught me.
Please share your insight in the comments, I’d love to hear your feedback. If by any chance Scoble is reading this, I hope we meet again!