For the last 11 months, I’ve been working on my next book. I spend almost all my time and attention hunting down world-class Millennials, speaking with them to learn about and understand their stories, and package it together so you can soon read it and be inspired once more.
But allow me to shoot back to last year, namely July 2015.
2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing The World had just been released by St. Martin’s Press. Taylor Swift was still on her 1989 tour. The executives behind Jurassic World were counting cash as they’d hit over $500,000,000 in the box offices.
(Although personally, I was still waiting for Straight Outta Compton to hit theaters, which was AMAZING!!!!
Anyways, this post is about what happened years before that book launch, from early 2012 until mid-July 2015. In those three years, I grew my network from scratch (nothing, zero, zilch) to one that prompted USA Today to call me “The Most Connected Millennial”.
And after 11 months, it is time to share how I went from a 16 year old high school student with no connections in the business world to releasing the #1 Entrepreneurship and Small Business Book of 2015 with endorsements from people like Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), contributors including professional athletes, social media influencers, and millionaire entrepreneurs, and friends in the press that covered our book launch in almost every major media outlet.
If you’re up for the ride, this is not going to be a short revealing of my secrets. But, I’ll try my best to remember all the ideas, strategies, and tactics I used to go from “no-network” to “super-connecter”.
1) Start Somewhere
When I was 15, I started my first business. With less than $5,000 I’d saved up from working in the family catering business one or two weekends a quarter since 11, I created a site called NowIGetIt.com that was supposed to allow you to get access to tutors from around the world via web-chat.
I didn’t have the mentors or connections I know now – my main source of help was a local businessman in his late 30s who, despite having good intentions with me, had spent time in prison for securities fraud on Wall Street (as I later found out). He actually had a few close relationships to the Wolf of Wall Street, which made me a little nervous later.
After losing almost all that money, at 16 I felt frustrated. It was as if I went backwards, and not only did I have no network, but I had a negative one. Then, I read an article in Forbes called, “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know In Silicon Valley” about this guy David who threw mansion dinner parties and hosted the likes of professional soccer players, Warren Buffett’s former pilot, and even Tim Ferriss.
I immediately reached out to him, and offered to work unpaid in exchange for his mentorship. I knew all I had to give was my energy – my entrepreneurial track record hadn’t quite gotten off to the best start and I didn’t know anyone. But know I knew David. Which leads me into my next point.
2) Doing More Work Than Paid For
I had this sense that David was going to teach me a lot. So, I went all out and worked for around one full year – 365 days – without pay just so I could learn from him and be a part of his VC-backed tech company.
That’s a lot of time to work without earning money, trust me. However, following David’s advice for a few months and using the networking tips and strategies he used to build a world-class network allowed me to start meeting people and developing meaningful relationships within the first few months on the job. After attending a major conference put on by the Thiel Foundation and – for the first time – being in the same room with other like-minded Millennials who thought about science and starting companies and building organizations that helped people in need, I knew I had to take things to the next level.
I wanted to put myself in the middle of all the action.
So I finally got on payroll and moved to San Francisco for a summer at 17. I went to every networking event, eating pizza four nights a week out of seven because every event I attended served it alongside beer I wasn’t supposed to be drinking. I spoke to everyone who gave me their attention. I had to. Every room was full of positive people starting companies, taking their ideas and convincing others to support them, working with each other to raise money, or help friends get better jobs, or close new sales. And I was there to listen.
Throughout this phase of my life, my network grew tremendously. When I moved back to Florida, my connecting skills were in place to the point that I was meeting people all over the world through my laptop.
Two years later, when my first book came out and my network was world-class, I had already put in years of work to build my network because I did more work than I was paid for – I “paid” my dues.
3) Super-Connectors Are The Secret
Fast forward and I’m eating dinner with 8-time New York Times bestselling author Neil Strauss in Malibu.
Since 16, I tried meeting lots of new people, but there were always certain types of people I sought to meet more than others. These people are what I call super-connectors. The first one I met was Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh when I joined him for dinner in Miami. Later, it would be David, then marketing legend Eben Pagan, and then Neil Strauss.
Joining us for dinner were two Google employees, and an entertainment executive attempting to pitch Neil on working with him for a new Netflix show. And then, Craig and Sarah.
Craig had worked directly under Eben Pagan (go figure) for years, becoming one of the world’s top copywriters in the process. Sarah (who will be featured in my next book) took on decades of research and transitioned out of modeling into her own holistic health coaching and meditation trainings.
Since I met Craig and Sarah, I’ve gone on to meet TV hosts, famous photographers who regularly work with people like Justin Bieber, Lewis Howes, and Usher, entrepreneurs running some of the hottest tech startups, Tony award-winners, and even the co-creator of Supersize Me. But look at how I met them…
- David introduced me to Eben (by having me join him at an event in Miami).
- Eben introduced me to Neil (we met at Eben’s conference in Sedona).
- Neil introduced me to Craig and Sarah (at Neil’s dinner in Malibu).
In less than a year, I made connections with a few “super-connectors” who in turn introduced me to more “super-connectors” as well as other influential people in the process.
(By the way, between you and me, do NOT show this post to Craig – he’s one of the top 3 copywriters on the planet and will check every word I write to you for its emotional implication and spelling! So much pressure…).
You can see how this network-effect led me to meeting NFL legend Dan Marino here (bet you didn’t see that story-line coming). We all make connections all the time, but few people we meet are unequally connected to others that drive your industry, whatever work you may be in. Knowing who is most connected, and making it your mission to befriend these people first, allows you the opportunity to meet countless others of a certain caliber with leverage.
There’s another trick to this too.
You don’t have to necessarily befriend “super-connectors” right away. Simply being in their presence will allow you to meet amazing people. At SXSW this year, I visited the Book In A Box offices, a company started by another future book contributor Zach and his business partner Tucker Max. Now, Tucker is in-demand and knows lots of great people, so being in a private setting with Tucker – even if we didn’t build a longer-term relationship – allowed me to meet a man who has helped over 30 authors hit the New York Times list, another person who manages major music acts like Krewella, and a third who has an office two minutes from mine and knows a lot about the fashion industry.
I could talk about “super-connectors” for days. The whole point I’m trying to make is that there is a way to build your network quickly by meeting the right people who can, in turn, introduce you to more people that you would benefit from knowing. It’s definitely been one of my main secrets in building a world-class network in less than 5 years.
To save us both time, let me go in further depth on three specific ways to get in touch and be interesting to influential people. Remember, the whole goal of doing this is to meet the people who can take your business, personal life, or creative project like a book launch, to the next level. To gain the accolades, experiences, and compensation (financially or otherwise) you deserve given how hard you work at your craft.
And with that in mind, here’s why I think I’ve done a kick-ass job at meeting “super-connectors”.
4) Cold Emails That Don’t Suck
OK, so this one probably needs some back-story. Back when I read the Forbes article that changed my life, I didn’t know how I was going to contact David.
David is really busy and gets hundreds of emails each week. Important people ask him for favors, friends invite him to events, and groups like the Entrepreneurs Organization used to have him manage their communities and act as their President. How was I going to stand out and get his attention? It was obvious I had to send a “cold” email – or reach out without knowing him – but the real secret was how and why I sent an email the way I did.
One of the first audio books I ever listened to revealed the secret I would use to get my foot in the door. In fact, you already know what it is, because we talked about it in #2. Doing more work than paid for. Napoleon Hill (you may know him from Think and Grow Rich) talked about this in his books, and I used it as part of my cold emails. Here’s how it worked.
When I reached out to David, I put his needs first. I thought about the value that I could provide him, and why he should consider such an email exchange with someone like me who he didn’t know. I shared what “work” or value I was willing to give him upfront to continue the conversation (like me typing all my secrets for you right now…). Naturally, a “super-connector” will be more interested in what you can do for them rather than vice-versa.
This strategy, for the purposes of adding some comedic relief to this mega post, can be called “Napoleon Hill’s Genius Idea”, or NHGI for short. NHGI changed my entire career trajectory, and here’s how.
When I cold emailed David, I told him that I was merely 16 at the time and knew that the main value I could offer him was free work. Using NHGI, I offered to work unpaid in exchange for his mentorship, and that was the end of my email. No “woe is me” story – no begging. Simply, “Here’s what I can do for you, Mr. Super-Connector.”
As you can read earlier, the rest is history and I spend two years total at David’s VC-backed enterprise software startup. Towards the end of our working arrangement when I saw I’d need more work, I did the same thing with corporate god and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi.
This time it was a little different. I used a secret we will talk about shortly in Secret #6, but stick with me. As you can see, I offered Keith value in our first email using NHGI, and over the next 48 hours, I probably send 30-something emails back and forth with one of the most connected people on the planet (he literally wrote THE book on professional relationship-building) and hopped on a couple calls with him and his staff. At 18 years old. And then worked for a month for free before negotiating a $5,000 per month consulting fee to bring him on as my first-ever client of Kleinert Ventures, my marketing and business development consulting firm.
Because Keith Ferrazzi became yet another “super-connector” I’ve acquainted my personal brand with, I could then use a different strategy in half my forthcoming emails. As your network grows, getting to new “super-connectors” becomes easier and easier.
5) Warm Introductions
Remember how I connected the dots before in how I met Craig and Sarah?
It went David -> Eben -> Neil -> Craig and Sarah.
Here’s why that was possible. Along the way, I got warm introductions to new “super-connectors” from the people I already knew. Before reaching out to anyone now-a-days, I’ll check my network to see if I know anyone that is a mutual friend who can make the introduction for me so I don’t have to reach out cold. Even if you are really good at reaching out cold, using other people’s approval of connecting you with someone you want to meet establishes immediate trust and urgency.
This works in our favor, and helps us meet the “super-connectors” we want.
How do I find who is a mutual connection? I have a few strategies.
First, I’ll use tools, some right-under-your-nose and you just can’t smell it yet, and some are a little newer and I’ll gladly make you aware of them.
First would be looking at social networks like Facebook and Linkedin to see if you have any mutual friends or connections with someone. This makes sense, right? These social media platforms give us the ability to see who knows the people we want to know.
For example, I just looked up Mark Cuban.
If I wanted to meet Mark Cuban, rather than reaching out cold, I would first go to Linkedin and Facebook.
On Linkedin, I’d check two sections. First, I’d scroll down and on the right menu bar look for a section that says “How You’re Connected”. There it would show me any mutual connections I had to anyone I looked up. Back on the left, in the main text area of the web page, I could also look at “Connections” to get a clearer description of the main people who are mutually connected to me and the person I’m trying to meet, complete with their job title.
On Facebook, you can simply type a person’s name in the search bar and go to the “Friends” tab to see your mutual connections. For example. with Mark I have 7 mutual Facebook friends. I could then click on that to check all my mutual friends one-by-one and ask someone to make the intro.
Now, I recommend doing this only if you have something of value to provide to someone you are looking to connect with. That doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is that you don’t have to reach out by yourself. You can easily explain to a mutual connection why you’d want to meet one of their friends, and if you surround yourself with other “super-connectors” or people with integrity and value of their own, you can actually leverage the trust that person has with the person you are looking to meet. With Craig and Sarah, I leveraged the inherent trust they had in Neil Strauss. With Neil, he trusted Eben and the fact that I wouldn’t be in his presence if Eben didn’t like or trust me. Same thing with Eben and David. You get it, right?
But what do you do when you don’t know if there are any mutual connections?
Then, I suggest you use a tool called Conspire.
Conspire shows you different “paths” to meeting someone based on your mutual connections with that person and the frequency you speak to the mutual connection, and that mutual connection speaks to the person you’re looking to connect with. You can ask for intros using the teal buttons on the left hand side, and use this tool even if you are 3 degrees away from someone. It’s really helpful to see all the ways to get to someone with a warm intro.
Finally, if it is in the corporate world, and let’s say you’re looking to meet a Vice President in a company or higher. Ask someone in the lower ranks for the right person to speak with, and as soon as they give you the name of a person to chat with, even if they don’t make the connection use the referrer’s name in a new email to the person you are attempting to reach out to and say “John Smith said we should speak…”.
That works almost every time. It’s not quite the warm intro, but it is much better than a cold email and still has the same transfer of trust as a warm intro. Try it now. I’ll wait.
6) Promoting Social Proof
Most people go to college for one big reason. It’s to have “social proof” with a certain network (or if you go to a great school, lots of networks) so you can can come off as “one of them” when reaching out to new people. You went to University of [INSERT CITY]…I went to University of [INSERT SAME CITY]…GREAT! We are probably going to get along.
I don’t have a degree. I also haven’t worked for well-known and credible corporations like Apple, Google, or Tesla which would have the same effect if I name-dropped it in conversation or in outreach to someone I wanted to connect with.
So, over the last few years I’ve had to build up my own “social proof” credentials so people know I’m legit before we ever connect, when they are googling me, getting a cold email from me, or getting an intro to me from a mutual connection.
Today, when I get in touch with people, they see the following email signature.
USA Today’s “Most Connected Millennial”. United Nation’s “Champion For Humanity”. “TED” speaker or “award-winning” author.
All of these things are social proof so someone says, “oh – they must be worth meeting” when they get an email from me. In fact, you’re probably reading this article and meeting me right now because I used one of these social proof “credentials” in the headline to this first post about my secrets of “super-connectors”.
Which, by the way, this is already a few thousand words long, but if you want to get Parts 2 and 3 of this, let me know here.
I didn’t always have these credentials. But, whatever stage you are in your career, you should be thinking about what credentials you do have that you can advertise about yourself to help you stand out, and you should also think about what it would take to acquire new ones.
Press is one great way to get invaluable social proof. Doing great work and getting knock-out testimonials from important people would be another way (which, you can get by doing short-term free work for those people in exchange for written or even video testimonials if you do a good job).
Now, this being said, some credentials may “expire” or become less and less valuable over time. One of my friends Brent revealed the “scam” of becoming an Amazon bestselling author – a social proof credential authors have been using for years to sell more expensive coaching or consulting packages despite not being the best at what they do. It actually only takes $3 and 5 minutes to become a “bestselling” author on Amazon, which Brent proved here, and so now I’m really cautious and call myself an “award-winning” author because it is another step above bestselling and is harder to fake. While people still respect the bestselling author tag, you never want to compromise your social proof.
Same with TEDx talks. I was able to give a TED talk last year, and so I immediately stopped advertising that I was a TEDx speaker (a feat I accomplished in 2013) and only referenced the TED talk from now on because it is harder to accomplish and it a more prominent credential when thousands of people are doing not-so-stellar TEDx talks and passing themselves off as excellent speakers.
Point is, you want to use your social proof as much as possible because it allows you to use the trust that we have with certain media outlets, institutions like TED, or job titles and positions to meet new people and establish trust immediately rather than having to start from scratch.
7) Choose Work That Forces You To Meet New People
Of course, there is a way to accelerate the growth of your network using some of the strategies above, but as frequently as possible.
One type of work that forces you to meet “super-connectors” is sales. Especially B2B, or business-to-business sales.
When I was at David’s company, an enterprise software startup, one of my last main projects was helping to create the outbound sales system they eventually used to go from a few hundred customers to a few thousand customers. At one point, I was emailing between 50-200 people each week and following up on the phone with most of them. Each person we reached out to was David’s peer essentially – either the founder or CEO of a venture-backed startup with more than 50 employees, or they were Vice Presidents of larger companies who could benefit from using our software.
Every time I got in touch with one of these people, my network grew. I still speak to some of these people to this day, years after working for David. The sales position forced me to speak to a lot of “super-connectors” every day, and so my network grew quickly.
With my books 2 Billion Under 20 and now 3 Billion Under 30, each time I had to identify and connect with at least 75 top-performing Millennials, from pro athletes to successful entrepreneurs, Hollywood A-listers, social media influencers, writers, non-profit founders, people who developed nuclear fusion reactors in their garage, and so much more.
I chose work that forced me to meet new “super-connectors”, this time a series of books that studied the habits and experiences of our generation’s up-and-coming thinkers.
Another one is public speaking. One of my mentors is the now-former Chief Revenue Officer of Mashable. We met in the VIP area at a conference we both spoke at in Miami. We both spoke for free to share our messages with the audience, but also so we could network with the other speakers who all were of a certain caliber professionally.
Seth went on to endorse 2 Billion Under 20 alongside Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and other “super-connectors” I’ve been able to meet along the way using these “secrets” I’m now sharing with you.
8) Automate Your Networking
I’m going to run through these next few points quickly because I gotta run soon…
Neil Strauss actually asked me to speak at a private event this December about automating your networking, but I think “starter-pack” material to share here would be doing one thing today that can automate the process of having hundreds of people making valuable connections on your behalf and transferring their trust to other people you’d want to meet.
The way to do this is to set up your own communities, online or offline, to connect the types of people you want to meet.
For both my books, I set up simple Facebook groups so that my contributors to 2 Billion Under 20 (and my forthcoming contributors to 3 Billion Under 30) can meet one another, build our careers, and get insider access to great events and opportunities.
Other people make conferences and get to pick the speakers, type of attendees they want to attract, and vendors they want to be in the room.
Being the leader of your own network allows you to automate a lot of your networking. Suddenly, anytime someone in your community connects with another person, they are subconsciously thinking of you. At the same time, you are providing them tremendous upfront value because they are meeting other “super-connectors” in their own industry, geographic location, tax bracket, or whatever other parameters you have for your community, and you are the catalyst for all of it. When new people enter the community, they have to go through you.
Suddenly, you’ll be getting cold emails or reading social-proofed warm introductions from people reading my 13 “super-connector” secrets because they want to get in touch with YOU!
But with great power comes great responsibility…and opportunity.
9) “Elbow” Effectiveness
The more you can be the “elbow” of connections for your friends, the more effective your network will be for you when you need it most.
What do I mean?
If you see two people in your network who would benefit from connecting, be the “elbow” in their relationship, much like our elbows connects the bicep/tricep part of our arm and our forearm.
The elbow is the fulcrum. It has all the leverage. You can be the elbow for other “super-connectors”.
This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to offer value to others after you’ve put in the time to build meaningful relationships with lots of amazing people. Now, you’re in a position to take 15 seconds to connect others so they can leverage their trust in you to meet one another and help each other out. Then, when they benefit, they’ll think back to you for the connection.
Be careful – early on you will want to make “double opt-in” intros, where both parties agree to speak with one another before you actually put them on the same email thread or in the same Facebook message. Otherwise, one of your friends may be annoyed that you didn’t ask them if it was OK before making the connection and revealing their contact information (if they are a person in high demand) or adding another email to their overly-subscribed inbox.
We can talk all about managing your network later on (which is actually in Parts 2 and 3 of these posts), but for now, practice double opt-in intros when one of your friends is looking to meet another, especially if one or both of them are true “super-connectors”.
10) Ask For Stuff
Here’s one of my favorite secrets. Eventually you should become friends with the people in your network. You’re building relationships for some specific purpose, whether it is to raise money for your startup, or meet the man/woman of your dreams, or to close more sales in your job so you earn more commissions. Now you get to actually ask for stuff and get the help you need.
Recently I interviewed Jon Levy, a behavioral scientist, author, and founder of The Influencers. He studies – for a living…like he gets paid for this – how to have more adventure in life and how to interact with influential people.
During our interview, Jon asked me for $20 from my wallet. He literally made me take out my wallet and pay him. Honestly, the information that followed was well worth the investment.
Jon went on to explain the Benjamin Franklin Effect.
Essentially, by doing Jon a “favor” of giving him money, I actually liked him more.
With your network, this means that if you ask for favors (introductions, 5 minutes to review the spelling and grammar of a blog post, resources) then they will learn to like you.
Plus, what’s the value of having a world-class network if you don’t ask for stuff? I know that by asking I’ve been invited to party in the VIP areas of untouchable nightclubs, fly in the plane of a world-record-holding pilot, get free Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes with the same instructor that teaches champions, and even meet people I’ve dated. My life is richer because of my network.
I want this for you too. But you have to ask for it.
11) Say “Yes”
I almost forgot to include this one.
Saying yes over time has been another “super-connector” secret of mine.
This means saying yes when others ask you for introductions, or when they ask you to do favors for them. But it also means saying yes to opportunities that knock on your door.
Saying yes to others early in my career has allowed me to go to conferences like Eben’s MetaMind event, the Thiel Foundation Summit, SXSW, Sundance, and a half-dozen other major conferences where I’ve met many influential people. Many of these events costs thousands of dollars to attend, but the organizers at certain times gave me free tickets pending I would “show up”. So, I said yes.
I’ve also said yes to opportunities to attend small intimate dinner parties or events like The Salon hosted by Jon Levy who I mentioned above.
I am seeing some of my mentors getting more selective with who and what they say yes to as they get older, and I’m slowly starting to do the same, but while we are young it’s helpful to embrace the serendipity that comes from occasionally being in the right places at the right times and knowing people who generously want to coach us to success.
As I’ve put all this into action, I’ve become someone USA Today calls “The Most Connected Millennial”. My first book 2 Billion Under 20 sold thousands of copies in its first few weeks after release and people like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh acclaimed it as, “a challenge to all young people across the globe.” My network swelled in the process and now I can honestly call professional athletes, major YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat personalities, entrepreneurs worth millions of dollars, New York Times bestselling authors, incredible non-profit founders, and others friends who I can count on in times of need and vice-versa.
I’ve had the privilege of sharing the stories of some of the most impressive Millennials in the world, people working to cure cancer, or change entire industries with new technologies. Even better is just how many people I’ve been able to positively influence through my work and how many great connections I’ve been able to make for friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers. I can honestly say that couples and co-founders have met because of me, and others have earned $200,000 grants from NASA, or tens of thousands of dollars in new clients, or even appear on Good Morning America because of the network I’ve been able to build.
I’m genuinely inspired when I step back and think about it. And humbled.
This article wasn’t written to brag either. The only reason I’m typing this for you on a Saturday when I’m supposed to be hanging out in Central Park with some friends under New York City sunshine is to give you an honest look at how much work it is going to take to build a world-class network. I hope you take away one or two ideas or strategies that help you get that extra client, or find a co-founder, or meet an investor, or date someone new.
It would be AMAZING and the most humbling experience ever for me to read an email from you, telling me how setting up your own online community made the difference. Or how using “Napoleon Hill’s Genius Idea” helped you reach out to your business idol or land a dream job like it did for me when I was 16 with no connections and the desire to meet someone I read about in Forbes.
[Part 2 of 3] and [Part 3 of 3]
If you liked Part 1 of this series of posts, and would like to read parts 2 and 3 to go along with the 11 networking secrets I just shared with you, then click this link.
You’ll not only get Parts 2 and 3 of these posts, but I’ve also put together a series of email templates for you that changed my life. The same ones that allowed me to meet “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know In Silicon Valley” according to Forbes, or reach out to my first $5K per month client in Keith Ferrazzi, a normally-untouchable #1 New York Times bestselling author.
If you would like these cold email templates, as well as the next two posts in this series, make sure you click below now. I would love to know how they helped you.
I have to keep Parts 2 and 3 of this series in email only – I can’t post them online. I’ll be talking about the time I had shots with NFL legend Dan Marino at 18 years old, the details of which I’d rather not post about online because I don’t need the public knowing all the juicy stuff that might get Dan in trouble.
I also only want to share this stuff with people who are genuinely interested. I know I’ve rambled a little bit with you today, but thanks for hearing me out and I hope this was of some value to you.
One last thought – remember why you want to build your network in the first place. It’s going to take you years to build a world-class network, but remember why you’re doing it. Remember why you’re spending hard-earned cash flying to yet another conference. Remember why you are spending your weekends at a networking event or behind a computer screen cold-emailing people rather than staying outside.
At 16, I did it because I wanted to fast-track my career. Now in 2016, I do it because I want to help as many people act on their passions in life and unite in solving the world’s most pressing problems – the existential crises we need to fix if we want to avoid a Terminator-like fate in 50 years when artificial intelligence decides it wants to violently wipe out humanity. Deep, right?
Whatever drives you, keep your goals in mind at all times. It makes all the time, money, and energy you’re investing each day worth it in the end.
– Jared Kleinert