There are an estimated 49,256 people that move to San Francisco each year. I made that move in September 2008.
To say that it was an easy transition would be a freakin’ lie.
After 3 weeks I hit a wall and almost returned home.
I decided to move from Moncton, New Brunswick (pretty much the furthest point in North America), to San Francisco because I really wanted to challenge myself.
There’s a quote that helped me make that decision:
“Ask not if you are worthy of your goals, ask instead – are your goals worthy of your life?”
~ John Assaraf
That set me on a mission to give up everything I had recently purchased – a new house, cottage and a wakeboarding boat – to see if I could give it a go.
I wanted to know if any of my crazy ideas could hold water with some of the smartest entrepreneurs in the tech world.
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t know a single person who lived in San Francisco.
Not a cousin, a co-worker or an industry friend.
I was showing up alone with nothing more than a suitcase and a mountain bike.
No big deal, I had a plan! And a good one – or so I thought.
I had mapped out all of the top “startupy” coffee shops in the city and every day I would co-work at a different one, switching to another over lunch.
At each one, I would smile and introduce myself to those around me.
After the first day – seeing everyone on their Mac – working on what seemed to be either their blog, some code or a pitch deck, I felt like I had come home to the mother ship.
The city felt like it was built around all of my passions.
However, the first few weeks proved tough.
People were actually pretty stuck up.
They were on a mission and had no interest in making new friends – or so that’s what it seemed.
After a week of shallow conversations and no new friends, I got desperate.
So I made a list of 100 people who I wanted to meet from the internet world and decided to cold email each of them, asking for their advice on what someone new to the city should do to get connected to the “scene.”
Looking back, it was kind of silly thinking that it would be a good idea, but it turned out to be one of the most valuable things that I did.
What Paul Graham Wrote In An Email That Changed Everything
After 3 weeks of going to dozens of coffee shops, attending events and trying to make friends – I almost gave up.
The moment came when I was at the Socializer conference, and as usual, when lunch came around, I grabbed my box of food and decided to find an empty seat between two people, knowing that it would double my odds of meeting someone cool.
I sat down and immediately turned to my left – smiled – and introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Dan… I’m from Canada and recently moved to the area.”
“Nice to meet you Dan… so what do you do?” they asked.
And here was my answer:
“Well, nothing right now… I recently moved to the city to take a sabbatical and I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but I thought this was the right place to learn.”
The guy stopped, turned to his left and started a conversation with the other person!
I tried it again with the person to my right.
THAT WAS IT!
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but this had happened to me every day for the previous 3 weeks.
I didn’t get it … why were people such assholes?
I got up, left the conference and walked home more than 5 miles to cool off.
That night I decided that the city was horrible and that I was going to head home where I actually felt appreciated.
However, the next morning, EVERYTHING changed.
As I mentioned earlier, I had decided to reach out to a bunch of Silicon Valley notables, asking them for their advice.
One of those people was Paul Graham (Co-Founder of Y Combinator, the #1 tech accelerator in the world).
My question to him was simple:
“I have a bunch of skills: code, marketing, business development + time (since I had recently sold my company) and I’m looking to connect with local entrepreneurs. What approach would you suggest?”
“Every startup has challenges with getting more customers. Help them with marketing.”
That’s when my response to “So, what do you do?” changed to: “I help startups with marketing.”
Since most of the people I met were working on startups, they would immediately ask: “Oh, cool… I’m a startup, how can you help me?”
So that’s what I did.
For 2-3 months I helped startups with their marketing.
As a developer it was easy, I would spend a week with a company – get access to their systems, do my research and build out a strategy.
At the end, I would show them how to understand their customers, what marketing messages they needed to change, and different marketing channels that I felt could work for them.
It was actually through that work that I built the technology behind Flowtown.
So how can you use this?
Find a Way To Be Helpful
It may sound trivial but the big lesson for me, and one I continue to use to this day is:
Always try and find a way to be helpful.
No one cares what you’ve accomplished in the past.
What they care about is themselves.
If you can tell a story that helps them recognize opportunities for you to help them out – or even better, you offer your best skills or knowledge to be helpful – then people will generally be super receptive to that.
Even if you’re not in the business of consulting, advising or doing work for others, you might know how to do something really well and you can offer them that.
If you’re a photographer, you could say, “I help companies capture their brand essence using photography.”
I knew A LOT of photographers in San Francisco who offered to do event photography for free to build their relationships.
The “Value Creator” used a lot in the Valley is introductions. Actually…
The currency of Silicon Valley IS introductions
There are definitely right and wrong ways to offer introductions, to follow up and to actually make them.
If you’re speaking with someone that you genuinely want to help and can offer an introduction to someone who you know will be helpful, then offer them an introduction if they’re interested.
In the next section I share how you can identify and create that value for the people you most want to meet with.
1. The Value Creation Framework
In a recent webinar, I covered a strategy that I call the Value Creation Framework.
The concept is simple.
Make a list of people you would like to connect with, then map out where they are at in their business and where you think they are going.
Then outline a major area that they may not know about that will be important to them and spend time learning everything you can on this topic.
An example would be YouTube marketing, or global events management.
Once you’ve got it dialed in, then you can reach out and offer that specific knowledge and best practices to them. (ex: lesson learned around doing YT Marketing or Global Event Management)
I stumbled upon this value creation principle from Paul’s advice, when he suggested I help startups with marketing (also helped that that I had a very strong background in this), however, I’ve since used this approach for many other areas (ex: Personal Branding, Marketplace, Fundraising, Growth Hacking, etc).
Each skill is an asset I can offer up to someone who I’m looking to connect with that may have that specific need.
Whatever your value creation is, I guarantee that if you spend 4-6 weeks reading up on a skill / system / approach and offer them a high value, 30 minute overview of everything you’ve learned, most business entrepreneurs would say yes and take the meeting.
That’s the way you first create value for others, and in return they will usually reciprocate and help you with your major challenges.
It’s a super win / win approach.
2. Bring People Together To Break Bread
Most people that meet me for the first time in person will do so over a meal – predominantly lunch. I decided a long time ago that one of the best ways to get to know someone well, is to break bread with them. There’s something magical that happens when you travel from your office to a restaurant, sit down with a group of like-minded individuals, order food and share a great meal and conversation. It’s one of my favourite things to do.
So that’s why I always keep 1-2 days per week open for lunch with people that reach out to me or that I meet throughout my day in person or over email. Founder lunches are such a simple way to add more value and create more connections with people.
Here’s the way I approach organizing a lunch:
- I create a calendar entry
- I ask people if they’re free
- Then I invite them to the lunch by adding them to the calendar entry.
- I limit them to 8 people (preferably 6)
- I don’t pay for their meals (unless they’re all first time founders – as it’s my way of giving back and asking them to pay it forward)
- I curate them with like-minded people
The benefit is that we get to spend time together, I get to meet a bunch of amazing people that I might otherwise not have time for, and they get to meet each other – which is usually the highest value they get out of these lunches.
I REALLY hope you decide to create these. I believe they can be transformational for a startup community. If you’d like other tactical tips like this, be sure to subscribe to my personal newsletter. http://danmartell.com/newsletter
3. Seek Out The Ultra Connectors – Event Organizers
If you are in the habit of organizing monthly or weekly lunches with great people that you meet, then I would suggest reaching out to event organizers and finding out how you can help them.
Most people don’t realize this, but the most connected people in any community are event organizers.
Simple. They a) bring people together, b) create a lot of value via distribution of someone’s message to a large audience, c) they meet a lot of notable people who end up speaking on their stage.
When I first arrived in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to meet Cassie Phillipps. We met through a mutual friend and we quickly became friends because I offered to help her recruit speakers for a future event.
Did I know any potential speakers? No. But I thought I could do a good job cold emailing them and persuading them to be involved.
Since Cassie was super busy and did the hard work of organizing amazing events, I figured it would be win / win.
It was through that relationship that I realized people like Cassie – event organizers – knew everyone and weren’t as inundated with requests from other people to “pick their brain” as some popular startup founders would be.
Anytime someone asks me how they can quickly get connected in a community, I always suggest they reach out to event organizers and offer to volunteer for free.
You’d be surprised how powerful this approach is.
If you want the super-pro-tip on this strategy… here it is: become the event organizer!
After a few months of being in San Fransisco, I approached a new friend Dave McClure and offered to co-produce a dinner type event in the city with him called, “Finance for Founders.”
Dave was super busy but interested in doing something for startups in the city.
That event ran for a year. We got sponsors, amazing speakers and brought together 1000+ entrepreneurs across several events, with many of them becoming some of my best friends today.
Originally the plan was to create value for Dave but the bi-product was that I got to meet so many incredible founders & investors, that it truly catapulted the growth of my relationships in San Francisco.
4. Sharing Your Knowledge For All
What I love most about San Francisco is that nobody gives a shit about how much money you have. What they value most are ideas… and their execution.
After a few weeks of meeting people, I realized that a large percentage of the top founders had a blog.
They didn’t necessarily blog regularly, but they did share their ideas.
Now this might seem trivial in a world of Twitter and Facebook – where we overshare minutia – but at the time, the concept of writing and sharing your ideas was SCARY AS HELL for me.
What if I wrote about a stupid topic? Something obvious?
What if my english was so bad that I looked like an idiot?
What if I was wrong and people who I admired left a comment correcting me?
All of these thoughts ran through my head but I couldn’t dismiss the fact that everyone seemed to engage and acknowledge those who were brave enough – and giving enough – to share their ideas.
That’s when I decided to blog.
It took me a long time to find my voice, but I made a commitment to write every week for 3 months.
The only real strategy for blogging is to write about what you’re most passionate about.
I wrote about building companies, the entrepreneurial mindset and marketing strategies.
Many of the ideas came from the work I was doing with startups or conversations I would have during my founder dinners.
Eventually it got easier and I even started leaving comments on other blogs.
Over time, I started to build a reputation as someone who knew a bit about marketing, starting companies and that I could be helpful.
This blog (and Twitter) were invaluable tools to build new relationships quickly.
If you’re planning on moving to San Francisco to start a company, LA to become an actor, or New York to work in finance – the strategies above can work for you.
Bringing people together, creating value for others and sharing your knowledge are all great ways to meet amazing people in a new city and really get the most out of your time there.
Becoming someone who brings people together is a powerful position to be in.
I will end with one last belief…
Proximity matters and being around friends who challenge your thinking and support your crazy projects/companies is how to step up your entrepreneurial game.
That doesn’t mean you need to move to a new city, but I definitely suggest spending time there on a regular basis.
As much as I believe in online tools for communication, you can never replace the biological connection that occurs when you meet someone in person.
Leave a comment below with any questions or suggestions to the strategies I mentioned in this article.