Networking for Success

with Adam Rifkin

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Give what you can with what you have wherever you are

Adam Rifkin

Co-Founder of PandaWhale, Most Networked, Giver

Lessons Learned

If you can do a favor for another at minimal cost but great benefit to receiver, you should.

Make an introduction between two people that you know at least once a day.

Entrepreneurs are like the Blue Brothers: 106 miles away wearing sunglasses in the dark with no gas.


Lesson: Networking for Success with Adam Rifkin

Step #4 Favors: Give what you can with what you have wherever you are

It comes down to a theory that I learned from Reid Hoffman who was the founder of LinkedIn. He has this theory about the Favor Economy, he calls it, where he says, "If one person can do a favor for another person and that favor doesn't take a lot of time, but it makes a big difference to the other person, you can get a very good economic return on the time."

I watched as Reid did this over and over again with other people. He did things for people where there was really not much in it for him, but he spent a little bit of time and it was something that made a big difference for the other person and over time came to refine that idea as the Favor Economy where it doesn't cost you money, it just costs you time. If you can do something for somebody that only takes a little bit of time, but makes a difference, that's worth doing.

I think the golden rule really taps into the same essence of it which is give what you can, with what you have, where ever you are. No matter where you are in life there are things that you can give. I think it's very important as an entrepreneur not to be too heads down and not to be too inward looking because business just like life involves interacting with other people. This is something that connects us all.

In the favor economy clearly some favors take a very long time. But the one thing I've come to realize in being in startups for 15 years is that everybody is super busy. And so the question was, "Well, how could you make it a little bit easier to do a favor that would make a big difference to somebody, but not be a burden to the person giving the favor" because most people are super busy. The concept was "Well, what if we made it so that the favor took less than five minutes to do?"

Suddenly that doesn't seem like a huge burden and it seems like you could make room for that at some point during your day when you're taking a break. By observing what people were actually doing we came up with the concept of "Oh, we don't have to teach people how to do a five minute favor, this is actually what they're doing already." If the favor took more than five minutes then suddenly it was less of a chance of it getting done. Whereas if it took five minutes or less there's a really good chance that it would get done. I've seen all kinds of people help people they don't even know because it only took them a few minutes to do it.

Probably the most common five minute favor I've seen is an introduction and that is I know somebody who could be of value to somebody else and I'll introduce the two of them. As it turns out usually each of them gets something out of that relationship. So by making the introduction it's mutually beneficial. The time that it takes me to look up their LinkedIn profiles and include links to it, as well as write up the email, almost always takes me two or three minutes, much less than five. So I'm willing to do that and it's something that I try to do at least once every day is make an introduction between two people I know.

The goal was really education and unlike a structured classroom, it was education by people learning from each other and so to that end, it's been very successful. Literally thousands of people have now come to 106 Miles events and learn from other people there, and what's great is that it's both a give and take like some people come to learn but then they are surprised by the fact they actually have things that they can teach other people too. So it's much more of a network where people are willing to share what they know as well as share connections to help each other. So what we talked about earlier about the favor economy and willingness to do things for each other, that network, is 106 Miles is a very good embodiment of that favor economy and so I am very proud of that.

It started as an offline, not necessarily meet-up, we actually had an Evite if you can believe it and we would invite a few people. It started off with just a handful of people really, and we'd meet once a month and we have a topic of the evening. For example, how can we think about getting a lawyer or what accounting things are really important for a startup early on. So every topic was based on something that would be of interest to anybody who is starting a company. Usually we'd have a guest or two, who had done it before and they could offer their perspective and so the visibility to learn and ask them questions.

For the first few years of 106 Miles, that was really the format. It was really more roundtable. It started off at just about 10, 15 people but by the time 2008 came along, it was more like 40 people per session and that's when we realized it had a lot wider appeal than just the group assembling around the roundtable and we changed the format. The format became much more meet-up like after that, where instead of it being around a central theme and everybody talk to one person, it was more lots of people met and could ask each other questions one-on-one.

The meet-ups grew from about 40 people per session to between 100 and 200 per session. The last five years, that's been really the format is that meet-up style with hundreds of people that come and learn from each other and still goes out every month. We do it once a month in Palo Alto, once a month in San Francisco and then occasionally we do it in Southern California as well because there's a huge startup community inside in Southern California.

The name 106 Miles comes from the Blues Brothers. There's a scene where John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are in a car and they are 106 miles from Chicago. It's dark and they are wearing sunglasses and they have to get to Chicago before they run out of gas or cigarettes for that matter. So we thought of that as very good analogy for what it's like to be an entrepreneur, where it's dark, you are wearing sunglasses and you have to get to the destination before you run out of gas or cigarettes.

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