Networking for Success

with Adam Rifkin

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Your passions will steer you in the right direction

Adam Rifkin

Co-Founder of PandaWhale, Most Networked, Giver

Lessons Learned

Interests create commonalities for meaningful conversation.

Who you are is not a static thing.

Take advice from others and listen to yourself; ultimately, you decide.


Lesson: Networking for Success with Adam Rifkin

Step #5 Inside: Your passions will steer you in the right direction, so you must follow them

It turns out that Fortune looked at the people who are on LinkedIn and this is back in 2011. What they did was they did a query of who was connected to more people that were featured in Fortune than anybody else. It turned out that the number one person that is connected to more people than anybody else on LinkedIn who was featured in Fortune is Reid Hoffman. So they kind of threw him out because he is the center of LinkedIn and once you put Reid aside, the next person who had the most connections to people featured in Fortune that year was me. And so that's how they decided that I was the best networker.

It was very, very unusual. I mean, not something I was used to. This is not something I've been called before so it was a surprise to me. I never really thought about it until they contacted me. At that point I said, well, it makes some sense. I mean, I've been on LinkedIn a long time, almost since the beginning. And so just by virtue of being there for many years it would make sense. Plus, I actually spent a little time, one of my startups worked inside of LinkedIn's office in 2005. That was very early on at LinkedIn. So as a result I got to know a lot of people in the center of that network. So, it’s very clear in retrospect. At the time, no, it wasn't a conscious thing that I was looking to do.

There are two principles at stake here. First of all, as we talked about, I am introverted and so approaching people has always been awkward for me. When my professional work took me to Silicon Valley because I was leaving school to start a company, I was very much alone. I arrived in Silicon Valley and didn't have any connections here and I needed to develop a way that I could feel comfortable being a part of Silicon Valley. I decided that it would be important to practice interacting with people.

The question that you have when you're joining a place and you don't really know anybody there is, "How can I become a part of the ecosystem?" The answer that I had for myself was, when I introduced myself to people, I would see what it is that I could offer to them rather than going to people and seeing what they could do for me, which, let's face it, why would they take a meeting if I was just going and asking them for things? I would ask to be introduced so that we could have an informational interview and then that I would suggest things that I could offer them. Sometimes it was knowledge, sometimes it was the ability to do research and come back with things that I had learned.

Without being very conscious of it, it made sense to me that when I first landed in Silicon Valley, the thing that I had to offer was this very earnest ability to offer people things that I could do. That's I think how it started. Before that I was a researcher at Caltech where I didn't have to interact with a lot of people. I could just keep my head down with work. Once I started interacting with people, that's when I had to think about the bigger picture.

I think that interests are important for people, both in personal life and in business life, because that creates the commonalities that we can actually have meaningful conversations around. It doesn't always have to be that an interest is something that is deeply relevant spirituality-wise or knowledge-wise. It can actually be something like a movie or music, and in fact, I had this great love of the band Green Day. And which band you love, by the way, is very personal to you, you shouldn't love something because somebody else loves it. You should figure out what makes you happy.

But my love for the band Green Day led me very early on in the web to create a page for Green Day, because they didn't have a web page back in 1994. And that actually led to people reaching out to me and offering me information that I could add to the page or sometimes critique, because it turns out that Green Day had a lot of not just fans, but critics.

One of those critics is a guy that I met, he was a Stanford student who left Stanford to start a company that became Excite, but he was just writing to me because he liked the style of music, which is punk rock, but he thought that Green Day was not representative of punk rock as a whole and that it was incumbent on him to teach me more about punk rock because I was so gung ho about Green Day that I would make them a website. It ended up that I made a whole section of the website for "If you like Green Day, you should really explore other types of punk rock," thanks to the information that he gave me.

What's amazing about this guy, Graham Spencer is that he went on with Excite to build this great company. Then later on, because he was in Silicon Valley, he actually became one of the very first people that I talked to when I got here and he was willing to introduce me to some people. That's how I started to build a network here. So this interest that had nothing to do with professional life, Green Day, led to my building a professional network in Silicon Valley, and it's pretty incredible when you think about that.

It takes me back to the authenticity thing. Figure out what you're genuinely interested in, and then find common interest between you and another person. That gives you a way to start on the building of the relationship.

My email address is The letters of I Find Karma are actually the letters of Adams Rifkin scrambled. They call it an anagram when you take the letters and you move them around. It's really interesting. I have a friend whose name is Adam Rifkin and he owns the name Adam Rifkin on lots of websites.

Ultimately, I decided that I wanted my username to have my personality embedded in it. And the neat thing about that anagram is that it reflects my personality. I find karma is about thinking about other people and our relationships with them. Whenever I type my email address, I'm thinking about that, rather than just saying my own name.

I think that, again, it's something that I come back to regularly, which is who you are is not a static thing. It is something that you reinforce with every action, with the things that you think, with the way that you hold yourself in the world. So if you can give yourself feedback that's not just who you are, but the person you'd like to more strongly become, it does reinforce, and it's pretty wonderful, actually.

Over the course of 15 years as an entrepreneur, you get a lot of advice from lots and lots of people. One of the hardest things to learn is who to listen to and so over 15 years what I've learned is that, actually, the person to listen to is me. That's true for each person. They should listen to themselves. You can take this advice from lots and lots of different people, but you can't let any of those people make the decision for you on what you should do.

Then the way to decide what to do is really to ask yourself deeply, "Is this something that I feel is true to me?" If it doesn't feel true to me to learn to say no to that despite how many people are telling me this is not the right thing or this is the right thing. Ultimately, the person as an entrepreneur and as a founder, the person that I have to make happy, and who will have to live with the result of these actions and these decisions is me, so I'd better own it.

I think that's, ultimately, if you could learn nothing else as an entrepreneur, you should learn that which his to own your decisions, to learn to listen to yourself. Even though it is important to listen to everybody else, ultimately, you make your own decisions. That's the big one. I think that's the one where if I could teach the world one thing now, it would be to listen to yourself.

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