In this post, I would like to share a few tips and lessons anyone can use to meet influential people in their life. I developed some of these habits throughout my life and was able to meet a lot of interesting people, Steve Wozniak and Dmitry Medvedev (former President of Russia) among them.
1. Be Proactive
In college, I was a co-founder of an organization called The Kairos Society. It started out as a simple idea of uniting student entrepreneurs in colleges in the U.S., but very quickly grew to become a globally recognized organization (see video below). It wasn’t easy and along the way, we failed more times than we succeeded. Initially, we couldn’t get elite universities to join us, few of the world leaders wanted to support us and we barely had any funding. Our initial momentum was slowing, and it wasn’t until we got Bill Clinton as an advisor that our fate has changed. No, it wasn’t easy!
2. Don’t Give Up
So we had a crazy idea that Bill Clinton will support our organization because it was empowering student entrepreneurs. We tried to e-mail him on a bunch of e-mail addresses we thought would belong to him, no luck. We tried mailing him, again no response. Then, we realized that he was going to be at a charity event in New York and decided to act. We e-mailed charity organizers, telling them about The Kairos Society and begging them to be invited to this event. After much deliberation, they agreed. We drafted up a letter and Ankur (President) went to the event. There he approached Bill Clinton and invited him to join Kairos. To our surprise, he agreed.
Exercise: You can reach anyone you want in this world and as an exercise, you can start by picking a person you want to reach and trying a number of e-mail combinations that they can be associated with. If they are affiliated with charities or even their companies you can try the following (sitedomain.com is domain url of organization they are associated with):
– first letter of their first name and their last name @ sitedomain.com (For example, if full name to be Alex Debelov at virool.com, it will be firstname.lastname@example.org)
– first name dot last name @ sitedomain.com (i.e. email@example.com)
– first name @sitedomain.com (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org)
– last name @sitedomain.com (i.e. email@example.com)
3. Have No Fear
My senior year in college, I won some business competition as a result of which I was invited to participate in the Youth International Economic Forum in Russia. The perk was that the flights and lodging were paid for and I got a chance to attend an uber exclusive St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (think Davos of Russia).
While there, I attended a panel, Internet The New Economy, in middle of which President of Russia at the time, Dmitry Medvedev, decided to walk in and listen. The room had around 200 people in the audience and 5 people on the panel. The President carefully listened to what panelists had to say, then he stood up, gave a speech and proceeded to exit through the backdoor that he entered. Luckily, I was sitting in front row, near that backdoor and decided to act. I stood up and approached him, his closest bodyguard extended his arm to stop me and that’s when I said in Russian, “I am a co-founder of the world’s largest student entrepreneurship organization, can I speak with you?” I am not sure why, but the President turned around and said, “Sure. Come here” and we went out through the backdoor.
In a 10 min meeting I had with him, I gave the best Kairos pitch ever in my life and told him that I believe more young people in Russia would become entrepreneurs if they had the right role models to look up to. He agreed. Then I proceed with an idea of organizing a conference in Russia with his help to inspire Russian students. He loved the idea and told me to get in touch with his advisor, who was standing next to him. I got his advisor’s info and returned to my seat.
Five minutes didn’t pass as 4 guys in black suits and earpieces approached me and asked me to come with them. They were President’s security and they were detaining me on a premise that no one has meetings with a President like that. I was brought to a separate house on the grounds where the conference was taking place and was detained for 2 hours, during which they did extensive background check. They turned out to be nicer than I expected and when they released me, they told me that I should come to Russia more often.
So I did. Six months later, Innovation Convention took place with the help of President’s Administration. I was able to get a group of Silicon Valley leaders to come to Russia and it became a highly publicized event. A lot of people were inspired, and I hope a lot of young people started companies as a result.
– If you see someone famous, or someone you highly respect, don’t be intimidated by them. Remember, all people are made up of water, breathe the same air, eat the same food and regardless of their stature and achievements, they are no different from you and I. Always remember that there is no one better or worse than you in this world.
– If you do come in close contact with someone you would like to meet, don’t be intimidated, approach them!
Exercise: I would suggest trying to make friends with strangers. Going to conferences and doing this can be a good start, but even in a coffee shop starting a conversation with a stranger can be a great tool in helping you build self-confidence.
4. Have a Sense of Purpose
Having a mission in life and what you are trying to achieve is very important! I think the reason why people would be interested in speaking with you is if you have a defined sense of purpose. I am sure if I just approached President of Russia and told him, “would you like to grab a cup of coffee with me?” he would have not taken a meeting with me. So whenever you meet someone, just have a defined sense of what you are trying to achieve
5. Be Genuine
When I first arrived to Silicon Valley, I booked a hotel on hotwire. I was placed in Fairmont Hotel in San Jose for 2 nights. When I arrived to checkin the first night as I was going through the lobby, I saw a very familiar man talking to someone. I couldn’t recognize the person right away, so I looked up “Steve Wozniak” on my iPhone. To my surprise, it was him.
I quickly approached and introduced myself, “Hi, Steve. My name is Alexander Debelov and I am a huge fan of your work”. Steve replied, “Are you Russian by chance?” To which I said, “Yes, how did you know? Is my accident that evident?'” and he replied, “Not really, I just have a lot of good engineer friends who are Russian”. And from there on, we just started talking. Three hours later, Steve realized that it was almost midnight and he needed to leave. I thanked him for his time and told him how awesome it was to make such a cool first friend in the Valley. Steve exclaimed, “Wait, you just moved here and don’t know anyone? Do you want to come play Segway Polo with me and make some friends?” Obviously, it was an offer I couldn’t turn down.
Takeaway: whenever you meet someone be genuine. There is a lot of deception in this world and people enjoy talking to people who are trustworthy. Whatever you do be genuine and honest. You don’t need to make yourself sound better than who you are, you don’t need to hide your failures, we are all humans and we all have faults. When you engage in conversations with people you meet, regardless of their status, you don’t need to make yourself sound better than who you are. If you have a sense of purpose and you are genuine and you follow through on what you promise, believe me, people will respect you and you will go far!
6. Develop relationships
When I got an opportunity to help organize a conference in Russia (Innovation Convention), Woz was the first person I reached out to about becoming a speaker. After some deliberation (he travels a lot), he agreed and went to Russia with me and a group of other Silicon Valley speakers for a week.
You can meet people and have a lot of acquaintances, or you can get to know a few of them and really become friends.
Whenever you meet someone, just keep in touch, invite them to parties, invite them to conferences and trips. Develop relationships – meeting someone is cool, but knowing someone is way cooler!
– Kairos was a small organization with a few universities on board (5-6 at the time), but we had big ambitions. There is no such thing as a dream too big or ambitions too large. Dream big, life is too boring otherwise
– it’s easy to find anyone’s e-mail, LinkedIn or them giving a speech. Stop making excuses, if you want to meet someone you can.
Don’t Give Up
– You are going to face many challenges in your startup and life, after you lose a battle, always jump back up to your feet and continue going.
Have No Fear
– start conversations with strangers everyday
Have a Sense of Purpose
– I knew what I wanted to accomplish in my 10 min meeting with President of Russia. It didn’t occur to me right away, but when I saw a perfect opportunity to approach him, it all fell in place.
– people love people who are honest and genuine. Don’t overhype yourself and hide failures. We are all human and most successful people know that there is no such thing as success without failure.
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