All connections lead somewhere; you just don?t know where that might be initially. Case in point is how I ended up on the 8th floor of a historic building in downtown Raleigh sharing office space with a couple of very well-connected guys, one who happens to be my business mentor, and the other who I partnered with to launch a new company.
How It Started
These developments can be traced back to mid-November of 2011, when my spouse, Mariana Gallegos, attended the Internet Summit (I attended the previous year). Marshall Brain, the founder of HowStuffWorks.com, gave a presentation about how design doesn?t matter, that content is what matters (Craigslist is a classic example of this). Mariana was very impressed with Marshall, so she asked me to try to connect with him, especially since he was local to the Raleigh area. I was hesitant at first…?Why would he want to talk to me? I?m not successful like him,? I?d tell her. She kept pushing and insisting, and finally I, reluctantly, reached out.
I connected with Marshall on LinkedIn and asked him if he was interested in grabbing lunch some day.?To my surprise, he actually was. In fact, one of his lunch appointments canceled on him when he got my message, so he sent me a quick message back and said ?How about today, in 30 minutes??If interested, give me a call on my cell phone.?
And so started a casual business relationship where Marshall and I would meet over lunch, and where he would provide me with his advice and suggestions for improving my business. I even attended a few of his lectures at NC State University, where he taught a class on Entrepreneurship. I still remember the very first piece of advice he gave me on our first meeting. ?I?m a big believer in never eating lunch alone…in meeting lots of different people from all walks of like during lunch.??At that very moment, that simple idea crystallized for me, and I too became a believer in this mantra.
The Other Connection
On a separate path, I met Jason Tan at a Triangle Interactive Marketing Association social event, and we shared some common interests, particularly an interest in the creation of cool smartphone apps. One of his developer friends, Matt Johnson, wanted to meet with me for lunch, and I thought it would be pretty cool if Matt, Marshall, and I all met for lunch, thus introducing Matt to Marshall. I decided on Tyler?s Taproom at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, a startup-friendly area.?After lunch, Marshall walked us downstairs, into what?s known as the Underground. This is where about 20 startups lease office space…a startup incubator. Marshall pointed out CED, the Center for Entrepreneurial Development, and thought that I should join that group. I had never heard of CED, even after 20 years of running my own gig. But that evening, at Marshall?s suggestion, I checked out their website and applied for membership in their Venture Mentoring Service, or VMS program.
Connecting the Dots and Building Relationships
The next day, I received a reply back from the Director of CED. She happened to be in the Raleigh area attending a life sciences convention, and we ended up meeting afterward. She brought along Bill Spruill, and after about an hour and a half of conversation, Bill volunteered to be one of my VMS mentors.
Over the next few months, Bill introduced me to Charles Gaddy and was also able to recruit two others as VMS mentors for me. Several meetings and deep discussions later, Charles and I decided to formalize a business relationship around our electronic chain of custody software product, ezCoC, and to create a separate company to fund it and move it out of beta / into prime time.
New Office Space
Bill and Charles, who are partners in Blackbook Solutions Group, were looking for new office space. Coincidentally, I was looking for new space myself, and our landlord had a tenant that was eyeing our current space. ?It so happens that we all have the same landlord, Empire Properties. Last week, we all started moving into shared space on the 8th floor of the historic OddFellows Building in downtown Raleigh. This space is, in a way, a miniaturized version of an incubator, with a few tenants that focus on software technology.
Note: If you happen to run a tech startup and need some space in the downtown Raleigh area, feel free to contact Bill. With Red Hat moving its headquarters this summer to the downtown area, and more and more startups opening offices on Hargett Street, the downtown Raleigh area is beginning to exhibit the characteristics of a small, growing, and vibrant startup community.
All Connections Lead to Your Future
It is virtually impossible to predict where the connections you make today will take you tomorrow. In my case, I am now partners with someone in a new venture and share tech office space with my new mentor because I happened to look someone up on LinkedIn and connected with him. I was at first intimidated, but I did it anyway. If I had not done that one simple thing, I would not be in business with Charles, I would not be a few doors away from my mentor Bill, I would not be exploring other industries where our electronic chain of custody product might address a need, and I would not be in a nice downtown corner office with a beautiful view of Salisbury Street and the State Capitol building.?Our future is bright partly because of all of those very loosely connected events and relationships.
The point of my little story here is that you should get out there and make those connections, even if they don?t seem to have any immediate purpose for your business. Because in the long run, they do have a purpose, and they will inevitably lead you to your future.