Networking has proven time and time again to be an invaluable asset for me. By no means am I an expert, but the changes it’s wrought in my life shows just powerful it is. Whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, fellow alumni, or complete strangers, I’ve learned how to hold a conversation and hear advice. Every networking experience is different and I never know what I’ll get out of it. It’s opened me to new experiences and taught me how important engaging and interacting with the world is, instead of letting things just happen to me. Anyways, here’s a few examples of how networking’s impacted my life.
Post college and “how can I volunteer my time?” My first job was working in a private equity and venture capital administration shop. It sounds pretty cool until you realize my day consisted of moving money back and forth between client accounts and their fund investments. Listen, I was thrilled to be hired by a bank in 2008. Hell, I was lucky to have a job. That being said, my long-term goal wasn’t to be the world’s best cash-mover. I did wire transfers from 8am – 6pm, and as soon as I finished, I introduced myself to people in different teams within the group. Finance, project management, technology, sales. It didn’t really matter. I told them all that my day job was over and I wanted to learn more about what they did, so consider me a volunteer ready to do anything they needed. I’m pretty sure no one else did this in my group, ever. So what happened? I got put on RFPs, moved over to support our most important client, was forced to learn and develop all sorts of performance and analytics, and got put in charge of part of a global project. I gained invaluable experience, met some incredible people, learned how the space worked, and developed some great relationships. My working relationship with Tom then turned into a good friendship. Tom put me in touch with the group I work for today. He made the introduction, I interviewed well enough, and I got a new job. By the way, I work at a trading desk.
Business school and “what should I know?” For the readers who know me personally, you probably know I’m applying to business school this fall. You also know I’m also not one to half-ass things. So, to prepare for the journey, I reached out directly to students and alumni to hear about their experiences and take any advice. I canvassed everyone I could think of and got a huge list. There were so many people that I had to build a database just to keep track of who I contacted and when. It was grueling. Blind introductions, cold calls, and frequent follow-ups. I didn’t know how to lead the conversation, couldn’t tell my own story, and wasn’t sure how to convey the right message. I got very friendly help and pretty critical feedback. Sometimes not so friendly, but just as critical. One person almost scared me off altogether. After that conversation specifically, I was forced to reflect on who I was and why I actually wanted to go, and whether my goals were realistic. I determined my goals were realistic and re-doubled my efforts. My overall results were positive. I learned about the schools from people who knew them best, got advice on the application process, was forced to become introspective and really examine my own motives, and I also got an incredible piece of advice, to start a blog and become an expert on the New York startup community. I’m certainly no expert, but this blog is one way for me to get closer (thanks to Chris Yeh).
Startups and “what’s going on?” During my business school preparation, I figured out why I really wanted to go. I love startups and venture capital and needed to get involved. I want do that with VC and I think business school provides the clearest path there. But for me to even pretend to care about startups, I needed to put myself in the startup scene. I started out with my Loyola alumni. Some meetings were interviews and some were just coffees. New York isn’t a backwater entrepreneurial space. We’re often on the cutting edge. Most discussions were really centered around what these people were doing, because it’s often amazing. The average person was helpful, open, and friendly. Most people were willing to point me to someone else too. It’s a collaborative space. My network was originally viral, with patient zero being my fellow alums. Since then, I’ve attended a few Meetups, the next most obvious thing to do. Of course, that paid dividends as well. Anyways, with this, I’m not looking for any immediate payout. I just want to get involved.
I’m very thankful to everyone who’s donated their time to speak to me, talk about their experiences, and lend their advice. I’m better for it, and very happy to return the favor to people. One person put me in touch with some senior VC friends in New York. When I thanked him profusely and asked how I could pay him back, he simply told me “Pay it forward.”