Who would you most like to meet for coffee? Young entrepreneurs talk about the influencers who inspire, teach and challenge them.
Writing for LinkedIn's Influencers program as well as here on Inc. has changed my life in the past nine months. Somehow, I've been fortunate enough to have the most popular post on LinkedIn, ahead of Bill Gates and Jack Welch. Instead of being stopped on the streets of New York City by people who recognize me from my reality TV stint of 10 years ago, I've been stopped by people who read my column on LinkedIn as well as this one on Inc. But by far, the most valuable aspect of writing these columns for LinkedIn and Inc. has been the amazing people I have met and whose work I've read--brilliant thinkers, experienced leaders and world-class writers have inspired me, taught me, motivated me and challenged me.
I thought it would be interesting to ask young leaders which influencers, from LinkedIn and beyond, whom they'd most like to meet over coffee, and why. So I asked the members of YEC, an invite-only organization for promising young entrepreneurs, formerly called the Young Entrepreneur Council, in a completely unscientific poll. Here's whom they'd most like to meet:
1. Hiroshi Mikitani
Hiroshi is an unstoppable force in the East, and his influence is slowly spreading westward. Recently, Rakuten (the ecommerce and Internet company he co-founded) funded Pinterest and bought Buy.com, among others. As an e-commerce expert, I would love to know what he thinks of the current and future state of the Web and what that means for consumers.
--Danny Wong, co-founder, Blank Label
2. Richard Branson
Not only has Richard conquered the business world, but he seems to have held on to a spirit of joy and remains separated enough from the daily dealings to keep growing and living! I'd hope our meeting would be on Necker Island.
--Darrah Brustein, founder, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments
3. Michael Lazerow
I'm fascinated with how Michael's company, Buddy Media, became a catalyst for the shift in mass-marketing spending on Facebook. They were able to convince brands to spend more on Facebook than on their own websites; it's absolutely riveting.
4. Daniel Roth
I admire Daniel for what he has done with turning LinkedIn into a publishing platform. I live in the thought leadership and content marketing world, and he is truly a visionary. LinkedIn is becoming a big part of the future of online publishing, so it would be interesting to chat about the next steps they are taking.
5. Ari Emanuel
I think what Ari did for the entertainment business is inspiring for any entrepreneur. It lets you know that anyone can break the barriers in an industry that has a lot of difficult obstacles and politics. Also, it would be cool to just talk about random stuff that happens in Hollywood that no one knows about.
6. Jeff Weiner
I saw Jeff speak at a conference earlier this year, and I was blown away by how unique his leadership style is. He talked primarily about the need to create a compassionate workplace culture that takes a holistic approach to employee wellness. It was exciting to see someone showcase the softer side of business.
7. Jason Fried
I'm a big fan of 37signals and Jason Fried's philosophy on business. The company isn't interested in the VC boom and has bootstrapped its way to great success instead. I'd love to talk to Jason about his company's transition from a design agency to selling products such as Basecamp and Highrise.
8. Reid Hoffman
Besides founding LinkedIn (How could you be any more of a "LinkedIn influencer" than starting it in the first place?), I'd love to listen to Reid talk about the fundamental theories that drive social networks and how these fundamentals will continue to shape the recruiting landscape.
9. Tony Robbins
I've been following Tony's work for a few years now, and I'm consistently impressed with what he brings to the table. He's a master in business, personal growth, relationships and self-confidence. It would be really great to get his perspective on what we're doing both personally and professionally.
10. Tim O'Reilly
Not only is he a media legend, but Tim also has meaningfully shaped the way my company and I think about creating content that gets shared. To me, he's the original "viral marketing hot dog."
11. Gretchen Rubin
Success and happiness don't always go hand in hand, but Gretchen seems to have mastered the art of both--doing what she loves and enjoying her success. Her books are delightful to read, and an inspirational cup of coffee with her would be a great way to kickstart a happier life.
12. Michael Bloomberg
Michael has been a controversial mayor, but I'm one NYC resident who is a fan, especially for what he's done for the parks and public health. I'd like to sit down with him and hear what he thinks is in store for NYC in the future and what we can do to keep the city on track. I'd also like to ask how he built his company from scratch.
13. Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, the industry leader and expert in my field. He is definitely in touch with the pulse of the industry, but he can also break concepts down to a level for non-industry experts.
14. Caterina Fake
I would love to grab a cup of java with Caterina. As the founder of Hunch (after her successful sale of Flickr to Yahoo), she helped pave the way for entrepreneurs like myself in the personalization technology space. Hunch aimed to personalize the Web through "taste mapping." I would love to pick her brain about the innovations in using data to personalize online and offline experiences.
15. Dharmesh Shah
Dharmesh is an incredible speaker and a thought leader in the world of online marketing. He's built a great company with HubSpot and is an excellent source of information for anyone working to grow an online business.
16. Martha Stewart
I know, I know. Martha has a lot of baggage. But, as a young media entrepreneur, I have a lot to learn from her. She's been in "omnimedia" for decades. She hasn't let anything, even prison, knock her down. I think that's very inspiring. And I bet she'd host the best coffee meeting of any influencer--hopefully at one of her amazing homes. And the snacks would be unmatched!
17. Barack Obama
I'd love to talk to Barack about why the payroll tax system is the way it is. As it stands, the system differs state by state, which makes it incredibly difficult for companies to expand to different states and hire remote workers. A country-wide system could really help the economy.
18. Tony Hsieh
I'd love to sit down with the founder and CEO of Zappos because I love what Tony stands for as an entrepreneur: adventure, creativity and making customers over-the-moon happy. He also puts a positive company culture first--even over revenue--and that's why he'd be my pick.
19. Sara Blakely
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, is a fellow Atlanta female who started out of her apartment in her 20s. Sounds familiar. She still maintains 100 percent of her company and is one of the most successful women in the world yet also manages to have a family. I find her success to be such a motivation and I love to see people who make it big in Atlanta and stay here.
20. Eddie Lampert
I have always wanted to meet Mr. Lampert and pick his brain about investments and business strategy. I also want to know why he still hasn't turned his company into the next Berkshire Hathaway as I believe he has intended to do and on a personal note I want to know how he was able to negotiate his way out of that kidnapping he experienced years ago.
21. Dustin Moskovitz
Dustin Moskovitz is one of the richest, although lesser-known, entrepreneurs. He was a co-founder of Facebook. I'd love to grab a cup of coffee with him to pick his brain about taking a startup to the next level.
22. David Steingard
David Steingard is the co-founder of Laughing Man Coffee. Not only would the coffee be good, but the conversation would be great too. Laughing Man Worldwide helps entrepreneurs help humanity by creating and developing new businesses. Combine that convo with a Flat White, and you've got yourself a strong cup of good.
23. Josh Shipp
Josh Shipp is one of the most well-known and connected youth influencers of our time. From being named to the Inc. 30 Under 30 list, to hosting a TV show on Lifetime, to being a best selling author, his reach is massive and his message powerful. Who wouldn't want to have coffee with someone who understands the ins and outs of building a hugely successful platform?
24. Dean Jackson
Dean Jackson is a genius marketer and co-host of the "I Love Marketing" podcast (highly recommended). In addition to being a super-friendly guy, Dean is a master at breaking complex marketing strategies down into simple steps that anybody can use to get results. --Pete Kennedy, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Main Street ROI
25. Mark Cuban
I've had the honor to introduce Mark Cuban to a group of young entrepreneurs and college students at a local event in 2010. This man is an inspiration to many, but to me, he holds a special position in my life as a young entrepreneur. His blog, mentality, business characteristics, and desire to serve people has shaped me into the man and entrepreneur I am today.
26. Jack Dorsey
Jack Dorsey is the co-founder of Twitter and co-founder of Square, two companies that have revolutionized the world. I'd be fascinated to hear how he manages his time, scales companies and chooses which ideas to work on.
27. Dominic Barton
I would love to get a coffee with a leader at McKinsey. I think he is managing one of the most influential organizations of our times and I would love to learn from him on how to influence CEOs take your advice.
28. Rich Barton
I admire entrepreneurs who win and then win again. Rich Barton has done it with Zillow, Expedia and Glass Door, and I want to take him to coffee and learn two things: what continues to drive him and what the secret sauce allowing him to keep hitting home runs is.
29. Oprah Winfrey
Those are 29 influencers that these young entrepreneurs want to meet. As for me? The influencer I'd most like to meet for coffee is Oprah Winfrey. I admire Oprah for her incredible journey from virtually nothing to great influence, fame and wealth, but even more so for the world-changing work she has done all over the globe, and the emphasis she places on both gratitude and being your best self. She is an incredible leader and mentor to so many, and I can't think of a more life-changing potential cup of coffee than with Oprah.
Now it's your turn. Who would you most like to meet for coffee, and why? Please share in the Comments section below!