In a world where it is possible for billion dollar startups, new technologies, and even entire industries to mature in a matter of years, the same is more true for our networks than ever before. Rolodexes that once took super-connectors an entire career to create can now be quickly created by those who understand how to build the right relationships with the right people and connect authentically with your colleagues.
It is important to understand just how to develop your network as your people skills will separate you from the masses, as we near a global economy that doesn't care about your age, socioeconomic background, or gender, but rather your abilities to teach, lead, and inspire.
Those who understand these skills can build lasting friendships with almost anyone and use their network to quickly grow a strong foundation for their career. One young New York-based entrepreneur is a case study for what is possible when you have access to almost anyone imaginable through the internet and social media.
Jared Kleinert is a 20 year old entrepreneur, TED and keynote speaker, and award-winning author. He spends most of his days texting, emailing, or meeting with Olympians, successful startup founders, New York Times bestselling authors, C-suite executives of the biggest, most well-known companies, professional athletes, Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees, rising political stars, and others who have been connected to him through mutual friends or spontaneous conference iterations.
In less than five years, Jared's built a network as strong as anyone, and has helped clients, friends, and even family connect their ways to six-figure product launches, appearances on major talk shows and reality television series, NASA grants, media interviews, and even heads of football administration for one of the top five soccer clubs in the world.
But he wasn't always this connected. In fact, not long ago he was just a curious kid sitting in his high school computer programming class surfing the Internet when he should have been completing an assignment. When Jared was just 16 years old, he came across a Forbes article titled "The Most Connected Man You Don't Know In Silicon Valley." He sent a cold email to the subject of the article: David Hassell, founder/CEO of 15Five.
"That day in class I sent two cold emails, one to David and one to Sean Parker," Jared told me. "Thankfully one of them responded."
After connecting, Jared offered to work for David as an unpaid intern in exchange for his mentorship. Over the next two years, Jared would graduate from unpaid intern to one of 15Five's earliest employees before leaving the company to focus on a project he started at 17 called 2 Billion Under 20, which is now a bestselling and award-winning book series as well as an online community connecting the world's smartest and most talented Millennials.
"David taught me what it meant to be a connector," Jared explained. "To him, meeting people was never about networking per-se, but about building meaningful relationships with others and offering them as much value as possible. Simply connecting two people could prove valuable to others, which would reflect positively on me and potentially change the lives of my friends and acquaintances."
In fact, two separate introductions that David and another 15Five employee Shane Metcalf made for their new 16 year old intern at the time ultimately led to Jared finding himself at the second Thiel Foundation Summit. It was there that Jared would first come across hundreds of like-minded peers who had started building businesses and acting entrepreneurially at a young age. It was also where he would first learn about the idea that eventually sparked 2 Billion Under 20.
"I noticed that I was among a few hundred Millennials who were already starting businesses, taking alternate educational paths, and acting on their passions in life. However, there are two billion people in the world twenty years old or younger. I saw an opportunity to unify the collective voice, influence, and expertise of our peers already doing exceptional things with their lives to capture our generation's attention and help them act on their passions in life as well."
Jared spent the last three-and-a-half years after that conference studying, befriending and connecting hundreds of the world's smartest and most talented Millennials from all walks of life and all over the world.
And yet, it was another cold email that started a marketing and business development consulting practice that Jared says has helped him "pay the bills" while he researches for and writes his next book 3 Billion Under 30, while also giving him an opportunity to work directly with the thought leaders and companies inspiring millions of Millennials each day.
Right before he started his first gap year from higher education (he took two total before deciding that he wouldn't be going to college at all), Jared reached out to Keith Ferrazzi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Never Eat Alone and the former CMO of Deloitte.
"Less than half an hour later, I got a response from Keith asking for my number, and about thirty emails back-and-forth and one or two phone calls over the next week, I got the OK from him and his team to start doing some work to help promote Never Eat Alone: Expanded And Updated which was coming out at the time."
Over the next six months or so, Jared would fly out to Los Angeles to visit Keith Ferrazzi and his team at Ferrazzi Greenlight, even staying in the bestselling author's house and joining him for various meetings. One meeting, Jared found himself in a boardroom with a senior vice president from Universal and the CEO of eBay, Devin Wenig. Jared worked with Keith to grow his speaking business, get exposure through various press outlets, and chip in on marketing and business development ideas in various meetings. "Spending time with Keith reiterated some of the lessons about networking that I'd learned from David Hassell, and taught me new ones, like the importance of following up with people, constantly staying top of mind by pinging everyone, and being diligent about making important new connections," Jared said.
Since working with Keith Ferrazzi, Jared has gone on to consult for top change management speakers, founders of billion dollar brands, senior executives of large charitable organizations and corporations like Samsung, and even a doctor who had been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in her past life. He's become a go-to marketing consultant, as well as a TED and keynote speaker for corporations looking to influence the Millennial generation, large entrepreneurial conferences, and universities.
What are the keys to building a diverse, far-reaching and impactful network from scratch in just a few short years? Below, Jared shared with us some of his best practices:
1) Provide as much value to others as possible. "At the beginning of my career, before I knew anyone, I worked for free for people like David who I wanted to connect with and learn from. Today, it may mean making key connections for a friend or providing an intro for someone I just met to others who they benefit from knowing. Help others selflessly and you'll build goodwill and trust with people."
2) When you're young, say "yes" to opportunities that come your way. "Saying yes has allowed me to go to conferences like Eben's MetaMind event, the Thiel Foundation Summit, SXSW, Sundance, and a half-dozen other major conferences where I've met many influential people. I've also said "yes" to opportunities to attend small intimate dinner parties or events like the Influencers Salon [hosted by another "master networker" Jon Levy]. I see some of my mentors getting more selective with who and what they say "yes" to as they get older, and I'm slowly starting to do the same, but while I'm young it's helpful to embrace the serendipity that comes from occasionally being in the right places at the right times and knowing people who generously want to coach me to success one day."
3) Organize your work around meeting and spending time with influential people. "With my consulting practice, I've strategically priced myself so that I'm only working with high-level clients who will not only value my work and hopefully implement strategies and feedback I provide them, but also raise my profile with each and every sale. With my speaking efforts, every time I'm at an event like TED@IBM or a conference that has hired me to speak, I get to meet other influential people speaking beside me. Above all else, the research that has supported the books, online communities, and brands I'm creating like 2 Billion Under 20 and 3 Billion Under 30 force me to identify and connect world-class talents in my own generation, and so over the last few years it's actually been my job to become a super-connector among my peers. If you want to build a network of influential people, one of the best ways to do this is to shape your career around such efforts."
4) Establish your own communities online and/or events offline. "I've done this with 2 Billion Under 20 and am starting to do it around 3 Billion Under 30, which means that every time someone posts in our online community, makes a connection with another member, or thinks of the group even, they are subconsciously keeping me top of mind as the leader of that group. A few people I've connected with like Joe Polish who runs the Genius Network (with members like Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, and Arianna Huffington) or Brent Hoberman who co-founded Founders Forum in London (one of the most respected communities of European tech founders and investors) have done this masterfully and their networks grow exponentially because they made their own communities for the benefit of others."
5) Focus on building relationships with other super-connectors. "It is by design that almost everyone I've asked to contribute to my first book 2 Billion Under 20 and my next book 3 Billion Under 30 are well-connected in their own industry or geographic region. It allows me exponential reach when I need it. For example, we featured two Olympians in my first book, and because of the relationship we had built over time, when I wanted to include more Olympians in my next book, I texted my friend for referrals and received three separate introductions to other members of Team USA within the hour. Another example would be going to dinner with Neil Strauss, who introduced me to Craig Clemens, a partner in about ten different lines of business that together generate over nine figures in revenues annually, who later connected me to everyone from TV hosts to investors and founders of my favorite startups through his own parties and email intros on my behalf. Building these relationships gives me additional access and leverage in growing my network by quickly shrinking the whole "six degrees of separation" equation.
Whether you're 20, like Jared, or 60 years old, or anywhere in between, today's world is the greatest time ever to build an influential network. What strategies are using to build your network?