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The Most Important Connections I've Ever Made - and How I Made Them

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I’m a lucky guy. I know this.

I’ve been fortunate, over the years, to have many mentors, friends, and collaborators that care about me and my work. The people I’ve met, without question, are what helped me get where I am today.

I’m sure everyone that’s “made it” feels like they’ve done it themselves. But if they’re honest, they discover over the years that it isn’t true.

Now, I’ve begun to realize that I am who I am largely through the sum of the lucky breaks I’ve had. Most of those have to do with people I’ve met.

So I want to do a few things. One, I want to write this post in order to thank those people, who at one point were just strangers but are now friends. Number two, I want you to know how to get amazing people in your life. So after I list my peeps below and you go check them out, I’ll also offer some tips to help you get yours. Check it out.

Part I

CC Chapman. Before I ever did anything big online, my first big break occurred when I started podcasting in 2004. I was one of the first podcasters in the world, and definitely one of the most vocal. I had been doing it about a year and was introduced to a group called the Association of Music Podcasters. This is how I met CC Chapman. We didn’t get along at first (we argued over how to build a website), but as time went on, we become really good friends. Now I’ve known him 7 years.

CC introduced me to Podshow, who was run by Adam Curry, giving me my first big break on working on the web. I become one of the first professional podcasters in the world. In about a year I was producing enough income to live and then some. So thanks CC. You gave me my first break, and you changed my life. :)

Chris Brogan. I met Chris in 2006 at the first Podcamp in Boston, which he helped run alongside Chris Penn. I had come there with some other Canadians (Bob and Mark I think) and met a ton of people, one of whom was Chris Brogan, who I said hey to because he was wearing a t-shirt he had drawn himself. We got along and kept in touch.

He wasn’t the Chris Brogan at the time. He was just about to get hired by Jeff Pulver to run community for Network2 and the VoN Conference (which is how he met pretty much everyone). But we kept in touch, kept attending conferences together, and eventually started doing talks together and did a few ebooks. One of these turned into Trust Agents, a New York Times bestseller.

Chris also introduced me to Twitter, making me one of the service’s first 10,000 users, and has helped me more than I can imagine. The dude is sincerely a godsend, like if you realized that your significant other totally outclassed you in every way. Chris already knows that I appreciate him– I don’t need to tell anyone publicly– but I’ll say it anyway. Thanks Chris.

Seth Godin. I’ve actually only met Seth one time (we had noodles in NYC), but he had a big enough influence on me that he makes this list. We were introduced by Chris for a collaboration on the Domino Project, Seth’s publishing venture, which eventually became The Flinch.

For a very long time I had read Seth’s blog and his books. He was an early influence, particularly books like the Dip, Purple Cow and Linchpin. While I was doing my epic Spain trip I listened to The Dip on audiobook and thought “if only I could make my book this good.” When I got back, I told him that’s what I wanted to do.

With the Flinch he pushed me more ways than I can imagine. Seth was my editor, but he was so heavily invested I would almost call it a collaboration. He gave consistent feedback throughout the process. He would not settle for anything less than the best.

I think I lost a year of my life working on that book but I am so proud of it. It now reaches a huge number of new readers every day and is closer to being “my legacy” than anything else I’ve ever done. So thanks Seth. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Mitch Joel. As cheesy as it sounds, I met Mitch at a Toastmasters meeting. I started going there because I had begun to speak at conferences and was extremely bad at it, and he was practicing for his first big talk at The Power Within. I reviewed his talk in typical Toastmasters style and we have become closer with every passing year.

Mitch has been a constant like… I don’t want to say it, but– “mentor” to me. It’s weird because we walk on the same path, but he has so much more life experience than I have that he’s constantly helpful. He introduced me to Jim Levine, my agent (that I share with Chris), who got us our second big book deal, and he’s done a lot more that I can’t even begin to get into. Thanks Mitch.

Justin Evans. Now we’re getting into people who are not internet famous, but should be. The first one of those is Justin, who I met in Ontario California at the first Podcast Expo. He was meeting with Scoble for StartCooking.com. We hung out in a hotel room with CC, drinking really bad American beer and talking about how Stresslimitdesign worked harder than any other firm out there.

But that was only part of the story. Stresslimit worked harder because it’s one of the few small agencies filled with crazy, super smart people that regular agencies are too straight-laced to hire, and it’s because he’s one of the most ambitious, out of the box thinkers I’ve ever known. He’s also always in my corner. He introduced me to Greg Isenberg (below) and many of the artists and friends I have today. He and his wife support a whole community of artists with their work, the most famous of which include the bands [redacted] and [redacted].

You need someone like this. He’s in the background, and he’s quiet, but he has your back. The way this dude has designed his life is an inspiration. Thanks Justin.

Nicole Johnson. Nicole is like a secret weapon. People kind of talk about her in hushed whispers but I met her randomly in the lobby of a hotel at SXSW. Now she does something with Summit Series (I think?), something with Founders Fund (maybe??), and something else (probably everything???). Basically if you’re ever having dinner with a bunch of awesome people, anywhere in the world, it’s likely that Nicole both knows them all and has orchestrated the whole thing. The places this has happened before, just to me, include San Francisco amongst billionaires, Utah with the hipster-famous, and anywhere on the streets of New York and restaurants of Austin, TX. Oh and once in a limo in Paris, too.

Nicole has connected me with tons of people, from non-profits who help Thai children get out of the sex trade to the Thiel Foundation (for whom I am a mentor). And she does this for people every single day. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked she agreed to let me write about her. Thanks Nicole. :)

Greg Isenberg. I specifically told Greg to get his blog up because of this post. Greg had heard about me through Justin but we met only much later and with some trepidation. Neither was sure what to make of the other. But we progressively began hanging out more and it developed into really unique weekly chats.

Greg basically helps keep me hungry and foolish these days. He’s 23 and he’s done more than most people do by the time they’re 40. He’s gotten me involved in investing and put me at the table with a million smart people. He wants to change the world and it shows. He doesn’t let anyone stand in his way, ever, while remaining deeply loyal to family and business commitments. Great guy.

Greg has also connected me to a bunch of angel investors, VCs, tons of people from all over the tech community. This dude is up-and-coming. Get to know him. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks Greg.

Part II

Ok, so this post is already pretty damn long, but I can’t prevent myself from putting together a short list of things you may notice about these guys and my relationships with them.
A. I have value to each of these people. Not to be arrogant or anything, but for the few things I do, I actually do great work, and I have a history of it. I used to do one of the ballsiest podcasts out there, my writing speaks for itself, and I offer value to the people in my network, as anyone who knows me can attest. If I were a sycophant or a hanger-on, I would have been ousted by now. I am within these guys circles of trust because I’m offering something back.
B. I met almost all of these people at conferences. In almost all cases, I met these people in a totally cold social environment. In the case of Nicole and Chris, it was like “Hey, you seem cool.” “Yeah, you too. Let’s hang out.” BAM. In others it was mutual, trusted connection. But in almost all cases social media was not involved. When it was, it was only for a short while, until an in-person connection could occur.
C. I met each of these people as an equal. I almost never went into the situation asking for something. In fact, I notice that whenever I go in quasi-cold and asking, I almost always get refused. It could be that I’m not good enough at it. But what I tend to do is just “make it known” that I’m the guy for the job (or whatever). And it tends to just happen. This, by the way, is why I never walk up to speakers at conferences unless I have a warm introduction.
D. I am not their “type.” None of these guys are tattooed, pierced badasses who swear a lot. They are artists, entrepreneurs, writers and photographers who have their own work and their own style. I offer something different than these people do. I’m not saying “be me” – I’m saying “be yourself to the hilt.” Rock your thing, whatever that is. That’s what I did.

* Filed by Julien at 3:48 pm under strategy


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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21 Responses to “The Most Important Connections I've Ever Made - and How I Made Them”

  1. Jeff Slobotski Says:

    Great post Julien – it’s important to remember – and thank – those that have gone to bat for us or helped us in whatever small way.

    Awesome to see a lot of great names on your list – as well as Greg – through whom we met.

    Keep moving the good forward…

  2. mars dorian Says:

    Especially luv the last part. It would be boring if everyone of your inner circle would be just like you – an eclectic mix makes all the difference and gets mindset fresh.

    Grrreat post Julien. Cool people you’re “hanging out” with.

  3. Jscott Says:

    The ABCD of your post was pure paint man. First, second, and third coat. Makes me want to buy you a water. Hey! It will be a really really good water. Fire some people say.

  4. C.C. Chapman Says:

    Thank you for this post and thank you for being such a good friend.

    Our journey sure has been a strange one and the best part is that I know some of the truly awesome parts of it are still in the future.

    I count you as one of my most trusted friends out there.

    • Odinaka Anigbogu (Oddie) Says:

      Julien! Awesome post. I don’t even know half of these people! Ok. I know Seth Godin from his TED talk on Sliced bread, which was inspiring. Thanks for this and just so you know, you’ve made me better. When I write mine, You.shall.be.in.it. Most def. As for meeting people, I’d really love to meet Greg. Greg Isenberg. So please do me the honours. Thanks again.

  5. Diana Yazidjian Says:

    Wow. Great expression of friendship. In short, we must find time to remember to say thanks. Thanks, Julien.

  6. Momekh Says:

    Gratitude goes a long way, Julien. Rock on…

  7. tom martin Says:

    Great point Julien about how you met all of these folks at conferences. Made me stop and think about how I met you — yep, at a conference in NOLA.

    And as I think through all the folks I’ve met and segregate them against those that have become friends, mentors and co-conspirators, the common link is repeated face-to-face interaction.

    The world me be more social but I truly think relationships are still physical in nature… you need to have a chance to do real things with real people to truly bond. Exceptions surely, but most of the time, this seems to be the core to a great, enduring relationship IMO.

    Keep rocking my man.
    @TomMartin

  8. Grace White Says:

    I’m grateful to have met wonderful people in the last few years. At conferences and online, sometimes online the in real life. 2010 was my banner year for meeting AWESOME people Julien Smith, Scott Stratten, Joan Eisenstodt, Terry Rachwalski, Izzy Gesell, Kathy Colaiacovo. My quirky sense of relating to people offered me the chances to connect with all these oh so interesting people.
    2009 was a very tough year and these folks and their positive energy and life lessons provided me much needed lift and renewed passions.
    Appreciate the chance to say thank you.

  9. Matt Horwitz Says:

    Julien, I found this post awesome! Short, sweet, and to the point, with great value.

    Reminding me that’s its been nearly a year since my last conference.

    Thanks for your work man. Keep rockin’ !

  10. Sheila Gregory Says:

    Interesting – you point out that we should be meeting IRL and not just online. I like how you describe that you met people by just casually meeting: “hey you look cool, let’s hangout” That is so much fun and what it should really be all about! I wish all those conferences weren’t so expensive to attend! Except Social Media week – that was free in Toronto and I met some good folks there. So it can be done I suppose!

  11. Jeff Goins Says:

    This was good, dude.

  12. Tor Constantino, MBA Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this and your writing does speak for itself. Just out of curiosity, what “…bad American beer…” did you happen to be drinking?

  13. Susan Cooper Says:

    I could agree with you more. It is important to develop tangible relationships. in the end a face to face or some kind of human contact definitely will solidify the relationship for long term. I also loved the way you thanked everyone and how you gave us insight into who they are, how and why the relationships is what it is today.

  14. Paul Jun Says:

    Such a great read. Reminds me of Never Eat Alone (thanks to your recommendation).

  15. Micah Says:

    I love the points you made at the end! It speaks to me…”Get out there” “Be yourself” “Value yourself enough to work hard at something until you add value to others.” “Get out there”!!!!!

  16. Aimee Says:

    I disagree about warm intros, but I’m more socially aggressive than you. ;) Both cold (bold!) and warm intros can work, in my experience. The best thing, which you covered, is showing up to professional events where highly accomplished individuals typically attend. It takes commitment to one’s profession to consistently attend conferences and events outside of working hours.

  17. Aimee Says:

    cont’d… Therefore, usually the contacts you meet are of high quality and will benefit you professionally in some way. I agree that business is done outside of yourself! :)

  18. Alden Says:

    I love the last two parts. It’s a great combination to meet people; for life.

  19. Jelena Milosevic Says:

    Hi Julien,
    Thank you for deaply introducing of your friends!
    It is not just we found who they are, but also the way yours conection exist and how respect and honest contact can bring us not just to good work, but also to good and deaply conections with another human beings :)

  20. Danielle Says:

    Awesome post! And SO timely! In a discussion of socio-economic classes today I was fascinated by how the wealthy are focused on…da dum…connections.

    Now, I’m kicking myself in the tail and getting out there for more meetings. I will also continue to nourish my existing relationships.

    Thanks for the reminder that we can also be interesting and helpful to others!

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