How to meet important people in Silicon Valley (or anywhere else)

This post has been inspired by a conversation on VentureHack’s StartupTalk.

So, how do you become part of the Silicon Valley in-crowd?
First, there really is no such clique and if there is, it is incredibly transient.
Second, Silicon Valley is not an oligarchy, but rather a meritocracy!
And third, if you are smart, capable, intelligent, driven and socially not totally awkward, you can be part of the SV “in-crowd”.

Now, if you think you can email John Doerr, Paul Graham or Larry and get a meeting, think again. It is the equivalent of going to DC and trying to meet with Barack – it ain’t going to happen!
This post is about introductions to important people, but not the “Dignitaries of SV” .

Let’s get to it, how are you going to get quality introductions in silicon valley and become part of the in-crowd? Let’s assume you are planning to visit SV to meet with people for ideas/partnerships/funding/etc.

1. FIND 10 people you want to meet

  • why do you want to meet this person?
  • what do you want to convey/get/accomplish?
  • why would this person want to meet with you?

Most people do not put enough work in this list. e.g. if you think you want to meet @ev or @biz from twitter b/c you have a location based twitter/[random api] mashup, you did not do your homework. Twitter recently bought GeoAPI, so guess what, those guys are a much better fit for you. I can not stress this enough: DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST!

2. FOLLOW them on twitter, FF, Plancast, Buzz or anywhere else you can (avoid facebook & linkedin for now, most people do not accept random followers there and it looks a bit desperate IMHO).

3. ENGAGE them on their favorite platform. RT their post, comment on buzz conversations, @reply on twitter, comment on blog posts. You know, the general “nice-stuff” one can do online.  Paul Graham once told me that he checks comments on HackerNews for people applying to YCombinator.

4. ADDRESS  them directly. This is a subtle addition to “3. Engage”. Now you actually are starting to have some kind of conversation.  e.g. I recently had someone email me about broken links on my site – that was helpful – we started to talk. Nothing big just a “snippet-conversation” that can be built on later. Obviously better if you have something meaningful to say.

4b. (extra credit) DO something for them. e.g. if you want to get Dave McClure‘s attention, do something forstartupvisa (his current pet project).

5. CONTACT them for a specific purpose. Write a good introduction email.

  • everybody is busy! give them at least a few weeks advanced notice
  • once they agree to meet you: offer a few dates/time/locations
  • check their public calendars (e.g. plancast.com) to see where they are

So, you got this far – looks like you enjoy my post. Click here to

A few more random thoughts:

  • try to meet important people early in the morning (a lot less likely to get canceled)
  • try not to have lunch meeting – if you do, don’t eat (even if you are starving, smart to actually eat beforehand) who can eat, talk and listen at the same time?
  • ask if they can think of anyone you should be meeting with
  • confirm every meeting a day prior
  • be on time. And by the way SF to Mountain View is not a 45 minute ride, it can be well over an hour
  • leave room in your schedule. People will likely introduce you to others if they like you/your product or idea
  • go to a few tech meetups while you are here
  • check the startup digest for mixers
  • consider contacting the venturehacks powerbrokers (they love to intro good people)

If you plan your trip well, you will feel like you are part of the in-crowd, I promise. If not, you did not do your homework and find the right people to meet. So start with your “dream list” of people to meet. And keep in mind: you are not asking for favors: Everyone is always looking for great people!

  • soon-to-be founders look for co-founders
  • founders look for good people to hire (and co-founders)
  • journalists look for good stories
  • angel investors look for the next big thing and potential advisory board seats
  • VCs look for fast growing companies and merger/acquisition/partnership opportunities
  • anyone is looking for good tech-geek conversation

If you want a meeting with me, start by (3) follow me (4)engage me, or (heck, I am not that important) just  send me a message @thomask or email (thomask AT Gmail).

Good luck! p.s. If you like this post, subscribe to my email list or rss feed via feedburner.I publish about 2 posts like this per month. Was this useful? please retweet it. Thanks!

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16 comments on “How to meet important people in Silicon Valley (or anywhere else)
  1. Great advice. I have to echo three very important points and share a quick story of how a high school kid not only engaged one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley of the day but got a job offer.

    If you remember these three points, the rest will take care of itself.
    1) have something meaningful to say
    2) DO something for them
    3) you are not asking for favors: Everyone is always looking for great people!

    The story is about Jeremiah Grossman (@jeremiahg who was recently honored at RSA for having the best corporate security blog, beating out Microsoft, Cisco and others: https://infosecurity.us/?p=13253).

    When Jer was in high school, he hacked into websites for fun. He discovered a whole bunch of vulnerabilities in various Yahoo sites and sent an email to customers support (not the the CEO!).

    One day, he got an email from someone at Yahoo asking him who the hell he was (he was just this high school kid living in Hawaii at the time). Well, as it turned out, the email was from a guy named Dave Filo, the co-founder of Yahoo!

    Dave offered Jer a job. He joined Yahoo and never went to college. He is the founder and fellow board member of Whitehat Security, one of our portfolio companies.

  2. Interesting article. I suppose a funny analogy to it is dancing in proximity to girls in a night club till they notice you!

    I imagine that there are other ways too, such as getting involved with various communities and undertaking related projects where people notice you rather than the other way around. That is more of a long-term commitment, also doing so for reasons other than altruism are pretty transparent.

  3. Awesome article Thomas, thank you. I was thinking about this challenge today.

    I’ve just returned from SXSW where i had the great pleasure of meeting a number of investors from the ‘in-crowd’ (I’m from London, so you don’t get chance to do this very often).

    In turns out, surprise, surprise, that they were all down-to-earth, friendly and very helpful indeed. However, they’re so darn busy that it makes accessing their valuable time very hard…so timing and planning is important.

    It would be great to hear a similar reflection on European VCs, if at all the process is any different?

    • I am from Europe but can’t really say much about the VC scene there. I don’t see a very active angel community in Europe. If I am wrong, please introduce me to great Euro-Angels, I’d love to co-operate with someone in Europe.

      Regarding “accessing their valuable time”: A good way to get attention in Silicon Valley is to get a group of smart UK founders together and make it an official “UK meets SV” trip. If you want me to help setup meetings for that ping me thomask AT gmail.

  4. Nice post. The biggest value-add method I see missing here is getting introduced by a known quality existing contact of the person you’d like to meet. This helps avoid the ‘stalker’ profile. Similarly it can be helpful to build some rep in an area relevant to the target person. Hope this feedback helps.

    • Agreed – if you can get introduced by someone always go that route. I should have made that clear in the post.

  5. My two favorite parts:"Last thought; you are not asking for favors: Everyone is always looking for great people!"

    "Silicon Valley is not an oligarchy, but rather a meritocracy!"

    This comment was originally posted on StartupTalk

  6. Thomas,

    Those are some very good tips. I dont doubt how valuable an introduction to an A-lister could be. At the same time though, over the years, I’ve learnt to value every new introduction – no matter how small or big. After all, you never know whose help you might need on a given day.

    • Pranav -
      I totally agree, every introduction, every person you meet, every interaction is paying it forward.
      Being to calculated about ones intention makes it very un-genuine.

      T.

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