A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
I recently received an email from a former student in which he described how he was able to secure a lunch meeting with a high-profile entrepreneur who is operating multiple ventures in parallel.
Benedikt Scholz is an exceptional student whom I had the pleasure of instructing when he recently studied at UC Santa Barbara. A native German speaker, he will soon graduate from University of Münster.
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I wasn’t surprised by Benedikt’s email, as I was aware of his confidence and politely aggressive personality. Before arriving in Santa Barbara, he had already launched his first startup, Rooming, which helps college students manage their living accommodations while studying abroad or interning.
Meeting Adam Cheyer
Securing a meeting with Adam Cheyer was no insignificant feat, given the ceaseless demands on his time and the number of entrepreneurs who would welcome a chance to chat with him. Adam has co-founded a number of ventures, including Siri, later acquired by Apple, where he was the VP of Engineering. He also co-founded Genetic Finance and is a Founding Member of Change.org, a social network focused on initiating and sustaining positive social change.
Benedikt’s description of his encounters with Adam is an effective primer for young entrepreneurs who want to expand their network beyond their peers.
I hope you are well. I thought you might be interested in the following anecdote.
When I attended Startup Weekend in Berkeley, I was inspired by parallel entrepreneur Adam Cheyer’s keynote speech. The successful parallel entrepreneur is a rare species given the conventional wisdom that founders should focus their efforts one venture at a time.
In 2008, Adam simultaneously founded three ventures while working a day job. By the time he was ready to commit to his ventures full time, he chose to apply the pareto principle, focusing on 80% of the results he could extract from 20% of his efforts. For example, his third company was not going to utilize his full skill set, so he contributed by advising them on key strategic areas.
His choice to work on two companies might appear wild, but in reality the ventures positively influenced each other. Adam worked with different teams in each venture and only focused projects that demanded his particular skill set. In doing so, he diversified and thus hedged the risk inherent of each venture.
So, how did I manage to meet Adam for lunch?
I decided that the best way to contact an experienced entrepreneur like Adam is to figure out where the person is scheduled to speak and attend the event. After the speech, you can usually find a brief moment to introduce yourself to the speaker. If he or she is busy, you can always offer to talk while the speaker walking from the event.
However, I recommend always waiting until all the other people gathering around the speaker had the chance to ask their questions because: 1) you might learn something from their questions, and 2) you don’t want to have a nervous person waiting to talk the speaker while it is your turn.
In my case, I waited until Adam’s speech was over and when I noticed he was about to leave I gathered my belongings and waited for him near the elevator. The small elevator only fit three people, so I rode it with him to the bottom floor and introduced myself during a moment of silence. After I commented on his speech, we started a short conversation. By the end of our conversation, Adam offered to meet me in person if I came to his office in San Jose. That same evening I followed up with him by email thanking for the opportunity. A few weeks later, I reached out to him and we met for lunch. During lunch, he provided insights on how he founded companies that informed my decisions moving forward with Rooming.
Thanks for passing down your invaluable wisdom during your lectures at UC Santa Barbara.
Humility & Empathy
Through Benedikt, I connected with Adam in order to gain his perspective on the best way to meet high-profile speakers. His advice is to, “Write a polite email that shows you’ve done some work to understand who they are and what they’ve done, and then say you would like to take them to lunch at their convenience to thank them for their contributions.” He also noted that, “I probably meet with one or two aspiring entrepreneurs a month. (But) I don’t often meet them in an elevator, so that was a cool story!”
Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about people too timid to meet high profile entrepreneurs or that killer burrito I just ate.