This year I’ve hit a lot of milestones. 10 years since the founding of Fledge. The 10th anniversary (update) to The Next Step. 30 years as an entrepreneur.
And this week… 20,000 connections in my spreadsheet of contacts, a.k.a. my CRM.
I started this list back in early 2012 when I left “tech”, jumped into the world of mission-driven for-profits, i.e. impact companies and impact investing, and decided to launch Fledge. I seeded the list with maybe a dozen people from my tech career who I had checked in with in late 2021, who might be helpful with my new career path.
Everyone else was added one by one through email introductions, online virtual meetings, incoming LinkedIn requests, and so on. When I meet someone new, I add them to the list. Name, email, company, date, and a short note reminding me how we met or what we spoke about. Spammers don’t get added, nor email addresses of unsolicited (cold) email selling me SEO or other services I don’t need.
Or in other words, I’ve met 20,000 people in the last 10 years and have spoken with just about all of them in some way. And while I’m sure there are a few duplicates when people’s email addresses change, there is just one line per contact and thus this close to 20,000 unique individuals.
Doing the math… that is 2,000 new people per year. At 320 working days per year, 6.25 people per day!
Looking at it like that, it seems next to impossible. But I’m sure it’s true as I’ve been watching this list grow week by week for over 500 weeks, and as it starting closing in on 20,000 last month, I did a little cleaning of duplicates and deleted around fifty rows.
So… what is the point of all this networking? Isn’t it excessive? And how did you do it?
Networking is the core of my job. I find entrepreneurs, find mentors, and find investors, and connect them all together. I do this globally, with partners around the world running their own accelerator programs. Over the last decade I’ve looked at tens of thousands of startups, taught thousands of entrepreneurs, met close to a thousand mentors, and reached out to a few thousand investors.
Given that work, no, this isn’t excessive. Some weeks of the year its a bit overwhelming, when there are too many hours of Zoom and email and not enough time to do the work that exists outside those two tools. But a few times each year there is a lull in meetings and I wonder where I can find more rocks to turn over to find yet-more people to meet.
How can you do this too? It builds upon itself. Early on at the end of every meeting I asked for two introductions to two people who I should talk to next. Not every one of those meetings happened, but I nonetheless had an exponential number of introductions for the first six months. Eventually the same names kept popping up, and at that point I stopped asking, but at that point I was having enough meetings that new introductions simply happened. I hit critical mass.
Ten years later, serendipity happens all the time. And from it came all of the partners at Fledge, Realize Impact, The Angel Accelerator, and Africa Eats, all of which are now part of my “day job”.