I recently joined the board of a Bondi charity that runs the local homeless shelter and women’s refuge.
They’ve faced a few challenges recently. A bunch of people left, some troublemakers tried to hijack the organisation, money vanished, and it all turned messy.
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The charity asked me to become involved and although I don’t have much time I was happy to help out, but knew it would take a few smart, committed people to turn it around.
I just couldn’t see where those people would come from.
Miraculously, they appeared! We had a board meeting on Sunday night and two key people joined the group – a lawyer and a venture capitalist. They had jumped right in at the critical time, taken over key operations and saved the operation.
Looking around the room I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t found these two key people and if they hadn’t been willing to commit so much time and energy into the organisation. Without them, it would have almost certainly fallen over.
It got me thinking about my organisation. How, when times turned hard, one person magically emerges and makes all the difference.
During the two-and-a-half years I’ve been working on Posse I must have met more than 2,000 people. I pitched to 750 of them to raise our first round of financing!
Many people help, offering a bit of advice and some introductions, but very occasionally, I stumble on a rare diamond lying among a valley of rocks. The key is to look out for them and value those relationships like crazy when you find them.
When I think back and plot the highs and lows of the past couple of years, someone’s name stands next to soaring to a high or escaping from a low. They are people who came along at the right moment; without them, we would have failed. It seemed so unlikely that I’d meet these people at the right moment, it’s spooky!
For example, one of my first challenges was to build the right development team and product. I’d spent time and money outsourcing, and then building a team that I sensed wasn’t up to the job. The problem kept me awake every night, and I had no idea how to solve it.
At my moment of despair, I popped into the Tech 23 conference in Surry Hills. I wasn’t speaking; I just thought I’d stop by for a free lunch and see if I’d bump into anyone interesting.
Someone pointed out Lars Rasmussen and said I should try to find a way to be introduced to him. I had no idea who he was and I didn’t have time to hang around so I just bowled up, told him my idea and asked who he was.
‘So you founded Google Maps. Well, I’m having this problem with building a dev team.’
Lars agreed to have coffee with me, we hit it off (he’s an awesome person as well as a genius) and he agreed to meet my current team and give me some feedback.
Unfortunately his feedback was that we were doing it 100% wrong and I needed to change everything.
Within a few weeks he agreed to join the board, and then helped me recruit Alex from Google, who recruited the rest of the team. Lars has been a massive support since then; I can say that without his aid Posse would have shut up shop before opening the front door.
Another encounter on this journey was Richard Baker, then of MLC. One of our early angel investors was pitching for MLC to invest in his fund. He asked if I’d meet with Richard so he could use Posse as an example of the kind of company in which he has invested. I took the meeting as a favour to the investor, not expecting it to lead anywhere for us.
Surprisingly, the Posse concept excited Richard, and he said he’d like to help out. I was heading over to Silicon Valley a few weeks later and was struggling to set up meetings with major funds. Richard had all the contacts through MLC; within a couple of days he’d set me up meetings with Sequioa, Benchmark, Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Andreessen Horowitz – every top tier fund in the Valley!
Months later, Richard invested in Posse through MLC and eventually became a formal advisor. He’s spent countless days helping design the product, recruiting team members and giving strategic advice.
One of the people Richard introduced me to in the Valley was Bill Tai. When I first met Bill, we had pizza for lunch and he seemed much more interested in talking about kiteboarding than Posse.
But he was energetic, smart and engaging – just an awesome guy to be around. At the end of lunch, he said that it was great to meet and that if I wanted to put together a round, he would lead it.
What?! I guess it was a combination of Richard’s recommendation and chemistry, but after one meeting he was in!
We skyped when I got back to Sydney and when I returned to the Valley next month he introduced me to a bunch of his friends who all invested as well.
Building a powerful network isn’t about having thousands of contacts. It’s about forming deep relationships with a few people who can make a difference.
Lars, Richard and Bill have been and continue to be critical to Posse’s success. I speak to each of them at least once a week and it still amazes me how these awesome people are willing to invest so much in Posse and me in so many ways. They truly are blessings and without them I would have failed many times over.
There are two other people that fall into the same category, but they’re modest so I won’t mention them here.
My point is that in the crazy journey of starting a company you’ll come across many people. Some will offer advice and you’ll have to work out when to take it. Some will invest money; some will introduce you to more people. Most will disappear after one meeting never to be seen again.
And there’s a special group of super angels to look out for. They’re the diamonds. You can’t see them coming, but when you find one, they’ll change your business, possibly your life.
I try to recognise the value of these relationships and how lucky I am to have them. And I’m always on the lookout, excited to discover the next one.