Rethinking Networking: How I spent 1 hour with 500 individuals in 1 year


It took me 222 days to meet the first 100 people for my project. It took me 143 days to meet the next 400. Over the past year, I’ve invested a total of 500 hours in the lives of 500 different individuals. I’ve met everyone from street artists to homeless people to CEOs to former Mayors to DJs to students to millionaires.

I once read that the average person will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime, but I’ve never been much for mediocrity. My goal is to spend 1 hour with 10,000 different people over the course of 10 years, and as I’ve reached what I consider to be a sizable milestone I wanted to share how I got started and hopefully inspire you to meet someone new!

Now, how I started it is the culmination of my time at Penn State, a couple of iPhone notes, my sales experience, and a small window of inspiration.

As a student at Penn State, I was involved in a bunch of clubs and activities including my fraternity (Beta Theta Pi), the Penn State Dance Marathon, Habitat for Humanity, Lion Ambassadors (tour guide / campus rep), and Homecoming. Through these clubs, I knew a lot of students on campus so it was easy for me to walk down the streets and run into friends. I missed that feeling after graduation and wanted to recreate it. I’ve also always aspired to create something original, which leads me to my notes.

I have a note in my iPhone notes from January 16, 2014, 12:19am that says:

“Introduce myself to 10,000 people in one year. 200 people/week. 40 people/day (weekends off). 10 min conversation = 7 hrs/day.”

I recognized that this was an unattainable goal (which didn’t have much depth), so I pivoted to meet for an hour. This is the earliest documentation I have of the idea.

I have another note from March 26, 2015, 5:42pm that reads, among other things:

“My ability to meet people is what will take me to where I want to be.”

It wasn’t until I reread this note months later that my idea clicked. I decided to take advantage of this window of inspiration, equating it to the same way you sometimes need to muster up the courage to jump out of your warm, comfortable bed on a cold, winter morning. I just decided I was going to do it.

So, on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 5:44pm, I cold emailed Jim Brady, CEO of BillyPenn.com, because they run a Who’s Next series, and I thought that’d be a great group of people to meet.

“Hey Jim!

I’m planning to attend the Who’s Next Bash this year. I actually just caught wind of it because I was reading about Philly musicians on the rise and stumbled on the Who’s Next series.

I have a personal goal to meet with 10k individuals for an hour each in aggressively about 4 years (it may take longer, but that’s the goal). Each of the categories you covered so far are ones that I plan on meeting people in along with: the guy who sells newspapers on the corner on my way to work, homeless people, local business owners, elderly people — basically I just have a strong desire to know those around me.

Why am I telling you this? Because I wanted to see if you’d be interested in being one of those 10k people. I’m hoping to keep track of my efforts on a blog and Instagram so I can talk about how we met and take a picture with everyone I meet. Other than that, I have nothing to sell you on other than the fact that I’m a nice guy and as my network grows, yours will grow with it.

So what do you think — would you be willing to meet sometime over the next week/weekend?

Look forward to hearing from you!
Rob Lawless”

He replied two days later.

“Rob,

That’s an ambitious goal for sure. I’m glad to be one of those people, but can’t do it in the next few weeks. Not in Philly much in October. So if you’re OK with November, glad to meet up…

Thanks,
Jim”

Jim and I met up for lunch at Cosi on November 11, 2015 where he asked something along the lines of “So what number am I, like 2,000 or something?” and I replied, “No, you’re number 1.”

The project had officially begun.

I moved forward by googling “Philadelphia artists”, which led me to inliquid.org. There, I came across a few artists whose work I found interesting so I emailed them as well. I also took to Instagram and began direct messaging Philadelphia photographers because I loved how they captured the city through their unique shots.

Three of my first ten meetings, though, originated from a coffee conversation with an old Deloitte colleague. I had mentioned to Geoffrey Helt that I was embarking on this journey and he connected me with Chad Stender, Director of Operations at SeventySix Capital, who in turn connected me with his friends at Thrive Commerce. Those referrals set the tone for how my project would grow and why it continues to grow today.

Forty-nine people into the project, I met Tracy Buchholz, a cheerful and pleasant soul who shared her love of urban exploration. She not only introduced me to the famed Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar, but also to Josh Middleton, a writer for the small non-profit media organization, The Philadelphia Citizen.

Josh and I met five days later and following our meeting, he wrote the first piece of media coverage on my project, Walking With Strangers, which was published on May 23, 2016. I had met 65 people up to that point.

I consider Josh’s article to be the tipping point of people reaching out to mevs. me reaching out to them. It also came during a critical point in my life — a month after the article, the start-up company I worked for as a sales rep was acquired, and my position was no longer needed moving forward. Faced with the decision to fully pursue something I really enjoyed or to start looking for another job, I decided to take a risk and bet on myself that I could make something out of this project.

Since then, I’ve been covered by several other media sources including Technical.ly, PHL17, FOX 29, & NBC10 with each piece of coverage boosting my audience and the number of requests I receive to meet.

Despite the press, the biggest contributing factor to growth has been word of mouth. On July 7, 2016, I met two Temple University students, Ashley Settler (who was introduced to me by another 10k friend) and Jacob Andrews. Each of them reposted our Instagram photo on their pages, creating a chain reaction of other students reaching out to participate, who then reposted our photos to their pages as well.

Through the combination of my own efforts early on, referrals, media attention, and word of mouth exposure, I’ve met over 500 individuals, have grown a very modest Instagram following of over 3,000 people, and now receive about 40 messages per week to meet. From my perspective, it’s been interesting to watch the project grow from its infancy to a self-sustaining vehicle of meetings, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where it leads me as I continue on the journey.

You may wonder, “Why is this guy trying to meet so many people?” or “What’s his end goal?” The answer is simple. I thoroughly enjoy getting to know other people and I intend to live an interesting life while I’m on this earth. So often we hear the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” yet many of us spend the majority of our days behind a computer screen. As a person who’s always claimed meeting new people as my favorite hobby, I’m finally walking the walk instead of talking the talk.

I’ve gained an incredible appreciation for those around me and the struggles they’ve endured throughout their lives and have nurtured a deep respect for the privileges I’ve been afforded in my own life. I understand that I’m lucky to be able to spend my days meeting others, but I’ve found that I learn something new from each and every person I meet, so if you feel so inclined, try it out on your own and meet someone new. You never know what will come of a fresh connection!

Thanks for reading!

Rob

P.S. HUGE shoutout to my first sponsor, Stitch, for helping make my project possible for the month of November. If you’d like to write you or your company into the narrative of this project as a sponsor for the month of December, get in touch at robs10kfriends@gmail.com! If you’d like to follow along or meet, shoot me a message at @robs10kfriends on Instagram!


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