Published well over a decade ago, Never Eat Alone is still as valuable for founders in 2018 as it was for me in 2005.
I’m constantly looking to the in-vogue books of the hour for advice. This past year, for example, I found Kim Scott’s Radical Candor and the Heath brothers’ The Power of Moments to offer a lot of great insight into company culture and leadership. One of the books I return to over and over, however, is Keith Farrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. Published nearly thirteen years ago, right around the time I got into sales, the book was given to me by a friend when I needed it most. Today, I use what I learned from Ferrazzi on an almost-daily basis and find that it still holds as much value as it did the first time I read it.
If you’ve never come across this book, you should know that it’s not actually about eating alone. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with having lunch by yourself. While Ferrazzi does touch on the social value of food and its “unique ability to facilitate conversation”, the book is about the importance of networking. More importantly, and what makes this book so special, is that it’s about networking the right way.
Pushing Yourself to Network
Whether they admit it or not, founders are often hesitant to put themselves out there. Whether it’s selling, networking, or fundraising, they feel that the encounters are transactional and one-sided. When going after potential customers, for example, you might feel like you’re attacking somebody. Obviously, most people don’t like to think of their interactions that way.
In reality, as Ferrazzi points out, they don’t have to. When practiced and properly executed, networking is done from a place of authenticity and sincerity. It is a mutually beneficial encounter that can potentially add value to both parties. Writing about his experience in the cut-throat environment of Harvard Business School, Ferazzi writes that the students around him, “…had it all wrong. Success in any field, but especially in business, is all about working with people, not against them”.
The book, in turn, outlines a positive philosophy of networking, one that emphasizes relationship-building and making a difference in the lives of others. Instead of taking the “attack” approach to sales and networking, striving to add value to people’s lives will help you develop business relationships organically.
I’ve found that thinking about business in this way can help even the most hesitant founder to get out there and start talking to people.
Reaching Out to Help
In preparation for Dreamforce last fall, I found myself continuously recommending Never Eat Alone to the founders I work with. Many startup founders need serious help in working at conferences and there’s no better resource than Ferrazzi to teach you how to do it successfully.
Conferences, after all, are the best place to meet other working in your industry. They’re the people who, more than anyone else in the world, are going to be excited about what your company is up to.
At the same time, however, conferences can be extremely stressful for everyone in attendance. People traveling from out of town are so focused on preparing their presentations and booking hotel rooms that they might not have time to research the best places to eat or find out where the cocktail parties are going to be. As Ferrazzi notes, “The mess that can ensue is an opportunity for you to come in and help out—and become an insider in the process”.
Essentially, Ferrazzi explains that you can make yourself a lynchpin of the conference simply by learning about who is going to be at the event and inviting them to meet up with you beforehand. Sometimes, people are just waiting for someone else to speak up and say something.
Whether you invite a few people out to drinks or organize a twenty-person dinner, you have the opportunity to both relieve people of the stress involved in navigating an unfamiliar city and have some face-to-face time with the attendees you’re most interested in talking to. Even if you only end up organizing five people for a meal, you’ll get to know those five people and they’ll get to know you.
It probably won't lead to direct results right away but people are going to remember that you’re the person who does such and such. It’s a way that you can let other people know what you’re doing and help them to get their goals met at the same time. No smarmy, transactional give-get situations, just organically-grown relationships.
Much of his advice about networking at conferences is available in Conference Commando, Ferrazzi's conference networking pdf. All of the information contained within that document is pulled straight from Never Eat Alone. Perfect if you’re too busy to read the whole book.