I've been putting off writing this post for a long time because I haven't quite figured out how to write it and not come off as arrogant. When I'm stumped for a blog post idea, though, this one often swirls around in my head. So I'll do it today and risk coming across as an ass.
I'm not very famous. The vast majority of people have no idea who I am, and the vast majority of those who do know who I am would only recognize me by my nickname in The Game rather than by my face. Still, having a fairly popular blog, having been involved in pickup, and a few other highlights of my life have lifted me from being wholly unknown to being a tiny bit well known. This puts me in an interesting position: my attention is solicited by more people than I can give it to, yet I'm not quite famous enough that the people whose attention I solicit know who I am.
To simplify the task of writing this post, I'm going to refer to people as 'famous people'. By that I mean people who are influential or visible enough that they have more requests for their attention than they can reasonably grant. By this definition, Jay-Z is famous, Randall Munroe (the guy who draws xkcd) is famous, and I'm famous. There are dozens of other definitions of the word 'famous', most of which would exclude me, and some of which would exclude Randall. So I use the word here as a shortcut, not as a definitive title.
With that out of the way: today I'm going to talk about how to most effectively meet famous people. Wanting to meet famous people is sort of like masturbating: almost everyone does it, but no one really likes to talk about it. We could have a conversation about whether it's "okay" to try to meet famous people, but since that would be a waste of time, I'm going to skip over it by saying that I've had the pleasure of making friends with a lot of famous people, it has been worthwhile, and thus there's some value in helping other people do it.
The goal, by the way, is to actually have some meaningful relationship with the person you want to meet. It's not to stand next to them long enough to have your picture taken. A benchmark might be whether or not that person has something meaningful to say about you a month after you last saw them. The guy in the picture has been long forgotten by then.
The logistics for meeting famous people have never been better. It's easy to find an email address for almost anyone, and anyone who doesn't have a public email address has a twitter account. All that remains is the method to employ, which I'll share as a series of rules.
Rule #1: Don't Ask for Anything.
I put this rule first to emphasize how important it is. Understand that the benefit of forming a relationship with a famous person is NOT that they're going to be your big break, or that they're going to use their influence to help you. Hoping for this is both extremely rude and totally ineffective. Think about it: this person barely has time to read your email, and you're going to use that small sliver of time to try to get something from them?
A better reason to get to know famous people is that they tend to be interesting people. Accomplishment isn't the only road to fame, but it's definitely a well traveled one. Your reward for making friends with a famous person isn't that you get to piggyback off their accomplishment, but rather that you benefit from interactions with the person behind the accomplishment. The famous people I know are all smart people who you can count on to serve as the other side of a worthwhile conversation. These interactions enrich you and inspire you to accomplish things independently.
A rich friend of mine once told me that I was one of only two people he knew who have never tried to get money from him. My guess is that most of my famous friends would also say that I'm one of few people who haven't tried to leverage their fame.
Rule #2: Give Something.
In a world where everyone is trying to take from others, the best way to stand out is to be a giver. It shows a sensitivity to the receiver's situation, and allows them to drop their guard. This dropping of the guard must be recognized and appreciated, though: you can't just give something and then ask for something in return. That's scammy. A good rule of thumb is that if you have an idea of what you want from someone in your head when you meet them, you're doing things wrong. Be looking for things you can do for others.
Nine months ago I got an email from a guy named Carlos Marti. He offered to translate Life Nomadic into Spanish. I read the email with great interest, but didn't reply immediately. A week later he emailed again saying that he had already translated the first chapter. He also made it clear in his emails that the benefit he was hoping to receive was to use the work to build his reputation as a translator. That was a good way to express that he wasn't going to turn around after finishing it and say, "Hey, I translated your book for you. Now pay me $5000."
(By the way, he finished the translation and I dropped the ball on it because I've been so busy. BUT... when I get back to SF I'm going to have a Spanish-speaking friend read it over and then I'll publish it.)
When I travel and post where I'm going, I get a lot of offers to meet up. Most are easy to decline because the person says nothing about themselves, so I'm basically offered the chance to hang out with a complete stranger. One such offer a couple weeks ago was from Carlos, who would also be in Valencia as we passed through. My friends and I all met up with him, all liked him, and have now invited him join us on our next cruise. Offering to translate my book was a great way to open a dialogue, and now we both have a new friend.
Rule #3: Hold Your Own.
I've met with a lot of readers through various avenues: talks, introductions, random run-ins, etc. The attitudes which people take could be roughly divided into three categories: seventy percent convey almost no value at all, twenty percent try to act way cooler than they are, and ten percent are respectful yet aware of their own value.
People in the first category act as if being less famous makes them entirely worthless. They tend to say nothing about themselves and ask the same questions everyone else asks. It's flattering to meet people like this, because anyone who puts their work out publicly is happy to see concrete evidence that it's appreciated by others, but these people tend to blend together. That's probably not what they're ACTUALLY like, it's just how they present themselves.
The people who act cooler than they are, unfortunately, tend to be from the pickup scene. They brag a lot, mostly talking about their conquests, and never ask any questions. They act as if they've never read your work. The dissonance comes from the fact that they've just waited twenty minutes after a speech to come talk with you.
The last category are the people who you actually become friends with. They show respect for your work by mentioning specific ways it's influenced them, but they don't dwell on it. They offer suggestions. They share their own stories and work that are related to the conversation, whereas people from the first group would avoid it altogether, and the people from the second group steamroll through stories that only serve to glorify them. People from this third group acknowledge the value you have, but also recognize that they have value, too.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I had the good fortune of meeting a lot of people more famous than myself. If I knew of the meeting in advance, I would read the last few articles of their blog. Bloggers often write about what's on their mind, so it's a good bet that subjects from recent blog posts will come up in conversation. Reading them allowed me to show that I respected their work. On the other hand, I'd always make sure to convey what I was about. If they were interested in any of the things I'm good at, I wouldn't shy away from talking about them.
Remember that the goal of meeting someone famous is to have a meaningful relationship of some sort with them. You can only do that if there's a foundation of mutual respect.
Rule #4: Have Visible Work
The first thing I do when someone emails me is to check for a link to their web page in their email signature. Having a visible body of work is a good way to allow people to find out what you're about at their own pace. Instead of writing an email with everything I think the recipient might be interested in, he can just click the link in my email, skim for a title of a post that interests him, and read it on his own time. This also makes introductions a lot easier for the introducer: he can just say, "Hey, you should meet this guy, Tynan. Check out his blog." rather than trying to write a little mini-biography.
Rule #5: Introductions are Gold.
There was one blogger I really respected. I sent him a short email telling him what I'm about and asking if he'd be interested in meeting up to chat some time (not the best tactic, really). No reply. Several months later, by chance, a mutual friend introduced us briefly. A couple weeks after the introduction we bumped into each other, had a meal together, and became friends.
When you have a lot of people contacting you, you need to have filters. These filters are never perfect, but they're necessary, because if you met with everyone who wanted to, you would run out of time. One powerful filter, as internet companies like Facebook have discovered, is our friends. If a friend suggests that you meet someone, you're much more likely to do it than if you were just contacted out of the blue.
Besides looking for opportunities to receive introductions, you should also try to give them when it's appropriate. If you know two famous people who don't know each other, it's a great idea to introduce them if you think they'll have common interests. What's a better way to give something to both of them?
One of the best connected guys in San Francisco isn't particularly well known to the public, but he seems to be friends with everyone. It's probably not a coincidence that when I met him, his first question was "Who do you want to be introduced to?"
Photo is a bunch of us, including Carlos from Rule 2, messing around in Valencia
Lots of tasksmash codes to atone for a late post this week:
I think there is nothing here that is not applicable to meeting the "non-famous." I think you should apply the same rules to everyone you meet - respect for their time, willingness to give, not expecting to get something, having something interesting to say about yourself...
I think if you have two modes of greeting, one for the famous, one for everyone else, then you are not being true to yourself.
This is one of the greatest posts I have read. I was looking for the tips how to contact a famous person (athlete) in order to conduct an interview for a magazine and your post is just great for that. Made me think of my mistakes when I am sending e-mails. looking forward to read some more!
[...just as one of my friends asked and i remember that i left a comment in a related article about making friends with the well-to-do... so i decided to share it here... and here is what i posted]
i made friends with well-to-do people and quite often than not, i get to listen to their private lives and how things are going which they won’t tell just about anyone they know… they are just like you and me, they are people with issues in life to deal with either their business or what not…
there are some things you may have to keep in mind…
1. don’t treat their friendship like they are VIPs… they get that even on a business-casual. they simply just need a company
2. don’t expect them to foot out the bill simply because you know they make more money than you. they’re used to people who always expect them a handout. offer to pay the bill or give your exact 50% share of the bill you both used up.
3. say things straight to their face. it may come of offensive but they’re used to it… they prefer people who are honest and straight to the point than people who try to be goody-goody with hidden intentions. you wouldn’t want to hear how well-to-do people talk behind close doors, it will shock you.
4. well-to-do people really don’t feel that excitement of you telling everyone, “omg i know them… they’re my bff!!!” they befriend you with the hopes that you’ll treat them like any normal person would treat a friend. if you come off that way, you will sound like you’re befriending them for prestige… it’s part of the package, you need not have to broadcast it.
5. share what you have… if you’re dropping by mcdonalds and you’re going to their place, include them a bigmac and fries… you’ll be amazed to see how much of a normal people they are — they eat the same food you eat (but of course if they wanted fine dining they can). media murders the idea of well-off being too picky to almost everything, that’s often not the case.
6. it’s ok to raise financial problems as we all are in some finance problem and so are they… but don’t expect them to shed out for you only because they make more money than you. you are not their responsibility… a caring friend would shed out what they can when they know what you’re going through. and even if they shed out money and not ask you to pay them back… PAY THEM BACK as fast and as early as you can or they will feel that you’re using them to your benefit.
With some of those points, i hope i shed a little light…
I did have success with a male celebrity I had admired FOR YEARS. Happened to be at the same party he was at (in politics). I mentioned that my father said Black Hawk Down was exactly how it was in Vietnam; my father was a helicopter pilot in the war. I told him good job! (I left out the part about it triggering PTSD...) He was shocked and said "Wow..."
This is without a doubt one of the best posts you've ever written. I read this years ago when you first published it, and still like to re-visit it and read through from time to time, just as a refresher. Thanks for the advice and wisedom.
Great advice, but I sort of have the opposite problem. I have a semi-influential dad, and I'm sick of people asking me to meet him. Any advice on politely getting people to shut up about that?
Kick-ass post Tynan. You certainly blog with finesse. I certainly respect good writers because it's a skill that I haven't reigned in yet. I've found a way to enjoy the company of "famous" people is to realize that they're just people. I know I don't want their help and I agree that in my experience, most of them are very cool, well versed people who I just end up enjoying the company of. Kudos on the post!
I wonder if there's any value in acting like you *don't* know this person is famous, or does not know what they are famous for/or don't know their body of work. Would this be detractful from establishing a connection with said famous persons?
As far as I was concerned, she was perfect. She was at least as smart as I was, was a dancer and had the body to prove it, and had a smile that could disarm the national guard. Let's call her Julie.
So, like an earthworm stalking it's prey, I put my usual game on her. Since my last flowchart was so popular, I've made another one to show you how I dealt with the ladies back then:
Nedless to say, things went slowly. We hung out nearly every day for the last couple months of our Senior year summer vacation. Like many guys, I was totally oblivious to her attraction for me. One morning Julie came over really early while I was still sleeping, and squeezed into my twin bed with me. I woke up, and assumed that she must be tired - it didn't even occur to me that she might like me. Finally on the last week of that vacation she said to me,
I meet with a lot of people to exchange ideas and advice. Lately I have noticed a very powerful trait that the most authentic founders, investors, and advisors exercise. I call it the "DGF Principle." Since I come from a military background, I really love acronyms. DGF stands for "Don't Give a F#$k" (aka Direct Given Feedback). Despite containing a curse word, this acronym actually connotes a very positive trait that I've noticed in the most authentic people I've come across in Silicon Valley. DGF People are not insecure and they are willing to provide direct and honest feedback to you.
People who demonstrate the DGF Principle are always mindful of your time. Out of respect for you and for the process of *becoming* an entrepreneur, they don't waste your time by giving you mixed signals or blowing sunshine up your ass. If they don't like your product, they will tell you why. If they are concerned about your market or product they will explain their rationale. If they are concerned about your team, they will communicate this to you. Sometimes their criticism might come across as being harsh, but I have found that so long as they are authentic and honest, then the feedback is constructive at worst and empowering at best. You always walk away knowing where you stand with DGF people, which frees up mental bandwidth to focus on other priorities instead of attempting to second guess them.
When I meet with fellow entrepreneurs I try my best to exercise the DGF Principle. This motivation stems from my belief that you should strive to live the Golden Rule and "treat others as you would want to be treated." Although it seems simple enough, sometimes it can be hard to exercise the DGF Principle because delivering honest feedback can often be a bit uncomfortable in the near-term. But in the long-term it is the most efficient and valuable way to exchange ideas and feedback if you're an entrepreneur, advisor, or investor.
In the past I wish more people would have just told me if they thought my product sucked or if they would NOT use it rather than sidestep the issue. Sometimes giving or receiving a 'No' can be a blessing in disguise, especially when it's wrapped in a thoughtful explanation, which provides clarity on the issue. That's why it's important to seek out authentic people to exchange ideas and advice — because they are most likely to exercise the DGF Principle.
Case in point, a few years ago when I was raising capital for a software company, I had introductions and meetings with notable investors. One investor, in particular liked our market, liked our team, and appreciated our ability to execute with product and customers. He dug in to get more information about the deal, made great introductions, provided honest feedback, and most of all — he was *fast*. He did not waste our time. When he ultimately passed on the deal, he thoughtfully explained his rationale and thanked us for considering him. To this day, I still have a great relationship with this DGF investor. In fact, I have referred him good deals and recommended him to other founders raising capital.