The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How can a connection with a stranger lead to your next business success?” is written by Tom Morse, CEO of Instavit.
As they say, “It’s not what you know—it’s who you know.” So how do you connect with a stranger, develop a relationship, and build the next successful business? Quite simply, it’s positioning, being in the right place at the right time, and being curious and assertive. Of course, having a little bit of luck never hurts either.
In 2006, I was seated on a redeye back from Los Angeles and met a guy with long blond hair, dressed in jeans and a black polo. He turned out to be a three-time James Beard Award-winning chef. Needless to say, we did not sleep on that flight. Instead, we talked all night about food and nutrition, and six months later launched an energy drink called Life2Go into supermarkets Costco and Meijer.
While meeting people on planes happens more by chance, you can deliberately expand your network by attending tradeshows and industry events. People who attend them are typically well-informed and passionate about your industry, so the best thing you can do is ask questions. Start by looking at their badges. Are you from the same town? Have you visited there? Look for points of mutual interest and get busy conversing. You’d be amazed at what can result just from being friendly and respectful.
I had the privilege of working a couple of tradeshows with NBA hall of famer James Worthy. When we walked the show floor, everyone would call out to him or stop him and want to talk. And he always took the time to stop and have a conversation. He was friendly, polite, and at one point, it took us nearly an hour to walk about 100 yards. I asked James how he did it. He said his Mom taught him that he’ll always have 30 seconds for anyone.
Not all of us are celebrities, but by taking interest in someone and being respectful, you can make a connection and just may find an opportunity—big or small. Case in point: I once met a former college football player at a trade show in Chicago. Months later, he formulated a product for a company that I cofounded and managed: 5-Hour Energy.
And not surprisingly, while advising a company at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim a couple years back, I met Jatin Joshi, a British surgeon who shared his personal story of overcoming a near-death experience while recovering from Crohn’s disease. He and his wife Sonia developed Instavit, a more effective way to take supplements via oral spray technology. Feeling inspired, I asked to meet with him the next day, and I’m now the CEO of Instavit’s North American division—and we have a chance encounter at a trade show to thank for it.
Placing yourself in the right situations, having an open mind and friendly disposition, and following through with hard work is, at least in my experience, an ideal recipe for business success. Meeting other passionate individuals and sharing a conversation provides you an immediate opportunity to access a new network, new ideas, and gain knowledge from another’s perspective. If something in that conversation particularly piques your interest, follow through. Ground your new business relationship in shared values, but also seek connections that both complement your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.
There are many amazing ideas and many amazing people in the world. All you need to do is position yourself to meet those people and explore those opportunities.