How a stranger can save you from a total business disaster

October 11, 2015, 5:00 PM UTC
Copyright Raymond Hamlin

The Entrepreneur Insider 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 Mollie Spilman, chief revenue officer at Criteo.

Many years ago, I was flying to Los Angeles on a business trip for a digital video advertising company I was building. I ended up sitting next to a Verizon corporate employee on the flight who was in charge of the streaming video business. After telling him about the company I was in the process of starting, he told me that he knew of many businesses already doing what I was venturing into. Not only did this result in a valuable business connection — I’m still in touch with him today — but in the short term, I was able to gain a lot of competitive intelligence. Ultimately, I became aware that my idea wasn’t the blue ocean I once thought it to be, which was intimidating. But, at the same time, I knew that if others were going after a similar concept, then there must be an appetite and need for what I had in mind.

Following the business trip, I shared what I learned with my fellow co-founders, and we ended up developing a few different pivots the company could take in case one avenue didn’t work out. As with most startups, the idea we started out with wasn’t the idea that made it the thriving and successful business it is today. While I wasn’t at the company during its final transformation, it was this kind of entrepreneurial path that has shaped my professional livelihood.

See also: How a chance meetup could boost your career

The whole concept of networking is built around exactly this — connecting with the unknown public in order to grow professionally. While it’s sometimes all be about the luck of the draw and being at the right place at the right time, it often takes natural curiosity and proactivity to be surrounded by the “right” strangers. And, when I say natural curiosity, I don’t just mean in a specific industry. People from any profession and any part of the world can spark a significant business outcome. This natural curiosity can lead someone to continually search for meaning and perspective from every opportunity, including meeting strangers.

You never know what you can learn from a stranger, whether about yourself or your business idea. Game-changing concepts can result from these kinds of impromptu encounters. Connecting with strangers isn’t just about selling more of your product or getting a reward — as entrepreneurs are always in “sell-mode” — it can be a much deeper stimulus to the entrepreneurial journey.


As Criteo’s chief revenue officer since 2014, Mollie Spilman is responsible for leading all commercial operations globally from the company’s New York City headquarters. She joined Criteo from Millennial Media, where she served as EVP, Global Sales and Operations, and was CMO at Yahoo prior to that position. She has spent 24 years in the media business, and has been honored with multiple awards including Mobile Marketing’s “Mobile Women to Watch” in 2012 and Ad Age’s “Women to Watch” in 2013.

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