I had recently moved apartments in New York City when Hurricane Sandy struck. I spent the day-of preparing, and in true New York style, duct taping the bedroom windows of my East Village apartment. Then at around 9 p.m., there was an explosion at a Consolidated Edison power substation. I saw the flash and heard the bang. The blast from New York’s utility company left about 750,000 people in the dark. And yep, that included me.
The next morning, I walked 50 blocks to my office in Midtown, but afterwards had no place to go. So, when a friend said he was going to the apartment of a woman named Lizzy, I asked if I could join. Lizzy had lots of food, a well-stocked board game collection and, most importantly, electricity — so, along with 15 others waiting out the storm, I ended up staying there for two nights.
And while I didn’t know it then, being stranded in Lizzy’s house would change my life forever.
A few months later, she became my business partner. I had an idea for a startup; she was an incredibly talented UX designer — and really, her generosity as a stranger ended up forging our company. Here’s what the whole experience taught me about starting a business:
Put yourself out there.
Technically, I didn’t have to go to Lizzy’s that night. I could have gone back to my apartment and lit some candles. But, instead, I chose to expose myself to a totally new situation. It wasn’t comfortable (I slept on hardwood floor with a group of strangers), but it was genuinely interesting to connect with those around me. Given the environment and situation, we developed a sense of camaraderie pretty quickly — and understood that all 15 of us were lucky to have power and provisions during the storm.
The fact is, 30 percent of businesses won’t make it past the first 24 months. And no matter how many books you read, you’ll never succeed by sitting at home. To bring on the best partners, talent and new customers, you need to be open to new experiences, and attend as many Meetup groups, panel discussions, nonprofit events, and even as many birthday parties, as you can. It’s easy to be lazy. But, take it from me: You never know what’s going to happen, or what you’re going to learn. If I had stayed home that night, my business would have never been born.
Always treat everyone with equal respect.
Head to a networking event and pinpoint the organizer or speaker in the room. How many people are talking to them? Lots, I’m guessing.
Oftentimes in business, networkers spend their energy trying to meet the most influential people, whether they be a big-name investor at a charity event, or a famous journalist at a conference. But, the thing is, you don’t know who everyone is in the room — or who they’ll become in the future.
It’s important to treat everyone you meet with equal respect. In that apartment during Hurricane Sandy, I could have gotten annoyed at someone for turning on the AC at night (ahem, Lizzy) or at some guy for crowding my legroom in my sleep. However, in making the most of every interaction, I was able to build great relationships that impacted my business later on.
One person in the apartment was a world traveller. Two guys went on to found a major salad company. Another person became a well-known nutritionist. And of course there was Lizzy, a UX designer. And guess what? These people ended up helping the business develop in some form or another.
Obviously, Lizzy became my business partner. We ended up doing a photoshoot with the nutritionist for a marketing campaign. The salad company guys gave us amazing advice on investors, and the world traveller ended up connecting us with some promising potential ones. It goes to show that a relationship today may help you in the future, so meet everyone you can.
You need to meet your potential co-founder in a range of settings.
During Hurricane Sandy, I saw Lizzy’s generosity come to life. She had bedding set up for everyone, had stocked up on food and she even cleaned up after us. And when I considered going into business with her, these were the skills I thought about. They translate well into business — being organized, prepared, sociable and empathetic. It’s all the characteristics you want your co-founder to possess.
Not everyone will meet their co-founder in an intense situation. So, before locking in, it’s extremely important to interact with him or her in different situations. Invite a potential co-founder for coffee, a Sunday brunch, a drink at your favorite bar or an outing with friends. Getting into business with someone is just like getting married, so it’s extremely important to seek a second opinion about your potential co-founder from the people you’re close with — it’s the ultimate vetting process.
Hurricane Sandy proved to be a devastating storm. However, out of the chaos came our company and my incredible relationship with Lizzy. Without her, the business would not be where it is today. So, whether it be an unfortunate situation or night out with friends, make the most of those moments. You never know how those interactions will shape your life.