The power of the network…and Haley Joel Osment

A month after quitting my safe job to start Me_tail in January 2008, it seemed like I’d made a very bad decision or at least been the victim of a joke by the Fates; the credit crunch leading to the biggest recession in recent memory had hit, the Icelandic banks buying the company I’d been working for had pulled out at the last minute rendering my promised stock options worthless…and funding, or rather the appetite for funding risk, had dried up completely.

So there I was, with rapidly diminishing savings and no network in fashion retail, trying to start an online fitting room service in the recession of recessions.  Given that I was already fighting the start-up odds of 90% failing, there seemed little point in following the advice of a learned friend to write a journal of my experiences.  Also, who would care what I had to say?

But here I am more than 2.5 years later with the beginnings of my vision for solving the problem of online clothing fit about to launch to the world; a reason to keep a journal of my experiences.

The key to launching a highly complex R&D heavy product has been the ability to survive for two of those 2.5 years working on proving the technology without any salary, throwing all available funds at advancing the product technology. But even that seemed to rely on a succession of ‘lucky breaks’; the choice of a base rate tracker leading to my mortgage dropping like a stone, lodgers and consultancy jobs just when I needed them.  However, I believe you make your own luck and to coin an old tag line from my previous employer Inspired Gaming Group, I believe getting to launch was down in strong part to ‘the power of the network’.

I’d always seen networking as a dirty word at school.  With two working class parents who’d made their second home in this country, I did not have the working world contacts of my peers.  However, once I’d started working for Sportal.com in 1999 I learnt the valuable lesson from our CEO, Rob Hersov, that you CAN make your own network.  All you need to do is simply:

  1. Talk to interesting people, not people whose title is important
  2. Take the premise for the Haley Joel Osment film ‘Pay it Forward’ (which I’ve actually never seen), and
  3. Combine with the principle of ‘joining the dots’

Interesting conversation with interesting people is remembered and if you can link them to people who might be of interest to something they are involved in, they are even more likely to remember you and do you a favour at some point… even if that point might be years later.  Also, interesting people know lots of other interesting people.  As Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book ‘The Tipping Point’, it is these people who are likely to be the connectors and mavens of the world.  So although I started with a network of almost zero people in fashion retail, I’m now in a position where I can get a meeting with many of the fashion and clothing retail elite and most of these connections have come from people who aren’t in fashion.  Similarly ‘the power of the network’ has brought me random consulting gigs when I was down to my last penny (a long lost school friend not seen in 12 years from a Facebook status update) and all my investors to date.  So, to paraphrase a famous Samuel Goldwyn quote, ‘the more you cultivate your network, the more fruitful it becomes’.

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