If you would have told me 6 months ago that we’d be on the phone with Hiten Shah talking about our products, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me we’d be getting invited to be on podcasts and to be case studies in others’ books, I’d have called bullshit. And if you told me we’d be chatting on a regular basis with accomplished SaaS folks like Brennan Dunn, Garrett Dimon, and Dan Norris…you get the point.
But the fact is, all of these things have happened for me and my partner, Joelle. And most of them happened before we even launched our first product (Minimalytics)! Here is a quick rundown on how you can do exactly as we’ve done:
You can chat with any of your heroes online. Just ask them.
Wait. Back up. Read that again. You can ask anyone you admire online to chat with you, and they will say yes.
We’ve done it a ton of times in the past few months, and it is by far our greatest source of learning and inspiration. But early on, not only did it seem out of reach, but it was also pretty damn frightening. And even though our first meetings didn’t exactly run smoothly…we lived — and got better with each call.
A Couple of Awkward Meetings
My first Skype was with Jon Gold, a designer/developer “unicorn” at Makeshift. I was nervous as hell, and probably came off as super awkward — but I was immediately hooked. It was the first time I was able to talk industry with someone since I hadn’t yet begun to hang out at local meetups and tech events.
Next we chatted with Garrett Dimon, builder of Sifter, and although I was even more awkward this time around, the conversation got lighter thanks to Joelle and we’ve kept in touch ever since. We should be receiving a beer shipment from him soon ;-)
My point is that, all it took for us to get on these first calls with seemingly “out-of-reach” people was a tweet or a brief email. Our acceptance rate is 100% to this day.
So let me break it down for ya’…here is exactly what you need to do to get on the phone with people who are way more experienced and way busier than you:
Who do I talk to? What should I talk about?
You follow a bunch of people on Twitter right? And you respect the opinions of different people more in certain areas than others? Think of them as your teachers for that topic. When you have an idea they’d be interested in, reach out and tease the idea, and ask if they’d be interested in chatting for about 30min. Your goal with every call is purely to learn/chat about ideas.
Example: I reached out to Jon Gold because, at the time, I wanted to work on producing some form of content that highlighted designer/developer unicorns. Nothing ever came of it, but it was a topic I knew Jon was passionate about, and it sparked a great conversation.
You’re not selling anything. Don’t forget that.
Keep these simple tips in mind:
- Have evidence that you’re executing on something cool. It doesn’t need to be finished, but you need a page live showing that you’re working towards something exciting.
- Have a personal website/Twitter profile with a photo to show that you’re real/someone interesting to talk to.
- Put effort into your first tweet/email. It shouldn’t be long, but it should be well-crafted. Spend 10 extra seconds to proofread and don’t use words like “ur” and “lolz.”
- Avoid talking about yourself. This isn’t about you, it’s about them. Or the both of you. But definitely not just you.
What if I don’t have their email?
Then send them a tweet like this:
Hey @__________, would you be willing to hop on Skype to discuss __________. Shoot me an email: name AT domain DOT com and I’ll give more details :-)
Don’t leave out the smiley. People dig smileys. :-)
And fill in that blank with something they’ve done a great job of in the past. This isn’t just about you.
What tech do I use?
We use Skype most-often. We’ve done one (good ol’-fashioned) phone call and a couple Google Hangouts which are great for sharing screens. If you choose Google, make sure to connect over Google+ days before the call. If you choose Skype, be sure to trade screen names days before the call.
The last thing you want is to be scrambling to dig up contact info five minutes before your chat.
Should I record the calls?
If you don’t have experience being on camera, don’t record your early calls. We made that mistake a few times — planning to publish some of our chats, and I can tell you there is a very close correlation between pressing record and my awkwardness levels shooting through the roof.
I don’t feel ready yet. My product isn’t even finished.
Neither were ours. We had nothing to our names besides a couple landing pages with promises of future products.
Besides, our early calls had nothing to do with our products!
They were all about random blog, book, and podcast/interview ideas. None of those ideas came to fruition. Because we were naïve!
But through that blind wandering process, we learned a ton and met so many cool people who we can now call our friends.
Your product is short-term, the relationships you build are long-term.
Now, go forth and talk to people. Get creative, step out of your comfort zone. I promise you won’t regret it.