Customer Zero Gets Wrinkly

What do most company founders dream that they’ll be doing in 27 years time? I’ll be 64… Will you still need me, will you still feed me?

I imagine most dream they’ll either be running their business in some fantabulously successful form, or having exited for some stupendously pocket-bulging amount of money and lying on a yacht in the sun somewhere.

Neither interest me.

Before my investors do a run on my company’s piggy bank, I’m not suggesting that I don’t want Wholi to be successful. Instead I really, really want to use what we’re building in 27 years time. I sincerely hope we (or someone else) has built it.

My team sometimes call me ‘Customer Zero’ at Wholi when we’re trying to design the product – and I make no apologies about focusing the company on building something I really want. Maybe CEO is just short form for CustomerzErO anyhow?! As Paul Graham states, the key to success is to ‘build something people want’. This isn’t an ego thing, but instead our hope is that if I want it, others will too. It’s how Google and Apple started and they’re doing OK.

People search has fascinated me for a long time. The reason is that all the best things I’ve experienced – from the boardroom to the bedroom – have happened as a result of meeting amazing people. I believe that when two of the ‘right’ extraordinary people find each other at the right time, the outcome can be a million times better than when two of the ‘wrong’ people find each other, when there’s a mismatch, or even then there’s a sub-optimal match. Think Larry and Sergei, Steve and Woz to use the companies above – examples of what can happen when two amazing people meet. Universities or communities are a useful proxy for bringing the right people together, but I believe it can be done oh so much better.

We’ve taken a few twists and turns along the people search journey and, no doubt we’ll have a few to come. Yet the essence remains true, which is that Wholi is focused on trying to enable the right people to find each other.

So what do I want, when I’m 64?

My dream is to be able connect the right people… lazily.

Said another way, I would like the people I know who have a problem or opportunity to feel totally comfortable and easily be able to ask me for help. Then I would like to be able to connect them with another person I know who would be able to help them. Preferably the best person possible to help them. And I’d like to be able to do this in seconds.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think LinkedIn can achieve this vision any more, even though that’s what they set out to achieve. Yet it’s founder Reid Hoffman is a role model for this mode of being. I read somewhere that he aims to sit at the intersection of networks, being helpful to people in order to get stuff done. I paraphrase from my memory as I’m writing this on a plane, so I hope this isn’t a total misquote or misattribution, but I believe he does this supremely well.

As for me, I’d like to be able to be somewhere far away – say Kenya (perhaps my favourite place) and yet be able to connect 10 people who should meet each day and create significant value by bringing them together. I want to do this in a short period of time, so that I can get on with doing more introductions, or do something else like kitesurfing (hopefully I’ll still be going aged 64). I don’t want technology that forces me to look at a screen for longer please! I don’t care too much if I get something out of these connections. Some people paint, some write music – for me this is a form of creativity that gets me out of bed each morning.

It’s not wholly altruistic, by knowing who to ask for help, I hope to also get things done, come across new exciting opportunities meet amazing people. It would be a reason to meet new people and to continue to network, rather than the vanity networks we have today.

Whether someone in need is looking for a new therapist, kiting buddy, or an entrepreneur has an idea for a company, or a friend needs help with a legal issue – to be able to direct them to the right person to help them would, for me, be wholly fulfilling.

That’s what we’re trying to build today with Wholi – do come and try it out. I’m also helping as many people as I can for 50 days so please do ask me for anything you need.

Here’s to being needed (and fed) when I’m 64.  

64 candles is more of a bonfire with a cake on the bottom…

50 Days of Help

In the next 50 days, I am going to go a bit bananas and go on a helping spree. My aim is to solve professional problems people have, by introducing them to someone I know that might help. My aim is to do this as much as I can in the 50 days.

See my previous article – ‘Just Ask’, which explains why I’m doing this. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Don’t be shy – PLEASE DO ASK or I can’t be as helpful as I’d like to be…
  2. It should be a professional problem you have that could be solved, or helped by one person in my network – so I should be able to help in <10 mins.
  3. Email me at tom at wholi (if you can’t guess the rest, I’m not sure I can solve your problems!) with a simple, “Know anyone who XXX in order to solve YYY”.
  4. Here’s me on LinkedIn if you want to see what I’m likely to be able to help with
  5. I want to be able to determine who’s best to connect you to, so don’t ask for specific people
  6. I will only intro you to someone if I think they want to hear from you!

Some examples:

– Know anyone who knows about ‘transparent salary’ schemes?

– Do you know a good business coach in London or Bristol, I want to learn X?

– Know any angel investors in London who are interested in AI, we’re looking to raise X?

– Do you know anyone who might be willing to sit on our board, specifically someone with X skill?

– Know a good product consultant to solve X?

I won’t help with things like, “I need a software engineer”, or “do you know anyone who wants to buy my product”. It should be something that one person in my network can help with.

…and some guidelines:

  1. This isn’t about achieving a maximum score. I want to focus on quality, not quantity. I’m not going to stay up all night, take class A substances to keep me awake or skip holidays. I am going to try my best to be helpful within ‘normal working hours’, where I can.
  2. Don’t ask me to connect you with specific people e.g. I see you know X, can you connect me.
  3. I’m not going to sell stuff on your behalf, or persuade someone to join your company. Use your judgement. 
  4. If I don’t respond, I probably can’t help. I will do my best!  
  5. The aim of the experiment is to maximise the help I can give. If it ends up being shared, we get press, or people want to sign up to Wholi because they want to help more – so be it, but that’s not the aim. The reason why we want to expose this campaign is simply to maximise the help.

I’ll do my best to share the journey as well my findings/learnings and thoughts as I go.

Thanks for helping me help! 

Just Ask

I’ve had a bit of a Damascene moment recently, which I wanted to share… plus it has also prompted me to run an experiment to see how many people I can help in 50 days (more on this here).

I have a moderately good network and take great pleasure connecting people, meaning I absolutely love introducing people who can be of mutual benefit. Yet I’m also a busy person who wants to get shit done, so I’ve tended towards helping people with an expectation – when there’s obviously or potentially something in it for me. It sounds selfish put like that, but like most businessmen, I’ve wanted to be rewarded for my time. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I’ve traded favours.

My Damascene moment has been to realise that by unshackling myself from an expectation of return, I can be way, way more helpful and that – perhaps ironically – means I’m better rewarded.

The realisation is certainly not my own – I’ve been prompted by articles such as this, and much wiser, more experienced people like Reid Hoffman, Adam Rifkin and Naval Ravikant, to name but a few.

There is no Machiavellian hidden agenda. This is not pure altruism, but instead a realisation that there is a beautiful symbiotic benefit in being as helpful as possible. I still want to get things done, but this approach of helping without expectation actually helps me get more done and is distinctly more pleasurable. I’d rather not try to calculate whether this or that introduction has a certain value but instead just maximise my ability to help (knowing that it was valuable to both parties involved, of course).

Perhaps years in a boarding school initiated my tit-for-tat survival strategy, because whilst this is a painfully simple idea, it’s actually been remarkably difficult to execute. There’s a fine balance that’s hard to strike. Some people excel at this, but most, myself included, do not. Too often when someone has come to me for help and I’ve slipped back into my old mindset of feeling time-poor, or unwilling because I can’t see the value. Like a meditation practice, I’ve had to keep bringing myself back.

The second issue preventing my help campaign is that people don’t just ask. In hundreds of chats, I’ve learned that people are reluctant to ask for favours because it feels awkward, they don’t want to be needy, or they don’t know who to ask either based on their knowledge or who will help. They ask close contacts because of that discomfort and because it’s easier to ask those they feel comfortable. This in turn means that it’s actually quite hard to help people at scale, because it’s hard to figure out who needs help with what. I’ve scoured Facebook, LinkedIn and groups that I’m part of to try to find what people need – yet people don’t ask that often. Or when they do on a public forum, it’s desperate, or a request of a certain kind that can be dealt with publicly. This makes it it tricky to be helpful.

So with a view to helping out more often, I’ve begun an experiment. Starting on the 8th May, I want to try to help as many people as I can in the next 50 days. More on that here in a separate post. Please don’t hesitate to ask me for help by email (tom at you know the rest).

Please do JUST ASK… Here’s how I see it working – if you’ve a professional problem you have that could be solved, or helped by one person in my network, I would love to know about it. It doesn’t matter you and I know each other and I certainly don’t want anything in return, except to learn and maximise my ability to help. Because, as I’ve learned, it is the process of helping and bringing people together who can benefit each other that is most fulfilling, the rest is a bonus.

Vanity Networks

They say it’s not what you know, but who you know. But who do you know? What does knowing someone mean today?

We’re taught that it’s wise to build our personal networks – it’ll make us more successful knowing and being connected to lots of people – and technology now aggressively encourages this behaviour. We now live in the ‘Networked Age’. Even the most introverted misanthropes can now acquire a plethora of connections using various social networks.

Like many entrepreneurs, I have a mere 5k+ connections on LinkedIn and 1k+ friends on Facebook. These are my ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ contacts, as defined by these platforms, which claim to help me stay connected. Yet what does being connected mean? Who is actually ‘in’ my network and what can I do with it now that I’ve built it?

There’s something fundamentally wrong in the way existing technologies suggest we acquire contacts, with a focus on quantity not quality. These connections belie so many different types of relationship, past histories and experiences that they’ve become superficial, noisy and hard to navigate. In the modern rush to embrace connectivity, we’ve become so fixated on broadening the number of people we can reach that we’ve forgotten the reasons why we connect in the first place.

Surely the only true reason to build a network is to be able to use it effectively, rather than simply to have it? If it’s hard to use your network efficiently then it is somewhat useless, no matter how big it is or how many important people are in it. Most people have ‘vanity networks’ – to butcher the term vanity metrics – meaning large numbers with little substance. Ironically, the larger the number of people in a network, the harder it is to find what we need and therefore harder to use the networks we’ve fought so hard to build.

Big networks aren’t intimate and discourage reciprocity. Social networks have designed features that encourage ‘broadcasting’, ‘scrolling’ and ‘feeds’ with many people, which in fact, serve to weaken and dilute our connections, rather than strengthen them. Some of the more conscientious networkers actively avoid posting requests of their followers because they don’t want to be seen to be too needy, or to save their ‘social capital’ for their most important requirements.

What if, in fact, you only EVER needed to ask a small number of connections in order to use your wider network more effectively. No more ‘broadcasting’ or ‘statuses’.

“Networking is overrated. Become first and foremost a person of value and the network will be available whenever you need it“ – Naval Ravikant

As Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn’s founder) stated in his book ‘The Startup of You’ “life is a team sport and that anything great in your life will only happen with and through other people”. If only LinkedIn’s product recognised that knowing someone is about intimacy and familiarity. A connection should be an ongoing relationship, rather than a single act or click. Your network should be the place you go get help from and to help the people you know and trust (ironically LinkedIn’s original motto). Social networks should actively discourage you from adding people unless they know them well. I’ve yet to find a platform today that truly understands what the word ‘connection’ or ‘friend’ really means and bolsters that important relationship, rather than undermines it with noise.

Whilst few people realise it, networks are symbiotic – the more you actively benefit yours and invest in it, the more it benefits you. I wonder if it’s time for a more network that takes a more enlightened view of how and why we we network and return to focus on quality, not quantity?

This is exactly what we are passionate about at Wholi– discovering the true value potential of your close network as well as how to unlock it.

Tom sings his rendition of ‘Brown Sugar’ at a networking event