How I built my professional network in San Francisco, 10+ years ago

Hi readers,

last day in Austin! I’m headed to LA next, before going to home to SF.

So for today’s quick writeup, one of the startups I’m involved with — Lunchclub — who’s in the business of professional networking, asked me a few questions. They involve how I moved to SF and realized the power of a network. I wrote a blurb or two about my early experiences in the Bay Area, and how I built it. Wanted to share below.

Hope you enjoy, and the next time I write, it’ll be from sunny Venice Beach.

Talk soon,

Andrew, from Austin

When did you first realize or understand the importance of creating and building a network?

Right after I turned 25, I drove down the coast from Seattle to San Francisco, with a car full of luggage, a room rented in the heart of Silicon Valley, a wild set of startup ideas, and not much else. In fact, I only knew a grand total of 3 people in SF before I moved. My friends and family were all in Seattle, and I was leaving them behind forever — I already knew I would never go back. My first night, I remember hanging out in an old Victorian in the Mission District, eating tacos and talking about tech with some new friends. It was magical, and I fell in love with my new hometown.

I didn't think about it as "a network" back then — as something I was supposed to build, or maintain, like it was a house. Instead, I just knew that I was in a new city and I wanted new friends, new colleagues, and to get there, I set a personal goal to find 5 new people to talk to, every day. And I did that, starting with the 3 people I knew — I asked, hey, who should I meet in town? Can you introduce me to as many people as you can? Who else should I meet? I asked my friends in SF, and asked the same questions to everyone I met.

6 months later, I had met thousands of new people — who became future colleagues, investors, and friends for life. Many people in my core circle come from this time.

Can you share an anecdote associated with this discovery? (For example: there was an obstacle and then a triumph due to network or connections? Which connection(s) changed your life?)

Today, I work as an investor at Andreessen Horowitz, and I have this job because of the time I spent building my network in 2007 — because that's when Marc Andreessen first cold-emailed me to grab coffee. The way it happened was pretty random: When I moved to San Francisco, to keep in touch with my friends, I started writing a blog — then on a platform called Blogger — where I would write updates about my life, and what I was learning. I was obsessed with finding the "magic" of consumer internet in the Bay Area, which I quickly decided was the expertise entrepreneurs had developed to get a lot of people to use their products. The PayPal mafia, for instance, had spun out companies like LinkedIn, YouTube, Yelp, Yammer, and many others, based on the core of these ideas. I began to write about everything I was learning, adding commentary along the way and organizing the thoughts of the amazing folks I was meeting in Silicon Valley.

Soon, I got an email from Marc — it was short, just 3 sentences long, and asked to meet up for coffee. I remember vividly that we met at Hobee's in Palo Alto, a non-descript diner in the middle of town, where we had an incredible conversation — we talked about the next platform companies, the future of social networks, and gaming. Afterwards, we kept in touch, he eventually introduced me to Ben, and the two of them invested in a project I was working on. We stayed in touch, and now, ten years later, we're colleagues and still are talking about the same topics — the next platform, gaming, and social networks.

What did you initially get out of building a network (early on in your career) and what are you getting out of it today?

Your network gives you different things throughout different phases of your career. Early on, you are much more of a taker than a giver — I found myself asking people questions, pestering them for examples, expertise, and introductions. I learned about how companies are built in Silicon Valley, what kinds of people to get to know, and so on. A decade later, my focus is on contributing, particularly to new entrepreneurs and startups — though I still learn a lot. But I focus on identifying talented new startup teams, and backing them on their ideas. I try to spend time writing, speaking, and sharing everything I've learned. There is still much more to learn, of course, but I try to find others who just starting their journey and help them along, just as others have done for me in my time in the tech industry.