The 9 Skills Needed to Be a Super-Connector

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Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written 6 books on investing. His latest book he’s giving away free. He built and sold Reset, Inc in 1998 and Stockpickr.com in 2007, among others. You can follow him @jaltucher.

I know why I’m not a billionaire. Other than having the consistent self-sabotaging quality of destroying money in massive bonfires every time I sell a company, I also have a severe psychosocial disorder which makes me a horrible connector of people. Connecting people who can benefit each other is the most useful skill you can have on the entrepreneurial ladder of skills. When you help others make money by connecting them together, the world forces itself into the Möbius strip of success that brings the money right back to you times ten. Some billionaires are great at it. If I write Mark Cuban an email he responds in two seconds even though he doesn’t even know me. He’s a “Super Connector”. I know quite a few talented super connectors and they will be very successful as they grow into future Mark Cubans.[See, "How I Helped Mark Cuban Make a Billion Dollars and 5 Other Things I learned from him".]

I’m horrible at following up. I also burn bridges. I used to play a nice social game of Wordtwist on Facebook every day with Don Graham, the publisher/owner of the Washington Post. Then I wrote a blog post, “Don Graham is a Punk”. Guess what. He doesn’t play Wordtwist with me anymore. Another time I was trying to get a job working for the hedge fund manager Stevie Cohen. He wanted me to share a few trades with him as I was doing them. We IMed back and forth a bit during the trades. One trade didn’t work out and I was ashamed of it. So I stopped IMing him. After a few days of this billionaire IMing me with, “Where’d you go?” I blocked him on my IM list and that was that.

But that said, I love meeting new people and I’ve always done a good job with the initial skills involved with meeting new people. I feel like I can meet anyone in the world that I want to. Whether I make use of that meeting is another story. In fact, it’s a fairy tale. Because I seldom do the follow up correctly.

But here are the 9 Skills You Need to Become a Super-Connector.

1. Introduce two other connectors – this is an unbelievable technique. If you can introduce two people who are themselves great connectors then you become a meta-connector. They will meet and get along (connectors get along with each other for two reasons: they are naturally friendly people (hence their ability to connect so easily with people) and they have a lot of friends in common almost by definition.) If you are in the middle of that connection then they will always remember you and you’ll always be on their mind for future potential connections they can make that would be useful for you. And their rolodexes are immense. So if you need to meet Prince William of England, for instance, or Ellen Degeneres then just connect two connectors and the next thing you know you’ll be dancing right down the aisle with Ellen on her show or bowing to Kate Middleton, or whatever you want to do. Ellen? Kate? Uma?

2. Introduce two people with an idea in mind: Marsha, meet Cindy. Cindy, meet Marsha. Marsha, you are the best book editor in the world. Cindy, your book is the best book idea I have ever heard. You both can make money together. No need to “cc” me.

In other words, if you can help two other people make money then eventually, good things will happen to you. In cases where I’ve been able to do this (rare, but it’s happened) I always tell people who say “what can I do for you” that “if they ever find me in the gutter with blood leaking from my mouth and a needle sticking out of the veins in my elbow then at the very least pull the needle out.” That’s all I ask. The first time I ever did this I went home (1994) and told my girlfriend, “I just helped two people make money for the first time ever.” And she said, “yeah, but what did you get?” I got nothing. But I felt something. I felt like I had done good in the world and that if I kept doing it, eventually it would return to me. And it did. With those very two people that first time but years later.

3. Have a dinner of interesting people. I’ve only done this twice. When the last Star Wars prequel came out I invited people from every aspect of my life (friends, hedge funds, writers) to a dinner, I got everyone movie tickets, and it was a fun night. I solidified my relationships with some of my investors, plus some of the funds I was invested in, and I managed to connect people up who later did business together. On another occasion I threw a party for everyone who had been fired by thestreet.com. It got a little awkward when the guy who had done most of the firing (who had himself been fired right before then) was also there but it was all in good fun. Not sure how much goodwill it created for me. Too early to tell.

But, I much more enjoy going to the dinner that I’m invited to. [See, "Why a Grenade Needs to Get Thrown At Me"]. I’ve met a lot of interesting people. My main problem is that my normal bedtime is about 8pm. So sometimes I fall asleep at the table and everyone thinks I’m on drugs. And other times I just can’t go to the dinner because I know I won’t be functional the next morning when I like to write. But sometimes I go just because my wife Claudia gets sick of having me around all the time and pushes me out the door. So please keep inviting me.

4. Following up. This is the hardest part for me. I have a list five years old of people who introduced me to people I actually wanted to be introduced to and then I never followed up. For instance, a few months ago I wrote a post “Burton Silverman, are you dead yet??” Burton Silverman is one of my favorite artists. I wanted to know if he was dead to see if the value of one of his paintings had gone up. Guess what? He wrote me to tell me he wasn’t dead yet. And as I type this, his studio is only a few blocks away. I could visit him right now if I want. Except…for some reason I never returned his email. He’s on my list. But followup is my hardest part. Then I put it off until I start to feel guilty about not following up. So then I push back the follow-up even more. At my first company I hired someone to follow up for me. Claudia tells me she will follow up for me on emails. But I have a hard time letting other people do things for me that I should really be doing for myself.

But needless to say, if you make a connection, it’s so easy to keep it by just saying, “hey, it was great meeting you. Lets do that again in a month or so.” Why the hell can’t I ever do easy things? Instead of writing this post I could simply write an email to 400 people on my list, including Silverman. Something is mentally wrong with me.

5. Re-establishing Contact. The other day I was following my own advice. I’m on the 21 Day Gratitude Diet I discuss in the post “How Being Grateful Can Make You Rich“. I wrote an email to an ex-investor of mine from 2004 saying sincerely how grateful I was he invested with me and I always enjoyed his advice and friendship. He immediately wrote back (because, unlike me, he’s a good connector and businessman) and said, “what are you up to? Here’s what I’m doing. Maybe we can work together again.” This is 6 years after I last spoke to him. Guess what. He’s now on the list I mentioned in #4 above. He’s #401 on the list. But I’ll get back to him. Maybe later today. After I get my driver’s license. Because I promised Claudia 3 months ago that I would get it “today” although “today” means that day three months ago.

6. Show Up. I don’t know which “rule” on this list is the most valuable. But if a good connector invites you to a dinner or a meeting, then the best thing you can do is show up. I was invited to a party of 40 bloggers the other night. The guy doing the inviting was Michael Ellsberg who recently wrote the bestseller, “The Education of Millionaires“. More on him in a second. I probably should’ve gone. But 9pm! That’s like 8 hours past my bedtime. Still, I should’ve gone. Next time!

7. Interview People. Back to Michael Ellsberg. This was genius. He figured he wanted to meet a lot of successful people (sort of like how Napoleon Hill did this when he wrote the bestseller “Think and Grow Rich”). So he got himself a book deal about how millionaires are educated and then, book deal in hand, he interviewed as many billionaires as he could find. The guy is now a MEGA-Connector. When I met him a few weeks ago he had non-stop ideas about how one goes about meeting people. He should give conferences or do coaching on this one aspect alone. Meanwhile, there’s me—I blew off his party last night and didn’t respond to his last email. He’s on my list of emails to return.

I’ve done this technique to some extent. Writing for the Wall St Journal or Financial Times it was always fairly easy to get people on the phone or meet them at a breakfast. But I had a hard time following up. Anthony Scaramucci, for instance, is a well-known finance guy—running one of the biggest funds of funds and also running the annual SALT conference where guys like Bill Clinton and Vladmir Putin will speak on the same stage (Mike Tyson had to break up the fist fight). I met Scaramucci through my writing (he has also written a book) and we had breakfast together and he asked me to run a panel at his SALT conference. Guess what? I didn’t follow up. I didn’t even return the calls of people on his staff. Bad James!

When I was at HBO, I interviewed people for a living. The only problem is they were mostly transvestite prostitutes.  But, I did get to meet the producers and creators of one of my favorite shows, “Taxicab Confessions”. This was back in 1996. One of them called me recently and wanted to get together. And guess what?

8. Produce Something of Value. In order to connect two people, you must have people to connect. You have to meet them in the first place. The best way to do that is to produce something of value. In this post I described about how when I was broke and about to go homeless I tried a technique of just reaching out to people. I would write letters like, “Hey, would love to meet.” That never worked. People are busy. Nobody wanted to meet some random guy like me. So instead I tried a new technique. For each person I wanted to meet I would spend time researching their business and come up with 10 ideas that would help them that I would just completely give for free. With one guy (Jim Cramer), I came up with ten article ideas he should write. He ultimately wrote back, “YOU should write these” and that started my financial writing career. It also developed a culture of exchanging ideas with thestreet that ultimately led to me selling Stockpickr.com to them. With another guy, I gave him several trading system ideas and he ultimately allocated money for me to trade. This started my hedge fund trading career.

I then write my first book about trading. Which led to Fidelity inviting me to speak at conferences, a good way to meet people. My next two talks for them are in Scottsdale, AZ and Las Vegas in the next few weeks. I’ve been giving talks for them since 2004. I haven’t raised my prices since then because I’m always too shy to talk about money except in passive-aggressive ways like writing this blog post.

9. Time. I woke up for a few minutes at 3am this morning to write this list. Then I went back to sleep, figuring I’d write the post when I woke up. The last item on the list I wrote at 3am is “Time”. But for the life of me I have no idea why I wrote it. If anyone can help me solve this mystery I’d be grateful.

I’m going to get another coffee. Be right back….

Ok, I still don’t know what “Time” means. But I do know I’m late for my first breakfast for the day. I introduced the person I am meeting to this guy a few weeks ago and they had a good meeting. Maybe I’ll finally learn to follow up by sending an email after the breakfast.

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