Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

Act 3: The Landing


To catch you up on what the last couple months have been like for me, I cut loose and quit my job in June (Act 1). During July, I was in a state of free fall (Act 2), as I lined up meetings across the country and went to 6 cities in 4 weeks. Now (Act 3), I would like to talk about the landing.

What I did was radical. Perhaps even crazy. I couldn’t help but wonder while I was putting myself through this, “Am I crazy? Or brilliant? … Or both?”

What I did was crazy. I quit an excellent job, working for an awesome company in the bay area (they’re hiring!). I got to work from home. I reported to people who were results-oriented, not micro-managing. Flexible, fun, paid monthly travel, reasonable pay. I quit an excellent job.

The day after putting in my notice, I was driving to the office, listening to NPR. They were doing a segment on long-term unemployment—people who got laid off and have been looking for a job for over a year.

Gob: \

I had reached the point of no return and was confident I was moving in the right direction. Still, I felt a tremendous amount of doubt.

Crazy. I’ve never been good at saving money. I have always lived paycheck-to-paycheck. (I love direct deposit!)

I quit my job with minimal savings—a little bit of cash—and no customers lined up. I could have waiting until I had some money saved up (probably wouldn’t happen) or until I had a customer lined up (I turned down 2 offers before I was ready to take the plunge). What was the first thing I decided to do? Travel.

Crazy. I burned most of my runway capital on a three and a half week trip, hitting 6 cities coast-to-coast. I bought a netbook and my full-time job for my first month of un-/self-employment (I called it unemployment until I landed a paying gig) was emailing, scheduling, calling, and meeting. No code. I’m a programmer, and I didn’t write a single line of code for a month.

Or was I brilliant?

During my travels, I met up with a ton of people. Literally. Actually, “literally” would mean at least 20 tons. I was talking about data visualization all day every day for weeks. I met over coffee, food, drinks, and boardroom tables. I traveled in cars, taxis, buses, trains, planes, elevators, and escalators to see people.

By the numbers: I talked about data visualization with about 200 people. Those people were associated with at least 60 companies that would either be customers, partners, or simply providing referrals. Of those 60, I considered 40 to be prospects. From those 40 prospects, I could see 10-15 of them converting into paying customers. Of those 10-15 hot leads, I needed to find 1-3 that would ready to start work within a month. I was going broke. Fast.

Brilliant? I got home almost 6 weeks after I left to go to work (and put in my 2 weeks notice). After 4 full days at home, I was on a plane to Washington DC to start working on-site with my first client.

The numbers make sense. Given enough prospects, a certain percentage should convert into customers. So I guess the question is, “How was I able to meet with so many prospects?” My work is pretty specific. Data visualization. It’s a very tight niche. What does data visualization mean to companies? To some, it’s marketing. To others, it’s business intelligence or analytics. Most companies can benefit from it, but not many are in a position to invest in it.

“So how was I able to get so many prospects in such a tight niche?”

The full answer would require a series of blog posts. In summary, it’s about paying it forward, doing good for no reason, and investing time in meeting and helping people. It’s about ROI, and the return being indirectly linked to the investment. I spent years going to conferences, making friends with people in my industry. I spent years being involved with local tech community events. I spent years couch-surfing and developing strong friendships with people around the country I rarely see.

When I was in my state of free fall, my friends across the country were my parachute. I spent a month traveling across the country pulling the ripcord.

Thanks to my network of friends, I didn’t land on my face. I hit the ground running.

PHXdata Update and Fostering Community

I posted previously about the idea of having a user group for data. The group has come together in the form of PHXdata and 6 meet-ups have already taken place.

It’s exciting to see it unfold, as more people come together and get involved. The next meeting is 6:30pm Tuesday, July 6th, where the Civic Hacking work group will continue working on a challenging campaign finance project (“Open” data is not necessarily “Useful” data. 3,000 scanned documents as PDFs? Are you serious?). The group will also discuss the planning of an Open Government event, where government officials, technologists, and journalists will get together and discuss how to improve the accessibility of open data, making more data open, government transparency, and ways open data can change lives. If you’re interested to hear more, check out and join the mailing list.

At this planning meeting, we are expecting to have special guests, technical representatives from various cities in Phoenix metropolitan area. The group is already getting serious interest from the local government, which is very exciting!

My Hidden Agenda

After my recent announcement about jumping into the world of self-employment and specializing in data visualization, it may become clear why I decided to help Mark Ng and Marc Chung get this group going. My involvement in this group has been part of a broad, long-term strategy. If I want to establish myself in this new industry, it is in my best interests to empower those around me with similar interests.

Collaboration over competition

A rising tide lifts all boats. While you can lift yourself up by pushing others down, you will get higher if you help lift everyone around you.

Community is serendipity

While helping foster community has few direct and measurable benefits, the possibility for all kinds of indirect benefits is immeasurable.

Humans are great filters. If you surround yourself with enthusiasts in your field, you’ll always know what’s new in your field, without having to spend all your time trying to read about everything. If something is new and exciting, someone will want to talk about it. This is why User Groups are extremely valuable.

If you are part of a community, you have people to go to for advice, to answer your questions, recommend alternatives, and miscellaneous human resources like beta testers, proofreaders, and referral networks. You also have a pool for professional help, like potential employees or subcontractors.

You can’t say, “I’ll help start a meet-up group and get [this or that],” but you can say, “I’m going to bring people with similar interests together in a meaningful way, and there will be opportunities for me—and everyone else—to benefit from it.”

Conduit vs Endpoint

I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the Phoenix technology community by attending, organizing, helping organize, and promoting all kinds of events. I really enjoy meeting new people, but even more so, I enjoy connecting people with others.

In a way, people can be like puzzle pieces to me.

I didn’t set out to have this viewpoint. I made up the puzzle piece part after I started this blog post. When people attend events, they are generally looking for something, whether they know it or not. They might know they are looking for help on a project or a new employee. They may not know that they might otherwise be looking to meet other people in their community with similar interests.

When I meet and get to know people, something happens subconsciously while I listen. I wonder how they fit with the people I already know. You could think of it like a jigsaw puzzle or perhaps even fitting a word onto a Scrabble board.

I don’t consider myself to be a person others need to meet. I don’t do any contract work and as an employee of a company, I don’t hire or contract other people.

I’m not really an endpoint.

However, because of my ability to index the hundreds of people I know and many of their skills and interests, I tend to be a useful as a conduit.

The obvious example is someone looking for help with a software development project, where I can connect them with several options for PHP, Flash, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, .NET, etc. resources and/or developers.

The less obvious example is when I meet a person who is peeking into the tech community for the first time. The second I hear they are interested in design, I can tell them off the top of my head when upcoming design events are, where they can meet people with similar interests. Or connect them directly with people in those circles or organizers of those events.

As this is typically a subconscious thing and I do it so often, I might not even realize I’ve done it. The stories occasionally come back to me, but I bet I’m missing out on some of them. They don’t come full circle, but a certain amount of altruism — possibly affecting someone’s life and expecting absolutely nothing (not even a thank you or recognition) in return.

Tonight, I was at the after party for Ignite Phoenix, and butted in on a conversation between two people I knew and two people I didn’t. During an introduction, I said “I’m Brian,” and was met with, “Wait, this is Brian Shaler? You’re the guy who recommended we work with them!” gesturing to the two guys I knew in the group.

Call me cheesy, but I think there’s something special about being a catalyst for such professional and social relationships.

Ignite Phoenix, Plus More Ignition

Short notice, but the 4th Ignite Phoenix event is Tuesday, June 16th! As of this writing, that’s tomorrow!

Ignite Phoenix
Location: Tempe Center for the Arts
700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
Time: 6:00PM – 9:00PM (If you RSVP’d, get there by 5:30!!)
Cost: Free!

Ignite Phoenix is an awesome and inspiring event where various speakers are given 5 minutes and 20 slides (which automatically progress every 15 seconds) to tell others what they are passionate about. Topics have ranged from my talk one Data Visualization to Dean Heckler’s talk about his experiences designing and manufacturing a desk.

They made 400 tickets available, but sold out within hours of announcing them. However, you can still make it. There will be about 100 walk-in tickets available at a first-come, first-served basis. At 5:45, all reservations will be canceled and all unclaimed tickets will become available to walk-ins. Also, while the presenters will be in the theater, there will be 200 seats available in the Lakeside room, where I think they will be streaming the presentations onto a projector.

More Ignition

I just became aware of a developer-centric spin-off of Ignite Phoenix (which is itself a spin-off of O’Reilly Media’s Ignite). Developer Ignite, sponsored by the Intel Software Network, will be held on July 22nd in Chandler, AZ at Ganplank. The format will be the same, but the content will be all about software development. I will definitely submit a presentation idea, but they will only be selecting 8 presentations. (I didn’t make the cut for Ignite Phoenix, which selected 18 of 73 submissions)

Don’t Self-Promote. Intrigue.

I talk and think about marketing a lot. I think about marketing on a business level and on a personal level. My own success has likely been a result of effectively marketing myself.

When you are marketing someone or something, you are trying to convey a message to as many people as possible. There are many ways of getting that message across. My method of choice is intrigue.

Instead of pushing my message onto other people, I try to get people to come to me. Instead of talking about myself, I say less and let others around me fill in the gaps. This is risky, because you can’t control what others say about you. However, when someone hears something about you from someone else, they’re much more receptive than they would be if it was you saying it.

If you can get people to come to you instead of pushing a message to them, you can potentially convey much more information. Essentially, you can lead someone down a “rabbit hole” and let them discover things about you, piece by piece.

I have a very scattered presence online, but I’m very easy to find. I don’t count on people finding every single page or site I’ve created. Over time, I’ve created so much content online that someone can spend hours online and still have more to discover.

A few people have told me I have the “world’s best business card” (My name ranks well on Google for that, too!). I can’t say I completely agree about the “world’s best” part, but there is something to it. While some people write it off as pretentious, the card has an overwhelmingly positive response. It intrigues people. When sorting through 100+ business cards after a conference, seeing that one will often lead people to search online. Once I have lured them to the rabbit hole, I must do my best to captivate them with as many interesting things as possible. For the purpose it was intended, my business card very well may be the best. Other people have other needs for business cards, so it isn’t the “world’s best” for everyone.

Don’t talk about yourself. Don’t self-promote. Try to leave an impression on those around you. Get people talking about you, especially those you know you well. Intrigue those you meet and let them discover you on their own.

You are currently browsing the archives for the Networking category.