You are those you surround yourself with

You are those you surround yourself with

I am never ceased to be amazed at how much technology is allowing us to do today.  Throughout the day, integrated in almost every one of our activities, we are surrounded and supported by amazing technology. Things that seemed so science fiction not that long ago, or even dreamed or thought of, is now at our finger tips.  We are in control. But this article is not about technology.  It’s about people.

7:00 am: Happy music!  Thanks to a music alarm app, I am up and ready for the day.

8:30am: Brainstorming and collaborating with others.  Thanks to Google docs, Basecamp, Codeita, Mindomo…

12:30am: Staying in touch with my friends through twitter and emails while I am out for lunch. Thanks Seesmic, Hootsuite, and other mobile apps.

5:00pm: Magic moment at the playground with my kids.  My phone can capture and upload it instantly for my family & friends in Asia and Australia to see.

6:30pm: Driving to a startup event to mingle with other startup entrepreneurs. The trusted voice of my GPS guides me there.

3:00am: Conference call with a development team in India. Vokle, Skype or Tinychat allow that.

And publishing this to you right now?  Thanks, WordPress.

I am never ceased to be amazed at how much technology is allowing us to do today.  Throughout the day, integrated in almost every one of our activities, we are surrounded and supported by amazing technology. Things that seemed so science fiction not that long ago, or even dreamed or thought of, is now at our finger tips.  We are in control. But this article is not about technology.  It’s about people.

Technology or People?

Whatever the technology, there are people behind it.  Creating. Building. Using.  Sharing. Thriving.  This is why wise investors like Fred Wilson (@fredwilson), Chris Dixon (@cdixon) or Mark Suster (@msuster) and many others make their investment decisions based mainly on people: the team or the entrepreneurs behind the startups.  How incredible is that?  We, someone, many among us, are making it happen.  These are people that aren’t just strangers or celebrities you read about in magazines or see on TV –  these are people like you and me, in the startup/entrepreneurial community (and beyond) that we are friends with, talk to, meet at events, or are at least within reach.

I love this quote:

You are those you surround yourself with

That quote is true either ways you look at it: how you see yourself inside, and how others see you from the outside.  Whether you like to admit it or not, the people around you have a huge influence on who you are, how you think and what you do.  Sometimes the influence is affirmative: we admire/respect someone and want to do things similar ways.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  We learn what not to do by making assessment about someone around us.

The Power of Referral

As for outsiders, you could try to sell yourself by saying how fantastic you are.  But the real impact to the outsiders’ opinions come from those surrounding you.  I am not just talking about “designated” people who give references about you, but also people that others may hear or observe about you from.  Check this tweet by Francisco Dao about how he screens people for his by-invitation-only event “The Retreat“. That type of 3rd party opinion is often considered less biased, and thus has a real impact.

So if we know that we ARE “those we surround ourselves with”, why wouldn’t we try to surround ourselves with bright, energetic, ambitious, supportive, thoughtful (insert more positive words here) people?  What if you don’t have the right people around you right now? Well, then start!  It is never too late.  Life is a journey, it’s not a dress rehearsal for a one-off performance.

This is a high level step by step of how I am approaching it:

How to Surround Yourself with Great People

  • Step 1: Set goals before decide the type of people you like to surround yourself with:

I took it as an important task to think about my goals in life as in who I want to be and what I want to do before deciding on the types of people I like to have around me.  It’s like Dr. Stephen Covey said “Begin with the end in mind”.  Or as Simon Sinek’s approach: Figure out your “Why” first, and everything else will become obvious.

  • Step 2: Figure out the right environment:

Figure out the types of environments that the people you like would likely be spending time in.  I love the startup community and love to surround myself with other startup entrepreneurs.  The natural environments for us are (surprise, surprise!) the internet such as twitter, Mixergy, Hacker News, blogs, ThisWeekIn network, and offline at various startup events.

  • Step 3: Emerge in the right environments:

Once you figured out the right environment, what are you waiting for? For me, it’s full on.  This is my philosophy: No watching from the sideline.  I will write more about this on my blog later, but I truly believe that you should jump right in. Blog.  Tweet.  Events. Whatever it takes.  You can only surround yourself with the right people if you meet the right people.  A great way to meet people is to put yourself out there.  Mark Suster has written some great articles about this.  See for example an article about why you should write a blog, or how great Twitter is to connect with others.

  • Step 4: Focus on building relationships:

This is a huge topic, but the fundamentally very simple. Focus on building relationships.  That means focusing on giving, creating value, rather than “what can this person do for me”.  Gary Vaynerchuk often talks about how he is comfortable for the giving balance to be 80% of giving on his side in any relationships (see for example this chat with Kathy Sierra). Gary is a living proof that giving and genuinely caring about people are the golden ticket here.  I will be writing more about this topic on my blog, but don’t worry about getting the short end.  If you focus on giving, the universe has its way of rewarding you in much bigger ways.

On a side note, if you admire someone, and think that they are out of reach, it’s time to think again.  Reach out.  They are more accessible than you think.

  • Step 5: Never burn bridges.

Many people can rattle this off the tip of their tongues, but not many live by this:  Never burn bridges.

Unlike financial bankruptcy where your credit record legally comes clean after 7(?) years, the record for some relationship bankruptcies NEVER reset. Never burnings bridges means never deliberately making someone look bad, or do things that harm them.  Even when it’s good for your ego, or business,  or whatever.  If you, hopefully accidentally, do something that may hurt a relationship, make sure you go out of your way to fix it.  We are all human, so mistakes are sometimes forgiven, providing that you show sincere remorse.  If you did everything you could to fix a mistake and it still didn’t work, learn from the experience and move on.  “A friendship lost is one that never was.”  Even after a fall out, keep the door open to allow the other persons to come back and a chance for the relationship to heal.  Never say never. There will be people you meet that you do not want to surround yourself with.  Just politely stay away.


These are the steps that I have been following.  They have helped me meet and create hugely rewarding friendships with many people that I respect and admire.  You may call it technology.  You may call it business.  You may call it networking.  Everything to me is about people and relationships.  Obviously you have your own ways of approaching this, and I would love to hear it, if you are willing to share here in the comments.

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  • Michael Wills

    The steps you’ve listed are, in a round-a-bout way, the steps I tend to take to get involved in communities I really respect. You’re right, getting involved means hopping off the sidelines. I know when it’s time to hop off the sidelines because I don’t make a concious effort to hop up and get into it. I’ve been a part of online/offline communities before where i’ve not got off the sidelines and told myself, i should get involved… but often never do. Sometimes i am just being genuinely lazy – and in that case you really do just have to jump in there and give it a go, particularly if your WHY agrees with it. But more often than not it’s simply because “the why” just hasnt hit me yet – it may never either.

    When i think back to all the really rewarding times in my life, they’ve all involved me getting off the sideline and getting my hands really dirty in a team environment. Trying to be great in these environments really encourages others around you to do the same, and if you’re lucky enough to be around some really cool people in the first place, you’re set for some really exciting times! I tend to take a passive role in the first instance (before i’ve committed to getting involved) just to make sure the group of people and environment really agrees with me first. If I respect what’s going on, particularly the way people handle things, then it will often inspire me to contribute.

    Sure it can be a lot of work, but investing your time and emotion in the right group can make it completely worth while and pay dividends in ways you never expected!