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I love everything about basketball. I love the art, skills and competition of the game, as well as the history and impact it has had on our society. But what I love most is the business behind the basketball game.
Growing up in Wisconsin as a kid, I didn’t want to be an NBA player. I didn’t have the skill or athleticism to compete at an elite level, and I barely made my high school team. In fact, I got cut the first year I tried it out as a sophomore. And as further proof, one summer our travel team played in a tournament in Chicago where we pitted against future NBA lottery pick, Shaun Livingston. We lost 72-34. Then I knew I was destined to get a marketing degree.
It’s been a dream of mine to help build an NBA franchise. So in the summer of 2012, I sent an email to every NBA owner asking if they were open to meeting me. What happened next literally changed the trajectory of my life.
Related: What the NBA Playoffs Can Teach You About Customer Acquisition
How to Connect with a Billionaire
Getting in touch with billionaire NBA owners may seem like an impossible task; however, it is quite possible with just a little effort. Every owner has a primary business. I found each owner’s contact information by finding that business activity and creating the email alias to contact. In building the list, I prepared personal emails to each regarding their business venture and how I could help provide value to their core businesses in exchange for their most valuable asset, their time.
I sent 30 emails, and I heard back from three. Whether you’re trying to connect with NBA owners, world-renowned researchers, or the US president, the blueprint remains the same. Here are my recommendations for connecting and building meaningful relationships with some of the most influential people in your field:
Be very clear about what you are asking of them, and make the questions concise and reasonable
Successful multi-billionaires are very busy and inundated with phone calls, messages, pings and decisions they have to make every day. To get their attention and input, you’ll need to cut out the flowery language and twenty-page novel, articulate clearly why you’re contacting them, and present your question in no more than 140 characters. In that direct message, make sure your inquiry is something they can reasonably act on or redirect to and something that won’t take up more of their time, energy, or focus.
This was my approach with Vivek Ranadivé, owner of the Sacramento Kings. Ranadivé is an australiabusinessblog.com, the founder of TIBCO and previously a partial owner of the Warriors before taking over the Sacramento Kings. Ranadivé is also the founder of Bow Capital, a startup that invests in technology companies.
My message to Ranadivé was immediate. I thought Bow Capital was a good fit for my company, Disco, and given Ranadivé’s background as a B2B SaaS founder, I wanted him to join our board of strategic advisors. Ranadivé agreed to an initial 15 minute introductory meeting and both clicked. After my first conversation with Ranadivé, he was able to easily facilitate and pass an introduction to two of his lead investors, who are now my good friends. While Bow Capital never formally invested in Disco (we were too early for Bow Capital at the time), I was able to meet Bow’s team and share ideas and perspectives on spaces that have helped us grow our businesses.
Related: 7 Real-Life Business Lessons You Can Learn From Billionaires
Be very clear about how you can help them and do research to understand what is important to them
Most incredibly successful people have important or challenging problems that they try to solve every day. Whether you know or believe it, you probably have something to offer to help that person achieve their goal.
Enter Joe Lacob, owner of the Golden State Warriors. Lacob is known as one of the most progressive and innovative NBA owners in the league. Prior to owning the Warriors, Lacob was a partial owner of the Boston Celtics and before that a General Partner at Kleiner Perkins, where he led investments in several successful technology companies in various stages and vertical markets.
My message to Lacob was simple: “I want to help the digital arm of the Golden State Warriors improve the fan experience.” During my time with the retail analytics platform Nomi, I had built a broad network of event-based partners who could help. Lacob responded, saying he didn’t have the space to connect directly; He did put me in touch with his son, Kirk, to exchange ideas. Through my time with Kirk and his friends, I learned about several community and philanthropic areas that the Warriors care about. Through these relationships, I’ve also been able to grow a larger network of impact and now contribute, invest, and volunteer for causes that impact the San Francisco community.
Be authentically and genuinely interested in the person you connect with
The healthiest relationships are built on shared interests and a genuine connection. If you can discover shared interests and build a personal connection, your success rate will be much higher.
As a die-hard Milwaukee Bucks fan (shared interest), I knew I had to connect with Marc Lasry, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. My reason for contacting Lasry was very clear: I wanted Lasry to be a personal mentor (real connection).
I was on the subway from Brooklyn on my way to Manhattan when I got the answer from Lasry, “I’d like to meet. Let’s meet up.” I almost dropped my phone in the station tracks on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. By day, Lasry runs one of the most successful hedge funds in New York, Avenue Capital. In his office, a giant Superman comic book portrait hangs behind his desk. On the ledge of his window overlooking 5th Avenue are photos of his children, the Clinton family, and heaps of Bucks memorabilia. That morning we shared an omelette in his office. I asked Lasry, “How the hell did you do all this?” He replied, “A lot of people in this building are much smarter than me. That’s why we’re so damn good.” That authenticity makes him great.
Every time I’m in New York, Lasry has made time for me. He has provided guidance that has influenced Disco’s marketing strategy and direction. When my wife and I were expecting our first child, Lasry shared relationship advice with me, as well as insight into the delicate balance that comes with running a business while prioritizing family (and how difficult that can be). Aside from talking business, Lasry just loves basketball. When I first met him in 2013, he even said this to me: “You know our rookie, Giannis? That guy is going to be the real deal. I’m telling you. The league doesn’t see it coming, but he’s going to take over. “
Related: 25 Tips for Networking with Top CEOs
we are all human
People see the wealth, the press and the political agendas expressing their views on leaders like Ranadivé, Lacob and Lasry. What we often fail to see is the human aspect of what makes these leaders great. And that’s exactly what they are, folks. I am grateful for the guidance and perspective these guys have brought into my life and for the time they spent with me as a first time founder. I really hope I can pay them back someday. Here are a few closing thoughts:
When reaching out to really successful people, show genuine interest and curiosity in the companies they are building, and have a very clear reason and ask for it.
Out of stated interest and curiosity, offer to provide value – and actually be helpful. There is always a means for anyone in any position to be helpful.
Remember that no one is unreachable. The best leaders and individuals want to give back and invest in the founders and teams that will impact generations to come.