This post by Daniel L. Jacobs appeared originally on Quora as an answer to the question “How can I schedule a phone call with a billionaire?“
As a 21-year-old social entrepreneur who’d just moved to San Francisco with no money or connections, I realized that if I ever wanted to achieve my dreams, I needed advice from people who have been there and done that.
So I did the most naive thing anyone could think of. I wrote to captains of industry: presidents and C-level executives of Fortune 500 companies.
I let them know that I admired specific work decisions they’d made and character traits they’d displayed publicly, and it would be amazing if I could learn from them.
I should have known better, right? These were the busiest people on the planet, and who was I to think that they’d respond to a 21-year-old kid with absolutely zero recognizable talents (beyond, perhaps, the ability to write an email?) and offer their mentorship?
Then the unthinkable happened. I received an email back … and another one … and another. Over the next few years, I found myself learning from and mentored by people like the president of Morgan Stanley, the president of NBC, the CMO of Coca-Cola, the CMO of Intuit, and more (I’ll spare names to save the unsolicited emails).
I never understood why.
Then one day, we’d all gotten together for a board meeting for one of my companies and someone joked that he’d gotten to know me through a cold email I’d sent him. The room went silent. Then, one by one, everyone around the table acknowledged that he, too, met me through a simple, cold email.
The president of NBC spoke up. “Do you know why I decided to meet with you Daniel?”
I didn’t know.
“Because in 20 years in this business, every single person who reached out to me cold wanted something. They wanted money, a job, something. You were the first person who asked — only — for advice.”
I looked around the room. Everyone was nodding. I learned something important about life that day.
Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Avanoo, which creates three-minute-a-day online employee training videos. Avanoo’s content is created with support from over 200 of the world’s most renowned experts, and their clients include Kaiser, KPMG, Cisco, NBC, and other industry leaders.
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