The Network Effect, #Austin to San Francisco

Scott Francis
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A funny thing happened the other day on the way to the hotel. I’m commuting to San Francisco for a really interesting application of BPM technology to customer service scenarios for a company that doesn’t sell product – they sell an experience – a process, if you will – to both sellers and buyers of certain goods.  Just working with a company that thinks of their process as their product is refreshing enough, and makes this a very interesting project to me. Because this project is in San Francisco, there’s really no need to have a rental car to drive around.  Its about $45/day for parking, and if you don’t mind walking a few blocks, and taking BART up from the airport, everything is essentially walking distance.  On Monday I had plans to meet up with an old friend from Stanford, who coincidentally also worked with me at our first employer, Trilogy.  With plenty of time to spare I was walking from the customer’s office to my hotel, which takes me past the headquarters of Vast, where several other friends from Austin and Trilogy work.  As I walk by, I notice an old colleague in the window, so I knocked and he invited me in and we had a great conversation about life, business, the future.  Along the way another gentleman in the office walked over and asked if we could give him some feedback on a pitch he was planning, to promote a creative-commons approach to user-data management.  And we then spent the next 30 minutes hashing out what this meant in the context of Facebook, iTunes playlists, and other types of user-generated content that, he contends, users should have the right to port, move, export, share. The next day he was headed to a conference to try out these ideas on a broader, critical audience. I was really impressed by the depth of thinking on the subject, and how well he could turn our questions into opportunities to clarify the pitch. Good stuff. After that conversation, I headed back up to the hotel, and met my old friend for dinner.  We walked right past Vast again on the way to the restaurant, and had a good 3-hour discussion over dinner at Town Hall Restaurant (highly recommended, I might add). I relay this story not because it is that relevant to the world of BPM, but because it touches on something immensely important – the value of your network.  The odds of me running into someone and having such an educational discourse on identity and user data management in the new world order is pretty low outside of the Bay Area.  And coming into contact with new and different ideas and perspectives is part of what makes the software scene so vital in San Francisco.  I’m convinced that at least part of that is due to the “walkability” of the city.  Although you can get similar effects in any city with good gathering spots – be it a coffee shop, a burrito joint, or a local pub.  And in South Bay, it isn’t so walkable, but there are great meet-up spots like Hobee‘s, and clusters of companies in Palo Alto or in other parts that provide this same walking-distance effect.  But it isn’t just a story about the network effect in the Bay Area.  After all, the folks I was meeting up with are transplants from my current home town, Austin.  The power of networking in software circles in Austin is pretty incredible to me.  Very small degrees of separation, and a high degree of willingness to share, cross-hire, cross-promote.  Even tighter than the Austin network, that Trilogy Alumni network is quite cohesive. If I may offer some perspective that 15 years in the business world has given me… Building your network of valued friends, coworkers, colleagues, peers – this is part of the process of building a career.  It is so important to nurture the people you are connected to, and to be open to the opportunities, insights, and perspectives they will offer you over time.  If your old firm doesn’t have an alumni network or mailing list, start one.  I’ve been managing one of these lists for 8 years now, and the personal satisfaction has far exceeded the investment of my time. Also, when you travel for work as much as I do, you get a chance to refresh your relationships in person, and not just over email and phone and twitter.  It is so important to take advantage of those opportunities.  Meeting with my old friends and colleagues and hearing about their lives and careers is part of what recharges me and inspires me to keep working on the vision of bp3 – “a business process company”.  It’s also part of what helps you establish place and belonging when you are away from home for too long. I just want to take a moment to thank good friends who take time out of their lives to meet with me on short notice – or even when I just knock on their window passing by – and please allow me to return the favor and entertain you in Austin, Texas if your travels bring you our way.

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  • Scott, This is so true. This is probably the corollory of ‘you can know a man by the company he keeps’ – that we tend to gravitate towards like-minded people with whom we can mentally connect, inspire, be inspired, and all that boils down to having great conversations. In a way it doesn’t help much that we are all so consumed by the plastic box these days. But then I guess this is really what has also fuelled the social media wave – with twitter, facebook etc. being the virtual equialent of the meet-up spots you mention.

    There is so much joy in such meetings and conversations – something to cherish for sure.

  • Scott, This is so true. This is probably the corollory of ‘you can know a man by the company he keeps’ – that we tend to gravitate towards like-minded people with whom we can mentally connect, inspire, be inspired, and all that boils down to having great conversations. In a way it doesn’t help much that we are all so consumed by the plastic box these days. But then I guess this is really what has also fuelled the social media wave – with twitter, facebook etc. being the virtual equialent of the meet-up spots you mention.

    There is so much joy in such meetings and conversations – something to cherish for sure.

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  • Jaisundar – I’m just constantly reminded how important the actual human communication is- all the plastic boxes in the world can’t replace that. But perhaps all the communication over email, etc. has increased our appreciation for the personal touch, the direct face-to-face conversation. There’s a related phenomenon for the handwritten letter, note, or card…

  • Jaisundar – I’m just constantly reminded how important the actual human communication is- all the plastic boxes in the world can’t replace that. But perhaps all the communication over email, etc. has increased our appreciation for the personal touch, the direct face-to-face conversation. There’s a related phenomenon for the handwritten letter, note, or card…