The food and drink industry is a fiercely competitive sector, made all the more difficult by evolving customer tastes, technological advancements and increasingly strict regulations.
Duncan: Hey there, and welcome to the podcast. My name is Duncan Malcolm, and I am your host. In this series, were talking to real experts who have hands-on experience with tactics and strategies that you can start using straight away. Today, we're talking to community builder, Ryan Paugh, about how to build genuine business relationships that will last your lifetime. He's probably best known as co-founder of the very successful Young Entrepreneurs Council, an invitation-only global network of entrepreneurs under 40. If you're thinking, "I don't need help growing my business or network. I already know everyone that matters," then maybe this isn't for you. But if you're the kind of person like me who really struggles to get to the right person or really build a connection with someone, then Ryan's gonna deliver that and more.
We talked about tactics like gifting and building a platform, people that you can really use to grow your business. Listen in, especially around halfway through, when we talk about Jim Pierce, ordinary accountant who became one of the best connected people in the United States and Ryan's own experiences of trial and error.
So without further ado, let's get started. Ryan, thank you very much for joining us. You are, by your own name, the builder of epic communities, co-founder of Brazen, the Young Entrepreneur Council, Forbes Council, Community Co. featured by Forbes, TechCrunch, Mashable, Fast Company entrepreneur, the Financial Times amongst others. I'm not sure there's anyone that you haven't been featured by. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Ryan: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Duncan: So we're talking because you've got an upcoming book coming out called, "The Superconnector," which we're kind of running through. The general concept here is that people are networking in the wrong way or the old kind of fashion approaches don't work. Do you wanna talk to a little bit about...I mean, I think we've both had those experiences probably when we were both kind of starting out where you've got, you know, 300 people in a room and everyone's going around shoving business cards in each other's faces.
Ryan: Yeah, we try to paint a picture in the book of that person you just described, the person that can't wait to shake your hand and just like force-feed their business card into your pocket, but you can tell that they're, you know, sort of distracted because they're looking beyond you at the next person that they're gonna shake hands with and provide a business card to. And it's that very transactional mindset that we're trying to get away from and really trying to encourage people to get back to the roots of building real relationships. You know, I think social media, the social media error which we talk about in the book has really been a blessing and a curse. We've, you know, been able to be more connected than ever before to people across the geographic bounds in different industries.
You know, case in point, you and I talking today in totally different countries. But it's also made us a little bit too transactional, a little too focused on quantity over quality of our connections and a little too focused on building up those numbers and building up a followership that for some reason psychologically translates to more success and more satisfaction in our lives. And we're trying to get people to think more along the lines of quality relationships. And those should be fewer in numbers, more curated and more focused on mutual value that can be obtained through really spending time cultivating that relationship.
Duncan: That makes sense. To what extent do you think that your kind of experiences in the book and what you've kind of picked up over the years building your businesses, because a lot of your businesses are actually...they are network businesses. They're about the people and about building communities. So it's kind of an essence what you've kind of grown into. To what extent do you feel that this has been a sort of a lesson in trial and error versus was this something that you just kind of on day one when you started up Brazen, you just knew how it should work? What was your impossible experience?
Ryan: Yes, trial and error, and it constantly evolves. You know, I think the networking practices that we use and the correct etiquette in order to build meaningful relationships will continue to evolve as technology involves. Now we're seeing that video is becoming like a new medium of choice for social media sites in areas where we connect. I mean, LinkedIn, for example, just started rolling out video and you're seeing that a lot of the sort of early adopters are getting on there and making connections on LinkedIn like they've never done before. So we're gonna have to figure out how to create a video. But I think this book is really 10 plus years of exactly what you said, trial and error. Scott and myself learning about building community, becoming community builders ourselves through first identifying that this is something that we love and that we would love to turn into a trade that we can do to support our families and ourselves for the rest of our lives. And then learning all of the ins and outs, the basic fundamentals of relationship building and then more complex systems and processes and technology to support them that we could use to really bring what we've learned to others, to our business partners that we work with through the community company, to individuals who join these communities that we create, our members, and to the people that we work with, and to those that read this book.
Duncan: I think it's interesting. When I did my first business, I was involved in communities and tech scene when it was just kind of kicking off. And I saw events and got involved but not to...didn't actually own them. I think a lot of business owners and people who are running businesses or growing business don't really...don't often think. I think it's probably, you know, 1 in 10, 1 in 20, 1 in 100 businesses who actually think actually what we need to do is build a community of these kind of people with, you know, this kind of targeted approach. I mean, can you speak to kind of examples of where people have done that and have kind of been successful in applying an approach where they're building, where they say, "I'm not just gonna go networking, but I'm gonna build a community and then the kind of the returns I get." I mean, ultimately, I guess, they're gonna measure it in returns, but in terms of the successes they've had.
Ryan: Sure. I think first and foremost, it's important to recognize that we all already have a community around us and whatever amorphous form it might be, you and I as well as fortune 500 brands, there is community there. It's just a matter of how focused and how valuable that community is and how much you're investing in it as the brand. You know, with our brand partners, we basically like to come in and first and foremost talk to them about what is the community that you already have, who is important to you, who are your customers, who are your stakeholders, who are your brand advocates and leverage that as a jumping-off point. Because likely they already have some idea of who they wanna meet and they already have targeted those people in some way. Our job is to really figure out where that community lives and plug in systems and people and technologies that we have at the community company to enhance them, to increase engagement, increase retention of those people, and increase the lifetime value of those individuals for the brands.
A good example is our Forbes Councils initiative. So we've been working with Forbes media for several years now and we've developed well over a dozen curated communities of industry-specific individuals. So an example would be Forbes Technology Council, a group for executive CTO, CIOs, and others in the technology space, as well as locally focused initiatives, such as our Forbes New York Business Council, which is a small business organization for entrepreneurs and executives located in the Greater New York area.
You know, Forbes already had a community. They have a large reach and a readership and brand notoriety that spans throughout the globe. And they believed that building more of an established community around that could create higher engagement and higher brand loyalty. We've tested that out with some of the earlier communities. We've done like the Forbes Technology Council, learned what specific add-ons and opportunities we could provide to build that engagement. And over time, we were able to scale that and bring that to other industry-specific groups and location, specific groups that mattered to the Forbes brands. And it's been a very successful for them and very successful for us as a partner.
Duncan: Yeah, that makes sense. Just as a quick check, do you have Dropbox or anything running in the background? Every kind of minute or so, we kind of get a little out of sync for a sec.
Ryan: Oh, no, I don't have Dropbox, but let me just see what is live. There might be a couple things. I usually try to close up all my browsers, but there might be a couple of things running here that I didn't think about. Sorry about that.
Duncan: That's all right. One of the things you... So one of the things I saw that I took in the book. I mean, you talk about a lot of different techniques and approaches in terms of how to build a community and where that should start. One of the things I think that resonated with me the most, I think possibly because it's something that we're looking at both here at Currencies Direct, and also I actually ended up testing out myself was gifting in terms of as a good way to build a relationship. Obviously it's got to be done in a kind of honest and in a genuine way where it's kind of appreciated and taking on. How have you seen gifting work and what would a really good example of gifting be and would a really bad example of gifting be in terms of building relationship? Because, I guess, I think also in the UK obviously it's slightly concerned. I mean, we're a financial institution so we're always worried about anti-bribery and what could be perceived as, you know, what's the difference between a gift and a bribe. So can we keep the definition there is kind of quite clear, but what are good and bad examples there?
Ryan: Well, I think first and foremost, I would wanna give a shout out to a good friend and a fellow author, John Ruhlin. He is the author of a book called "Giftology." He's literally like the godfather of gift-giving. So if you wanna become an expert gift giver, he is the guy that you need to follow and you need to read his book. One of the things that John says that I really love is don't give gifts around the holidays. Don't do it. It's the worst time to give gifts. But for most people, for some reason, that's the logical point in which you think. "Oh, I need to give this person a gift," whether it's a client or someone else. The best time to give a gift is when they least expect it, the middle of summer when they're not expecting something to come to their house. That's when the gift is really going to stand out to the person that you're trying to build a relationship with.
The other good piece came out that pyramid of influence which we also talked about in the book, who are the people around the person that you're trying to build a relationship with that you can provide a gift to in order to really impress them and make their lives easier by effect. You know, good examples would be a personal assistant. Send, you know, their personal assistant a gift that makes their day better and that joy that they receive because they're not usually the one that gets the gift, is going to be incredible and that's gonna get passed on to the person that you are looking to build that relationship with. Another thing that John does is he regularly will have his people go out and find information on someone's significant other, send them a gift [inaudible 00:12:02]. Think about the impact that makes at the end of the day, both the thought that had to go into figuring out who that person was and also in the delivery and the joy that they received that will, you know, naturally get back to that person you wanna build a relationship with. You know, think outside the box. Most people have sort of automated gift giving to a point where it's just not meaningful anymore. That simple like, you know, box of Mrs. Field's Cookies that you send to the office isn't gonna make that big of an impact. It's about something special that people will never forget.
Duncan: Yeah, that makes sense. Having read the book, I actually was on Twitter yesterday, and I saw my accountant had because you get quite a lot of examples of accountants and lawyers as well-connected people. It's not someone who I would have thought as actually an extremely well-connected person. But if you think about it, lawyers and accountants have clients and they tend to be businesses that are usually successful, although as they can't afford the lawyers or the accountants.
Ryan: Sure. The other thing is that they're part of that pyramid of influence. I think a lot of people think that...as an example, if you wanted to go and work with a business and create a strategic partnership, you would think you gotta go to the top directly to the CEO and you might ask someone to make that connection for you. But really, it's probably the wrong connection to ask for because the decision maker is maybe one or two wrongs down the ladder like a business development officer, a VP, a director who really has the influence to get that done. Same is true for lawyers and accountants. They are a big part of, you know, the advisory board of really powerful people and leadership teams and corporations. They are a great way to get connected to other individuals who you want to meet and to get that foot in the door. They have so many connections through their clients and the people that they work with and such a better understanding of specific areas of the business than say a CEO. They're very well connected, very well networked, and also are part of a lot of people's pyramid of influence.
Duncan: Yeah. So I saw his tweet that said he hasn't been sleeping for the last few days. And I sent him a book that I've read recently, that when I couldn't sleep, I was reading through with a quick note that went with it from Amazon saying, "Saw you haven't been sleeping. I hope this helps, you know, this helped me. Thanks, Duncan." And I can see how that, you know, as an authentic gift would work versus a more inauthentic gift if I was to then phone him up. There's something that's kind of quite key in this is that it takes time to build those relationships. Obviously, if I phoned him up, you know, tomorrow him having received his gift today and immediately started on a take. It would obviously be too transparent, too transactional, it would ruin the authenticity I think.
Ryan: Mm-hmm, correct, absolutely. Timing is everything.
Duncan: Beyond those kind of initial relationship building, there's a lot of curating your own events and kind of building to your own...creating your own kind of small community. I think that's probably a concept for most people that's quite scary. We're like, "How would you start? What's the lightest touch of approach of that?" Because, I mean, for me, it's also feels like quite a big jump, although a lot of businesses do a big jump in terms of just even getting to, you know, their first million, 10 million, so on. The idea of building a group of 50 people who are, you know, in my ideal target audience, it feels and seems like a non-trivial task.
Ryan: Sure. I mean, the good news is that there are more free resources than ever before to build community that won't cost you a dime, except for your time and energy. You know, I've mentored a lot of people that are interested in building a community of X, Y, and Z people and many of them have walked in the door talking to me, thinking that they were gonna go and build this enormous platform, proprietary technology, event structure that was planned out a year in advance. When really the first thing they probably should have done is figured out a medium in which their community is involved online and set up a free group.
You know, for example, we use Facebook groups rather frequently to connect members of our Young Entrepreneur Council community and some of our Forbes councils. It's free and a lot of people are already there and the engagement level is high because, you know, Facebook already has built that level of trust where they have a little square on your phone that people click on multiple times a day to check in with their friends. It's very easy to set those groups up and not very easy to create meaningful engagement and connections. But again, like this shouldn't be anything that costs you a dime on the upfront. You know, there's a great way to test any idea for building a community out and it's to create a Facebook group and start curating people that you think should be a part of it and seeing where it lands, get their feedback, get their input, and find out what additional value you can create and if there's something there that translate to something bigger than just the group. Then that's when you can talk about taking it offline, investing in events, investing in masterminds, investing in your own proprietary platform perhaps.
But on day one, it's all about experimentation. It's a lot like a startup, you know, start lean, test a lot of things out, don't be afraid to break things or to fail, and see where it lands and go from there. A lot of the communities will just simply fail because there is maybe no need for it or, you know, it doesn't provide enough ROI to you and your life that it's worth continuing to pursue. But you never know until you try. And the bar is incredibly low to start a community today.
Duncan: I mean, there's execution as well. I mean, you mentioned in the book around some of the early YC events which turned out to be either too structured or too dry. There's always gonna be some trial and error in there in terms of you gotta put yourself out there a bit and see what does and doesn't work.
Ryan: Oh, yeah, we've had some very crappy events. I won't lie, but from those events, you know, we learned so much and we were able to do a complete 180 from that early just, you know, unstructured type of event to something that's more curated and more experiential that our members walk away from and wouldn't have gotten in there if it wasn't for the failures, I think. Just like with anything else, you just can't be afraid to fail and to try something and to live with the consequences, whether good or bad.
Duncan: In your kind of group building, you talked about building...when you're building these groups to have rules. That from my own personal experience is something that's really kind of critical. One of the groups I built was a sailing club and initially, it has initially been an open all come or welcomed sailing group. Which, in that context, you know, hasn't been horrifically bad. We've been doing it for about nine years. It's grown very well. On reflection, looking back on that complete openness and inclusiveness, which is great for a kind of more kind of social community approach. For a business approach, I could see how that would be really, really painful in terms of making sure that people understand the kind of the framework in which they're operating.
Ryan: Yeah, in today's fast-paced world where all of our, you know, online lives, as well as our offline lives, are just noisy, noisy, noisy. People love curation. They love the idea that they are going to join a group or a community that is curated of only the best people that are interested in the same things that you are. That is very important to us. The other thing you mentioned is rules and it just sort of guidelines that people should follow when they join a community. I think people also like structure and to know what to expect and what the expectations of them are. Setting guidelines is important and they can always evolve with the group. But I think, you know, at the foundation, you should have some strong guidelines that guide what people should and shouldn't do with whatever community you create, and that'll make it all the better in the long run.
Duncan: The size and the intimacy thing, I think, is amazing in terms of, you know, everyone has been to that really big conference. I've been at a couple. I went to the Web Summit this year down in Lisbon, great event but with the sheer volume of people. We're talking 50, 60,000 people, very difficult to build a kind of personal connection.
Ryan: Yeah, and at the community company were always there, but we hardly ever attend the actual conference. You know, one of the tactics we take into consideration that I think other businesses and brands can do as well is to curate people in an oasis, is what we call it. You know, get people out of that noisy anxiety-ridden experience and take them to an oasis in which they can recharge, in which they can make meaningful connections with a curated group of people in a much more intimate setting that allows for that type of connection to take place versus the doling out business cards at a conference, you know, an environment that just kind of spawns from these big events. That is important to us. We do it at most of the major conferences that our members attend then we make a strong effort within our communities of asking people what conferences are you gonna attend this year, so we know where to be and we know where to set up oases to help our members connect in a more meaningful setting.
Duncan: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. One of the case studies or one of the stories was a chap called Jim Pierce who was an accountant who moved to a new town, needed to set in...I think needed to set up a new kind of network. I think that moving to a new town could be a metaphor for moving into a new market or starting a new business or anything. Can you talk a little bit about how he started and where he started and how he kind of initially got set up? Because it was pretty...it seemed to me to be a fairly scary experience for most people.
Ryan: Yeah, yeah. First off, Jim is one of my favorite case studies from the book because he is, you know, your average business owner. He's not the celebrity rock star, super connector that has 1 billion Twitter followers. He is like a regular guy. And one of the reasons why he is in the book is to show that anyone can do this. This isn't something that is, you know, just for the top 1%. This is something that we can bring to any a walk of life. And Jim is an interesting case study because what Jim did was in his new town of Homestead, Florida, spent a lot of time building relationships with the local community, hosting dinners that brought people that he wanted to build a relationship with on the business side together with him, but also together with his family and their families. You know, small intimate gatherings where their kids became best friends, spouses became very close, really created a strong bond and an element of trust that otherwise would have been difficult to obtain.
You can't develop that level of trust at ye olde business conference. You can develop that level of trust when you're in someone's kitchen chopping up vegetables together, drinking wine and talking about real life, the stuff that happens outside of, you know, the elevator pitches that we give. You know, the things that are important to us that are transcendent of our businesses. That's where real trust gets established, and that's something that Jim was very good at.
And in my life, you know, some of the best relationships that I've formed came from kind of going beyond that surface level business talk and down into deeper conversations about what really matters to me in my life, my family, my spouse, my children, and my hobbies, the things that we talked about earlier before we even started the podcast recording, hiking, fishing, being outdoors, leaving my phone at home and going someplace to commune with nature in a meaningful way without having to feel like I need to live stream it on Facebook. Those are where real connections get made. And sharing that real intimate side of you is how people will build a level of trust that otherwise you just couldn't get.
Duncan: Yeah. One of the things that...another kind of concept there was that you really have to find the platform that you're comfortable with. So in the case of Jim, it was dinners. In the case of someone else, it might be skydiving or skiing or it might be going into, go bowling or whatever it is. I guess you have to kind of find your voice in terms of what works for you and what you're comfortable with.
Ryan: Yes. Yeah, pick your ponds. And we talked a lot about the idea in the book that, you know, both online and offline you need to pick real estate in which to reside that makes you feel comfortable and that accentuates the best parts of yourself. That could be living in, you know, New York City or living in rural Ohio or anywhere in between. And online that could mean, you know, being incredibly active and engaged on social media across all platforms or it could mean just being very active in one in a very curated way. It's all about figuring out how you can give the best pieces of yourself to the world in whatever it is that you do and to not be too influenced by what others say you should do. We've heard enough from the guru's and the ninjas and the wizards and whatever or else they're calling themselves these days on LinkedIn. It's time to listen to yourself. You are the guru of your life and you know the best answers to these questions and no one else does.
Duncan: I mean, I guess, a really good example of that in terms of introverted and putting in on their own kind of territory you'd be Richard Branson with Necker Island, with the kite surfing. So he's got a perfect platform there to kind of curate his...curate events and people, build his relationships in an area where he feels extremely comfortable, that's also quite attractive, so you can kind of see how that really works for him as a medium.
Ryan: Yeah, we should all have an Island. That's the answer there. Where is my Island?
Duncan: I'm sure it's coming soon. All right, thank you so much for your time, Ryan. It's been really, really awesome.
Ryan: You'll be the first...
Duncan: Oh, sorry. I've just lost you there.
Ryan: Thanks so much.
Duncan: Say again.
Ryan: I'm here. I'm here, glad to be a part of it. Thanks so much for having me and, yeah, looking forward to hopefully connecting with some people through your podcast.
Duncan: Yeah, for sure and the book "Superconnector," it's out on the 27th of February, was it?
Ryan: February 27th. If you wanna preorder, you can go to superconnectorbook.com. If you're an Amazon person, you can get the Amazon link. If you wanna, you know, iPad or Kindle version, you can get that, all the links to all the places you can buy. You can pick your poison and, you know, get to it from that site and also see what some people are saying about the book so far.
Duncan: And if people wanna reach out to you directly, what's the best way to reach you, Twitter or...?
Ryan: Yeah, I'm very findable online. Twitter is great, just @Ryanpaugh. You can connect me on LinkedIn. You can connect me on Facebook. You can email me. My email would be very easy to figure out. It's email@example.com. And I'd love to connect with anyone who considers themselves to be a community building geek. I love nerding out on other people's community ideas. So hopefully, I hear from some of you.
Duncan: Awesome. All right, thank you very much for your time, it's much appreciated.
Ryan: Thanks again.