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Always Talk to Strangers – By: Lindsay Pomazal

“It’s like one linear tree diagram of connections - from one person to another. What you find is, the world’s a lot smaller than you think. If you put yourself out there and start talking to strangers. You honestly have no idea where it’s going to lead.” - Matt Meltzer

This month I chose to spotlight Matt Meltzer, founder & CEO of Sage Corps (https://sagecorps.com/about), a global entrepreneurship program that sends top university students and post-grads ("Fellows") to study abroad and intern with tech startups around the world.

Sage Corps’ success is an exemplary, but also a unique showcase of the power of one’s professional network. Founder & CEO, Matt Meltzer was able to leverage his professional network scaling his business from serving five students in Buenos Aires to 15 global cities across five continents in the past five years.

Matt jokingly describes himself as a “recovering lawyer” that took an idea he wrote on a legal pad and made it into a reality. After quitting Kirkland & Ellis LLP, shortly after making partner, he attributes his success with Sage Corps, to the diverse network of people he connected with along the way to realize his dream. His mantra for himself and his Sage Corps Fellows is to “always talk to strangers.” His method requires some childhood unpacking of the idea to repurpose it for proven professional benefits.

Matt admits he was “hungry” and the pressure to provide for his family of five and get his idea off the ground, propelled him to attend weekly workshops, lectures and networking opportunities that laid the necessary foundation for his business. He acknowledges that everyone he’s met has helped him either directly or at least thought about a way to help indirectly.

According to Matt, networking events are work, not just a cocktail hour. He was successful at it, because he leveraged every networking event very purposefully, with extreme clarity in his goals and objectives. For him, he focused on developing new relationships with universities or new global markets with startups. He was very clear in what he needed/wanted and communicated honestly to people. By embracing his vulnerability with clear goals, people took a genuine interest in his business and what they could offer.

In his experience and mine, people want to help any way they can.

Returning from three years on the JET Program, I recently had the opportunity to work with other JET Alumni and Japan-related professionals as an Interview Assistant with the Japan Information Center/Consulate General of Japan. Serving as a Consulate Representative Judge for the JET Program during interview week gave me the unique opportunity to interact with so many people from a variety of fields. Every person I met and shared my story with honestly thought about my situation and offered up any connections they could. In a world, where we rarely interact in person and are so quick to forget the goodness of humankind, this discovery was a real gift to unwrap.

One of the things I love about connecting with people from different industries and walks of life is the added benefit of learning about things you’ve never even dreamt of conceptualizing. Dabbling outside of your designated scope is fascinating. Matt is one of those people and Sage Corps ones of those stories.

How is it possible Sage Corps went from five students in Argentina to 15 global cities in five years?

The answer: Sending LinkedIn messages to strangers (and the rest is history).

Matt utilized the power of his university alumni network when he reached out to a UPenn alumni that he’d never even met on LinkedIn. This stranger was kind enough to introduce him to the head of a startup accelerator in Hong Kong. Then that connection introduced him to two of his friends, one Dutch and one that later moved to Africa. That one random connection generated four new markets around the world for Sage Corps to open.

Most recently, Sage Corps has expanded to connect students to social entrepreneurship startups in Accra, Ghana. The Sage Corps Start Program is a two-week internship starting in August 2019 that will create consultant teams tasked with a specific problem or project from a startup CEO in Melbourne, Australia, Santiago, Chile, Shanghai, China and Accra, Ghana. Matt was able to tap into these markets all from one LinkedIn message he sent to a UPenn alumni he had never met.

There is so much more to tell about the tale of Sage Corps (and yet to be written), but I hope it inspired you to think a little differently about growing your professional network and the potential in your next work-related happy hour. Below are my Top THREE Takeaways:

  1. Always talk to strangers, they could become business partners -One of the things that prevent us from reaching our potential is fear. What I loved about Matt’s story is he had to embrace his vulnerability to achieve his desired result. Whatever your reservations, don’t let them keep you from making that connection that could change your world.
  2. Have a clear pitch/goal for each networking event - This may seem like an obvious tip, but for me, it illuminated how fruitful a networking event could be. The elevator pitch is such a passe way of articulating who you are/what you want. I prefer instead to think of it in terms of goal-setting/manifestation. Having a clear mental picture or well-articulated goal can make all the difference. For me, the intention is everything.
  3. Be genuine and reciprocal in your networking efforts - We operate under the laws of karma and should act as such. You get what you give. Being appreciative and helpful of others goes a long way. It makes you more likely to remain in someone’s memory than if you shake their hand, steal their business card and never talk to them again (not that you would do that). The business world can feel transactional, but it doesn’t mean you have to play along. Be who you are, you’ll attract the kinds of people that will want to support you along the way.

Lindsay Pomazal is a driven professional with over 10 years of diverse domestic and international workplace experience, proven success at relationship building combined with excellent research, critical analysis, and original content creation capabilities across multiple platforms.

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