It’s the Connections that Make the Business

"Here I was inside of a sinking ship trying to launch a rocketship out of it. It was a very tumultuous, scary, and nervous time."
[Noah Glass, co-founder, Twitter]

I was reading this interview with Norah Glass, the forgotten co-founder of Twitter, and agreeing with him — there is some truth to every story.

Plus, this is the kind of story that shows you where the connections got lost, how different interests by the groups involved — investors, the Board, the management team — kept the original organization from truly coming together and succeeding in collaboration.

Not to mention that the product had no breathing room, given how stuck everyone was on the original idea. If you read the interview, you will learn that Glass had a strange feeling about the product, in a good sense. And it is the product that needs to shine for the company — what has become Twitter — to win.

When you have that feeling that connects deeply with you and you go at it feverishly, you know you're onto something special. It happens with people as well, sans the feverish part in business — if you really like someone, usually it is the case that they like you back.

It's the connections that make the business.

  • we buy again from people we like, thus going from buyers to customers
  • in a community, people exchange services, give referrals, and do business together
  • partnerships are formed on the basis of connections to a product, channel, distribution, etc.
  • internal teams that collaborate deliver superior service and better products

Let me tell you a story of how well that works from my own experience (slightly edited from what originally posted at Fast Company expert blog).

We have 200 employees, and they work for you

I worked in insurance. Not glamorous and often actually quite the opposite until you get to the risk management consulting end of things. Then it becomes quite fascinating, although some I’m sure will fight me over how interesting working as an adjustor can be.

At the time, I was employed by what we defined a boutique risk advisory services and captive insurance management firm, International Risk Management Group (IRMG).

One of the best aspects of working in a risk management-consulting firm is that everyone around you is usually quite experienced in their field.

We had professionals who had been practicing law successfully for several years, experts in some specialized field of insurance like for example Directors and Officers and Employment Practice Liability, and even a mathematician who designed proprietary software to map a company’s risks. The mathematician was especially impressive. Trained at the Normal School of Mathematics in Moscow, where geniuses go and with an International MBA and impeccable English.

But I can see your eyes glaze over. So let me get to the story part.

Often enough, our little boutique firm would find itself going for accounts against the likes of global insurance brokers like Marsh (formerly known as Marsh & McLennan). You should be familiar with this organization for two reasons: Eliot Spitzer and Paul Bremer. The former looked into them, the latter worked for a Marsh company.

Although everyone loves a good David vs. Goliath story, my story is about customer conversation.

We all read the same trade publications, many of which often quoted us as experts on many subjects. One day my CEO walked into the office and showed me this big, four-color ad depicting a whole crowd of people. It said:

“50,000 people know all about Marsh & McLennan. And they work for us.”

Well, that’s interesting, I thought. Then it hit me: what a perfect opportunity to go public with our vision and core value. Let’s run a black and white ad that speaks about IRMG. So we got our heads together and, for the first time, announced publicly what had been our promise to our customers since I could remember:

“Over 200 people know all about IRMG. And they work for you.”

This is what the copy in the ad said (emphasis mine):

IRMG Risk Advisory and Captive Management Services is an enterprise committed to the belief that there is a place in the market for a highly focused risk management firm, which can provide its clients a distinct range of services in a thoughtful, professional and personal way. This is particularly true in a consolidating industry segment, a byproduct of which is a reduction in meaningful alternatives for the buyer.

Our product is a relationship, not simply a transaction or process delivery. Our goal is the fulfillment of client needs by whoever is best qualified to accomplish the task at hand. If that proves to be IRMG, we are delighted; if not, we will help you make the connection with whoever is best.

Take a moment and reread it keeping in mind that we’re talking about a highly competitive, high value market. “Our product is a relationship.” How many companies have you talked to recently who think that way and, most importantly, have the courage to stand behind that statement?

“Our goal is the fulfillment of client needs by whoever is best qualified.” It is not for us to decide, the customer decides. “If (IRMG) is not (the best qualified) we will help you make the connection with whoever is best” in your eyes, of course. When was the last time you had such a conversation with an organization?

By the way, we did have a group, which functioned as a sort of customer service in the division that managed captive insurance companies. However, everyone in the organization was in customer service, with no exception — our CEO front and center.

In the spring of 2000, the company was acquired by Aon Consulting and some of the corporate functions like mine were reduced. That was the time when with my heart and mind filled with the examples of this well run and highly rewarding firm I made my move to develop and lead Fast Company magazine readers’ network in Philadelphia. I am still using those values as guidelines in business, and life.

That's how I know it's the connections that make the business.

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