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Posted on 15, November 2012 November 15 2012 2012年11月15日 by alexander-berger

20 Under 20 Summit in NYC

Recently I have experienced a number of crazy firsts. The latest in this series of events is my spur of the moment trip to NYC for the 20 Under 20 Summit.The 20 Under 20 Summit is an event hosted by the Thiel Fellowship to bring the applicants and recipients of the fellowship together in one place for a week of speakers, workshops, and networking.

Alexander Berger in NYC

I was aware that the summit was happening but had no plans of attending until I discovered one of my new roommates was going to present — A great example of serendipity in action —. I checked the flights and was able to book one for about $400 so I decided to join him! I had a great time and took lots of photographs and a few videos.

I came away from the conference with four important takeaways:

Networking is not about making connections, it’s about making friends.

I am relatively new to the idea of networking and it has taken me until now to realize that most people are doing it wrong.  

The most common type of networking is to meet as many people as possible and try and get something from them, whether that be a meeting, an introduction, or advice. This is going about things incorrectly. This is very impersonal and doesn’t build a real connection. People have no obligation to give you anything and going around asking is plain rude, inconsiderate, and generally off putting.

There is a second group of people (Which until the summit  I was pretty firmly a part of) who are doing essentially the same thing, except they are looking to offer value to the other person rather than asking for something straight away. This is not terrible as at least you aren’t being rude, and hopefully if you are offering real value this can be effective.

What I discovered this weekend, however obvious this may seem, is that there is a third kind of networking and it is the best of all. It is simply called making friends. Far more enjoyable and effective than the previous styles of networking, making friends makes much more sense. Rather than walking around talking about what projects you are working on, what you have to offer, and what you need; forming a real personal connection ensures that both people will want to work together in the future and there is always another time to talk about the details of your current project. Is this more work? Sure. You have to set your ego and insecurities aside and open up to another person on a real level. This is something I am still working on myself, and I think all of us will be better off if we move towards this model of networking.

There are a lot of other amazing bright and inspired people your age, they just aren’t evenly distributed.

I’m not going to lie, as a kid I really thought I was the shit. In my environment there were very few people who were motivated, forward thinking, and driven. This lead me to think I was going to just absolutely dominate life without ever having to try too hard. Boy was I surprised when I moved to the bay and realized there were thousands, maybe even millions of people just like me and many significantly farther along than I am. Being around these amazing individuals has been humbling but also inspiring, providing me a target to shoot for. Going to the Summit was another such experience. Being in a room with 250 people that are every bit as awesome as you are really helps to both put things in perspective and motivate you to work even harder.

Side note on this topic: I noticed this weekend that the most interesting people tend to talk the least about themselves. If you want to meet someone really cool, engage the guy or girl that is spending the least time talking themselves up and the most time learning about others. Chances are they are more accomplished than most of the people in the group.

It’s generally best to spend at least a little time planning a trip BEFORE leaving.

I have never spent more than a few hours in NYC (With my parents) and I spent exactly zero  minutes preparing before the trip. Diwank and I arrived late at night in the middle of blizzard and immediately after hurricane Sandy to a situation that was a bit like something you would see in a disaster movie like Day After Tomorrow.

As we asked around it became more and more apparent we should have planned transportation before arriving. Could we take the subway? Yes, no problem, head to ??? Beach Station. Oh, actually no we can’t do that, according to a passerby its underwater. No problem though the doorman told us, we can take Skytrain to Jamaica Station transfer to X train, then transfer to Y train at Atlantic and then walk 6 blocks in the blizzard to our AirBnB apartment. Yeah right. We ended up taking a taxi down the HIGHWAY at 40MPH due to the snow and slush coating the roads. There were cars spun out on the sides of the road, tow trucks and police everywhere, and miles of houses without power along the north side of the road.

We arrived safely (For $60+ dollars) but it took us at least another day to really figure out the subways. Thankfully the blizzard was short lived and the weather was amazing for the remainder of the visit. Notwithstanding, next time I will plan (Especially transportation) a bit more before I arrive. Good times, just not necessarily something you want to repeat every time I visit somewhere new.

You can push yourself WAY beyond what you perceive as your current physical limits for lack of sleep and food given enough motivation.

The night before the conference Diwank and I had a surge of motivation. We decided to create a social movement to promote women in technology and discuss the issues surrounding this topic in a fun way. Grumpy the Bear was born. (More info on Grumpy: In order to pull this off we stayed up all night right before the beginning of the conference. Looking back this was probably I’ll advised, but seeing what we were able to accomplish with $100, the computer in Staples, and a teddy bear is pretty cool. It’s easy to make excuses when it comes to executing on ideas (Especially those that could result in you appearing foolish if they fail) but what separates the winners from the losers is the ability to set aside excuses, do the work, and put yourself out there for the world to see. As Jim O’Niell said in his closing remarks “Just Do It”.

Pictures and Videos of Alexander Berger’s Adventures In New York


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