Last week, Chargify helped sponsor the Launch Festival in San Francisco. It’s an annual conference that was started in 2010 by Jason Calacanis. It brings together top-notch speakers like Mark Cuban and Paul Graham with hundreds of small companies & startups and thousands of attendees.
A funny thing happened that reminded me of the importance of occasional guts. And of not jumping to conclusions.
Chargify had a booth with many other companies along a long, wide corridor. Most were small companies, but right across from us was Amazon’s AWS, and behind us was Salesforce.
We knew that one the 3rd and final day of the conference, our sole outside investor, Mark Cuban, would be speaking in the afternoon. We thought it’d be nice to meet him, since we’d all be in the same large building.
But meeting someone like Mark can be difficult. It’s not because he’s a bad guy. He’s just very busy, and lots of people want his attention. Chargify is one of hundreds of investments that Mark has made over the years.
While Mark does (amazingly) reply to most of my emails, he does not take phone calls or meetings, at least not with small (to him) investments. When you’re a billionaire and you’re invested in hundreds of things, it makes sense. He told the audience that day that he can only answer about 1% of emails that come to him. It’s just a time issue.
Even though Mark invested in Chargify in 2011, we never met or even spoke on the phone. The relationship for 3 years was 100% email.
Mark Walked By
Mark arrived in the building a couple of hours before his stage time. Someone from conference management told us he was coming. “Be ready”, he said.
Well, when Mark walked down the corridor, he stopped a couple of times for media interviews, and eventually he walked past Chargify. He was talking with someone as he walked by our booth. I was standing there, wanting to get his attention but not wanting to be super rude.
I caught his eye, waved, and said something like, “Hey, Mark, Lance from Chargify” or maybe just, “Hey, Mark.”
He did the obligatory nod and “hey” that you do to someone you’ve never seen before.
But remember, he literally never had seen me before.
Sure, maybe the Chargify name should have jogged his memory (he’s been on many Chargify emails), but put yourself in his shoes: there are lots of people around, you’re passing sign after sign after sign, and it all blurs together.
The Wrong Conclusion
At the time, I jumped to the wrong conclusion: I assumed Mark recognized Chargify and chose to ignore us.
And having concluded that, I thought to myself, “I guess he’s a really busy guy and he’s invested in many things and Chargify is one of many. Well, kinda makes sense.”
I was at the booth with two other Chargify team members: Lee and Brit. I was disappointed, but it wasn’t a big deal and I figured I had just been naive.
Guts Turns it Around
It would have ended there, except that 26-year-old investment banker / M&A person, David Kram, stopped by the Chargify booth.
David is a typical M&A banker not long out of college: smart, aggressive, and willing to take some risks to get ahead.
David also seems to have a thing for meeting rich people and learning from them, and he was hoping to meet Mark Cuban. He came by our booth just a few minutes after Mark had walked past. He asked if I knew where Mark had gone.
(Yes, that’s David with Warren Buffet – I bet David just asked and Buffet said yes)
All I knew was the direction Mark walked.
I don’t remember the details, but we himmed and hawed briefly about going to find Mark. David clearly wanted to do so, just for fun. I kind of wanted to find Mark but also more or less assumed that Mark wasn’t very interested in meeting.
But guts won out. David and I went looking.
Searching for Mark Cuban
We walked down a long, wide corridor into relative darkness. We eventually saw a lone security guard at a sort of blockade: tables were placed to block an otherwise very wide corridor, leaving just a small opening, which is where the guard was stopping people.
We paused perhaps 50 feet before the guard, wondering for a second if it was worth continuing, since he appeared to be checking IDs or checking a list or something.
But we resumed our walk.
My badge was back at the Chargify booth, and I’m not even sure it was a badge that would work, anyway. David had no badge (not an exhibitor badge, anyway).
I told the guard that I was a sponsor but I left my badge at our booth, and I was happy to go get it.
David did this crazy young bravado thing and yanked open his sport coat to reveal some random company t-shirt, and said, “This is my badge!” with a smile on his face. Who does that? I mean, it’s utterly meaningless! But it was funny.
With a bit of just being nice but pushy but humorous, we were allowed to pass. Perhaps the guard’s main duty was just to size us up and to conclude that we weren’t dangerous.
Free to Roam
Once the guard let us pass, we were basically free to roam a semi-secluded area. But no sign of Mark. All we saw ahead were bathrooms that appeared to be unused.
We walked on.
As we got to the bathrooms, there was an opening in the corridor wall, revealing a semi-private coffee break area.
“No Mark Cuban. Oh, wait,… there he is!”
A short line had formed of people getting pics with Mark. Maybe a half-dozen people. Another dozen were getting coffee and chatting.
We got in line for pics with Mark.
As our turn came up, I said something about being Lance from Chargify.
Mark lit up!
Now he made the connection, and he apologized for walking past us earlier. He said it just didn’t click at the time, but now it all came together.
David and I got pics with Mark.
Mark is Very Gracious
Here’s where it gets good…
I asked Mark if I could send back Brit and Lee from our booth. I knew they’d love to get pics with Mark Cuban.
He did even better and said, “Let’s go to the booth!”
It was great to get back to the booth and see Brit and Lee helping customers, then realizing David and I had come back with Mark.
We didn’t just find him – we brought him back!
Mark Cuban at the Chargify Booth
This was fun.
It was great to treat Brit and Lee, and it was of course fun to just have Mark Cuban hanging at our booth for 15 minutes.
I’ve never been around celebrities of any sort, so it was interesting to see what happens. People start gathering. People want pics. Press folks want interviews. A crowd forms relatively quickly.
It was also great fun for the whole Chargify team, even though most of them were working all around the USA. Within minutes, we had pics for the whole team to see in our online chat system, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.
The buzz and fun and exposure was quick and yet lasting.
The whole day got a couple of notches better, and I suspect our team got a nice little boost, too. Even customers thought it was neat upon seeing it on Twitter.
We got some good pics which live on now in tweets and on our website. Some potential customers care, and some existing customers care, too.
A lot of positive energy came out of that small event.
A Scary Reflection
A couple of hours later, I reflected on something: most of my life, I’ve been the guy who occasionally does risky things, especially if the risk is merely social and there’s some sort of reward.
In this case, I was going to let Mark just walk by. I assumed he recognized us and wasn’t interested in stopping. I wasn’t going to go hunting for him.
Thankfully, David showed up with youthful bravado!
So the lesson of this whole story, for you and for me, is this: don’t lose that youthful bravado, guts, naivate, or whatever you want to call it – at 46 (my age) or 26 or any age.
Real and lasting success is a methodical thing, NOT typically built on little, nearly random events like this.
BUT these little, nearly random events ARE sometimes the connectors or the “boosters” that make life interesting and lead to good things.
The story of how we got Mark Cuban to invest is a very similar story!
And that had a huge & lasting benefit to Chargify and to many lives.