It’s good to bring enchantment. At one point in my early 20s, leading up to the founding of my first software company I had a meeting with an important attorney. That man later became my business partner, seed financier, and connection to early B2B enterprise connections.
But first was my initial meeting. It was a nervous time for me, since it had been arranged by a family member. If things went poorly, there were personal connections at risk. I was young and arrogant, but knew I must show the utmost respect.
I arrived at the conference room, a beautiful office on Union Square in Manhattan. I was well-rehearsed, with my hair and clothes as perfectly prepped as I could manage. The man I was meeting was disheveled, and rummaged through a heap of papers while yelling into a phone call. He smiled and waved to me, motioned for me to sit down while he continued his call.
After some time without any sign of his call nearing an end, I became frustrated. I knew I must show respect, but I also knew that if I behaved as if my own time had no value, then he would forever share that point of view. I had not brought work of my own, to focus on during his call — and I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate through his shouting anyway.
As I thought about my location, and how I might occupy myself during the wait, an idea came to me. I grabbed a pen and paper, and wrote, “Going to the Farmers’ Market downstairs, I’ll be right back. Would you like anything to eat?” I slid the paper to him. This felt like “win #1”, because it put me in the position of making an offer instead of an ask.
He quickly read my paper, gave a big smile, and shook his head. He mouthed the words “no, thank you”, and waved his hand to gesture me toward the door. As I headed out, I heard him say into his phone, “Could you repeat that? I wasn’t paying attention.”
Down at the Farmer’s Market, the pit of anxiety in my stomach was still there. What can I buy? Nothing messy. Nothing that will get stuck in my teeth. Nothing that might stain my clothes. Nothing that needs utensils. I had better not take too long, because his phone call could end any time.
And then I found them. “Cape Gooseberries”, they’re called. Tiny yellow-orange berries, each surrounded by a papery protective shell. The farmer explained to me that they’re only in season two weeks every year, and I caught them at the perfect time. I tried one and it was sweet-tart, uniquely flavored. Sold.
When I returned to the conference room, my future business partner was still in his heated argument. I put the container on the table in front of myself, and ate a few.
He was captivated, and finally broke stride on that conference call. “What is that?” he mouthed a question to me. I tried whispering and gesturing to explain, but this wasn’t enough for his curiosity.
Finally, I heard the words I was waiting for. “I’ll have to call you back,” he said to the mystery person on the other end of his call. And then he hung up.
“What the hell are these things?” he asked, with a childlike excitement. As I explained, his face passed through every emotion from intrigue to frustration. He asked, “Can I try one? Are they good?”
We began our introductions, at last, while sharing the same food.
During the entire meeting, he kept muttering, “How is it possible? 20 years working in Agriculture, and this kid finds something I’ve never seen before?“
When I pitched the business he agreed it sounded like a great opportunity… but to this day I’m convinced that the way I pulled an exotic fruit out of thin air played a big role in his confidence that what I brought to the table was nothing short of magic.