The above painting of a cat as Napoleon Bonaparte helped me get my startup team acquired, become a partner at MetaLab, and meet Jon to start Need/Want together (which produces SmartBedding, Mod Notebooks, and more).
There’s a million books on how to “network” and meet cool people. I think they’re all mostly garbage. The single best way I’ve found to meet interesting people is to make great things.
Over the last couple years, I’ve met some really amazing people, and am fortunate to call many of them friends. A few of my most cherished and successful relationships have all stemmed from a single project I made.
In October 2011, I was living in Santiago Chile for Startup Chile’s round 1 program. It was late and I was surfing Reddit and drinking wine with my buddy Amir. I don’t remember quite how it happened, but while intoxicated I had the idea for what became 18th.me.
18th.me is basically face-in-the-hole with real paintings. I found a team overseas with some amazing painting talent. They can re-create any classic painting (think Mona Lisa) but using anyone’s face I give them. It’s been a fun side-project, and has turned out to be a really great way to meet some really interesting people.
Once I had the idea and sourced the painters, I began brainstorming names, domains, and wireframes. I eventually settled on 18th.me, and snatched up the domain for $10.
Intense wireframing then followed. Here’s the final design I came up with:
I then hired a great designer off of Dribbble that turned my wireframe into something great.
Cost to build
18th.me domain: $10
Test paintings: $287.70
Website design: $450
Website coding: $328.77
Shopify hosting: $87
Total cost to launch: $1,163.47
Total time taken from idea to launch: 3 months
Meeting Great People
After 18th.me went live, I began reaching out to people I admired. Looking back, it helped me to stand out during these interactions.
Meeting Andrew Wilkinson, Founder of MetaLab
When I first launched 18th.me, I sent out several paintings to some people with good blog followings to draw up interest. One of those was for William Wilkinson, a designer at MetaLab. He also happens to be Andrew’s younger brother. William posted this to his blog.
You know when someone asks if you want a free painting from their new service and you forget about it for three months, then it shows up at your work?
Not long after launching, I noticed an order come through from Andrew. He commissioned us to paint his cat as Napolean Bonaparte (the image at the top of this post). I had been following MetaLab for years, and was a fan of Andrew’s work.
Several weeks later, MetaLab launched Design Capital, their hybrid investing approach. Essentially they invest their resources in startups. This could include design, dev, cash, or a hybrid of all three.
At the time I was still working on my startup, Obsorb. We needed some additional capital, and maybe help on our design. The day they launched I reached out with this simple email.
To my surprise, Andrew responded, citing 18th.me!
Eventually after many back and forth emails and calls, Andrew and I worked out a non-typical Design Capital deal. I proposed a joint venture between Obsorb and MetaLab to build a new product together.
My co-founder and I went up to Victoria for 2 months to build out the prototype with Andrew and his team. By the end of the two months, it was obvious we worked well together. Andrew eventually made an offer to have us join MetaLab.
The product we were working on became Peak, and I’m now a partner in MetaLab’s software business.
Meeting Jon and starting Need/Want together
While much of the deal above was happening, I was tinkering with a new bedding concept. My interest in physical product design had been growing and after a few prototypes, I started to make plans to Kickstarter a project.
Jon was a tech guy that had just launched an iPhone case company, Peel. I found it intriguing that Jon was going from software to physical products, a rare occurrence.
There’s something interesting that I’ve noticed in the world of startups – most tech guys just don’t want to deal with designing and selling physical items. It seems like manufacturing, large upfront costs, and the lack of infinite scalability intimidates many.
Jon’s move from tech to physical products resonated with me, as I had started to dabble in the same. So, I reached out via Twitter.
— Marshall Haas (@marshal) January 8, 2013
Jon and I kept talking via email and learned we had a lot of shared interests. Eventually I pitched him on doing SmartBedding with me. In the following months we went on to launch the Kickstarter campaign, raising $57k+.
Due to SmartBedding’s success, we decided to create Need/Want and build a portfolio of products together. This blog also followed.
When you execute on ideas, you are forever associated with a tangible thing. People remember tangibles, not ideas.
Looking back and connecting the dots, I’ve realized that any big career advancements or opportunities that came my way were always linked to something I made, or built.
And so, the single best way I’ve found to meet interesting people is to…
Make things, and then share them with the world. You’ll be surprised with who you meet along the way.