How Buying Pizza For A Stranger Changed My Life

When you hear, "It's all who you know," it sounds so intimidating — like you need to be a former roommate of Mark Zuckerburg, cousins with Richard Branson, and dating Taylor Swift. But simply contacting a stranger can lead to a worldwide network of connections.

When I was 18, at Berklee College of Music, we had a guest speaker named Mark Fried, who was an executive at BMI — a big music company in New York City. He walked into the classroom just before class began, and I heard him ask the teacher, "Oh, I thought we were going have food."

The teacher said, "Oh, no, sorry, I thought you ate already! Didn't you have lunch?"

Mark said, "Damn. No. And it's a two hour class. Oh well."

Hearing this, I quickly ran out of the room and called Supreme's Pizza, asking them to deliver three large pizzas to classroom #115. 45 minutes later, the pizzas showed up. I gave one to Mark and shared two with the class. He smiled at me and said, "Good move. I owe you one. Here's my card. Call me any time, and let me know how I can help. When you come to New York City, I'll be happy to meet up."

For the next two years, I took him up on that, sending him my new songs for feedback, and he'd tell me his insights and advice about the music industry. When I told Mark I wanted to move to New York, he said, "Send me your resume, and I'll find you a job." Sure enough, a few weeks later, I got a call in my dorm room from Julie Gengo at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, saying, "We need someone to run our tape room, and Mark Fried said we should hire you. Can you start Monday?"

Just like that, I was in.

Because I was working inside Warner Brothers, it was easy to meet everybody in the New York City music scene. Every person I met connected me to many more. A few years later, it was no problem to move to Los Angeles, because I now had a huge network in LA, through one degree of separation. Now it's grown worldwide. Whether I'm visiting Iceland, Shanghai, Rio, Japan, or Silicon Valley, I've got a wonderful network of connections to call on, and people worldwide who can call on me anytime. Usually we know eachother loosely — having only traded a couple of emails — but those quickly turn into real friendships.

All because I bought a pizza for a stranger.

Surrounded By Success

Soon after arriving in New York, I was surrounded by successful people. I was only 20 years old, but I learned so much from watching how people become successful, hearing their stories, philosophies, and mistakes. Opportunities were everywhere. (A chance recommendation from my roommate got me a gig touring the world, playing guitar for Ryuichi Sakamoto.)

These people shaped the way I see the world. The people you surround yourself with don't just open doors. They change the way you think, and change your self-image of your capabilities! When you're surrounded by successful people, it feels so easy, it's obvious. Their attitude and actions rub off on you.

But I meet so many people that feel that success is so far away, so impossible to imagine, that they act accordingly, aim low, and complete the self-defeating circle. I know much of success is luck, but I never realised how much the mindset of success comes from who you know. Luckily, who you know is up to you, not luck.

No Need To Be In The Big City

I used to advise ambitious people to move to the big city, where everything is happening. And it's still true that it offers some benefits. But more and more it feels like "where everything is happening" is online — and the way to be there is to create something that adds to it.

Most of the fascinating and successful people I know now are people I met online. I see something they've done, or they see something I've done, one of us sends the other an email, and that's it. A few emails, maybe a phone call, and we're friends. What's even more fascinating is finding out that the super-connectors, the people who know everybody and everybody knows, are often physically remote.

For example, some of the most connected people I know now are:

Karol Gajda in Poland

Dan Andrews in Bali

Amy Hoy who just moved from Vienna to Philadelphia

Patrick McKenzie in Japan

Sebastian Marshall who bounces between Mongolia, China, and Taiwan.

The reasons they're so connected are:

  • because they keep creating great stuff and posting it online, which gets the attention of their peers, so soon "everyone" knows who they are
  • because they reach out to say hello to the people they admire

So if it seems that there's an uncrossable canyon between you and your heroes, don't forget that all it takes is one connection to catch your rope, so you can shimmy across. And you can do this from anywhere by creating great stuff online, and reaching out to potential friends.

No need to attend Harvard with Mark Zuckerburg. No need to become a cousin of Richard Branson. And no need to date Taylor Swift. (See. There are three things you can cross off your To-Do list now.)

It's all who you know? []

Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur, programmer, musician, and creator of CD Baby. His latest book is Anything You Want. Read his blog here.


    Maybe it's my Aussie perspective but sucking up to strangers for favours is a kind of prostitution. If you want to walk around with faeces on your nose all day, then that's up to you.

      I think your Aussie perspective is a little out of whack mate. He offered hospitality where there was none and from that he made contacts and friendships. That seems like an Aussie thing to do, offer a stranger a helping hand.

        Being hospitable means being like that to everyone - not just to people from whom one can manipulate an advantage, which is essentially is the point of this article. It might be the American way to suck up to the boss or perceived superior to 'curry' favour, but I cannot recall it being an Aussie way of doing things (at least not traditionally). Fine if the Yanks are that way and happy to ingratiate themselves into their boss's affections through such disingenuous actions, but I'd despair if we had to as well.

        Last edited 15/02/13 7:29 pm

          Think you have completely missed the point.
          Some of the most successful people in the world have used situations like this to get into something they love, it's not brown nosing, it's showing initiative and quick thinking, something a lot of employers like to see.

        Correction: "That seems like something Aussies used to do". The Aussie spirit of giving and mateship is failing at the same rate that we are losing our identity/becoming a new colony of America.

    I didn't read what the article was about. I just read more about nepotism I guess.

    See kids, it's as simple as being in the right place at the right time! Just meet one really well connected person in the right circumstances and you too will be able to be sucessful and meet tons of famous and interesting people.

    SO who is Derek Sivers again?, and why does he keep telling everyone that he's successful? Isn't he just someone trying to create the perception that he's made it, then flogging his book and blog on this website? Or did I miss something here?

    Sivers is bald. When they're alone with each other, bald people lick each other's heads. True story.

    I too find brown nosing repugnant, but networking is a valuable skill.

    To my mind the difference is brown nosing involves flattery/dishonesty. Good networking is demonstrating your talents/or assisting the person so they get a genuine insight into your work performance.

    Now I'm hungry for pizza. Anyone want to buy for a stranger?

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