In January, I declared 2017 the year of no networking.
Two years into San Francisco life, I swore off “networking” events and took a step back from teaching at General Assembly. I started studying data science and started writing on a consistent basis.
I recently took time to reflect on the most memorable moments in San Francisco. For me, it’s easy to fill my time with speaking events, coffee dates and tech events. However the most interesting moments have been spent writing in San Francisco and checking out talks at City Arts & Lectures. Ira Glass, Jennifer Doudna, and most recently JJ Abrams and Andy Cruz.
For me personally, these talks have very practical applications for personal and professional life. Personal storytelling is an art that takes a lot of practice. After hearing Jennifer Doudna, I reached out to Hillary Wicht to diligently work on my voice and personal storytelling.
Most recently, I learned from JJ Abrams and Andy Cruz’s talk that “collaborations don’t need timelines.” Meaningful collaborations take time.
Collaborations don’t need timelines
One of my first projects at Expedia was the creation of a global partner program. Our goal was to monetize our web traffic, social channels and other owned properties with global partners like tourism boards, hotel chains and airlines. Coming from a performance marketing background, I wanted to create a highly profitable media network to fund my future growth experiments. Early tests were successful, particularly in emerging markets where US partners were not familiar with platforms like WeChat. But the key was audience, timings and measurable outcomes.
Too many collaborations dilute your brand
With my performance marketing hat on, I only thought about scale and efficiency. The primary metrics were return on ad spend and direct revenue from partners, however a secondary metric was repeat partner activity. Media Solutions become a highly profitable channel, however I feared our brand was becoming diluted. As you start to scale, it becomes harder to find companies with an audience and design that complements your brand.
In my particular case, this led to early influencer marketing tests where we created a network of influencers and partners paid a premium for on-brand creative.
The “x” collaboration model is broken
In a world with so many collaborations, brands are seeing audience fatigue. Big retailers like Target and H&M saw success with early collaborations, however today we’re seeing fewer more strategic partnerships like Target’s collaboration with mattress company Casper.
“Following a 10-or-so-year run of nearly constant collaborations from many a fast fashion retailer, the status of the designer x mass-market retailer situation is up in the air a bit. It seems the days of Missoni for Target-induced hysteria are gone… A trending hashtag does not ensure sell out status of a collection.” [The Fashion Law]
For Abrams and Cruz, they presented a new concept that flips our traditional view of collaborations. Often times, collaborations are not created for the consumer.
The collaboration is purely a creative escape for the artists.
Over a number of years, Abrams and Cruz have developed a wonderful friendship with no true business collaboration yet. Cruz described this by saying “collaboration doesn’t need focus groups or timelines.” To create an authentic collaboration, you need time.
Go deep and perfect your craft
This is something I’ve been exploring for a while.
There’s a misconception that building a network means going wide. But as you become more skilled in your craft, it’s more important to go deep.
Cruz talked about starting with a shared philosophy to give you structure and community. When you start with a common ground, it establishes credibility and empowers you to evolve your personal style over time.
The key is to keep doing the work and go deep to perfect your craft. When you find someone with a shared philosophy and exceptional craft, then keep working until the collaboration comes to life. If that person happens to be JJ Abrams, then you’re just pretty damn lucky.