I’d spent weeks trying to get hold of an individual heading the European office for one of the largest pension funds in the US. Research confirmed to me that they’d recently opened a London office. The idea being that the move would put them closer to the action. That way they could more effectively source and identify investment opportunities in the UK and Europe.
It was important for me to get in front of them. One of my clients was pursuing a strategy I felt would appeal to this large American investor.
The first thing I did was to pick up the phone to several contacts.
“Do you know this guy?” I asked them.
None did. I wasn’t keen on asking if any of their contacts did because then you’d be adding layers of additional people and, though that can sometimes work neatly, in my experience it is more often than not a headache. I always prefer to go direct. Worse case, via a contact. Not a contact’s contact.
The next step was to reach out directly, via e-mail. After trawling through a list of documents online I managed to obtain an e-mail address. I remember the PDF in which I found it. It was an uploaded photocopy which meant I couldn’t use the Find function. I was about to close the page but felt the urge to have a quick scroll. And good thing I did. On the last page I found the head of the London office’s e-mail address. Bingo. By writing a customised, professional and courteous e-mail introducing myself and briefly summarising the opportunity I had I figured I’d get a response which would, in turn, lead to a meeting. It often worked for me.
Nada. Zilch. Rien.
I never heard back after my initial e-mail, which was not alarming. People are busy, traveling or dealing with more important matters, and sometimes it takes a follow up to get a response. So I allowed sufficient time to pass before sending a gentle follow up e-mail.
A week and a half passed and there was still no response.
I waited some time and send a second follow up. Never heard back.
A few months later I re-sent a fresh e-mail, hoping I would catch the individual at a better time. Alas, nothing.
Sometimes the answer is right before you
Weeks passed and I’d completely forgotten about the investor. Until one evening, after leaving the office, something interesting happened.
I was walking up Curzon Street in Mayfair to meet a friend for tea on Park Lane. As I passed a building on my right I looked at my reflection in the window to check my attire when I suddenly froze. No, I wasn’t admiring myself. Rather, an image appeared from beyond the ground floor window, inside the office. A familiar logo. I moved closer and immediately recognised it. It belonged to the investor I had previously chased. Aha.
On my way to work the following morning I stopped by that same window. Inside I saw a man. A familiar face. It was precisely the chap I’d looked up online who was sent to head up the European office. I recognised him from a previous Google search.
I moved close to the window and, without hesitation, knocked twice.
He looked up at me with an understandably confused demeanour. Who the hell is this guy, he must have thought. I’m the ibanker, I wanted to tell him.
I motioned to the entrance of the building and proceeded to enter the lobby. A receptionist stood up and asked who I was here to see. There were several companies in the building.
“A gentleman is about to step out of that door,” I said. “He’s the one I’m seeing.”
Just as I completed my sentence, the door opened and the head of the office stepped out, still carrying an air of confusion about him. How else would you react if someone you didn’t recognised knocked on your office window and asked you to come out?
Fully cognisant that this was an atypical scenario I set out to put him at ease.
“Look, I apologise for knocking on your window like that but there’s a good reason why I did it,” I said.
I went on to introduce myself and tell him a little about myself and the work I do. Being genuine and friendly I seemed to put at ease a bit.
“I don’t normally do this kind of thing,’ I said to him, which may have been a bit of a stretch because if I want to meet someone I’ll always approach them, even if means doing so in an unorthodox manner. “The truth is that I’ve tried to reach out to you by e-mail but didn’t get a response and of course appreciate how busy you must be, but by chance I noticed your logo through the window and thought, Why don’t I try and say hello and introduce myself. I know that you guys opened the UK office in order to increase deal flow from here and Europe, and I believe I have access to deals that may potentially interest you. In fact, I’ve got one that I believe you’ll find interesting. Completely off-market. Strong team. Great track record. Differentiated strategy.”
A smile formed on his face.
“I love it,” he said. “I wish more people did that here.”
That moment I missed home – the US – where people are always keen to meet, talk and discuss business.
“You around this afternoon to sit down and chat?”
“Definitely,” I said.
We met that afternoon and had a long discussion about his institution, what they sought, their investment criteria and how investment decisions were made. I discussed my deal with him and that same evening I shared a presentation from my client.
The following morning I received an e-mail from him. It read: I want to meet them.
The week after, him and his colleague sat across the table from my client to discuss an opportunity.
“So how do you know Ali?” my client asked the investor just as the introductory meeting began.
“He knocked on my office window last week,” said the investor.
“What?” said my client, while raising an eyebrow.
I jumped in and explained what had transpired, and the investor – bless him – praised and supported my move.
E-mail may not always suffice. There are times you need to pick up the phone to someone directly. Or to introduce yourself in person. And sometimes it means putting yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone.
The great thing about taking a step outside of the ‘zone’ is that when you do venture out – even if just a little bit – you tend to increase the size of your comfort zone. Which means what once seemed daring will no longer phase you.
Important: going out of your comfort zone doesn’t always yield immediate, positive results. You could very well stumble or fail. The American investor could have easily told me to get lost for knocking on his window, uninvited. But never let that stop you. Best you try and fail then to sit on the sidelines. The more you fail the closer you get to your destination. If you’re not willing to fail don’t expect to achieve anything remarkable.
Lastly, put away your phone away when walking outside. Look around you and check yourself out in a window lest you miss an opportunity 🙂