help me help you

Help Me Help You!

Here’s a quick sample of messages I received in the last couple of weeks from (mostly young) people looking for help.

Looking for an internship…

I am ___, recent graduate in ___, for personal reason I am trying to move in the Bay Area. [...] that’s why I am searching for an internship (also unpaid) to network with companies there. [...] I am wondering if you are able to give me some useful information/contact within your network that provides internships or exchange opportunities. If you think you can help me, I can send you a copy of my resume. Looking for a job…

or…

I am looking for internships in startups or consultancy or financial services. I expect to graduate in my Master degree in ___ in 2014, so finding an internship this winter might help me to have an opportunity for next year. Thank you!

Looking for a job…

Hello, My name is ___, I am ___years old and I just graduated in ___ from the University of ___. [...] I was wondering if you knew about any job openings I could apply to with my degree and that could allow me to exploit my double citizenship.

Looking for business contacts…

I am ___, Marketing Manager of ___. , a startup  operating in the ___ industry. Next week I will be in Silicon Valley to meet with ___ companies to explore partnership opportunities. We are confident that we could benefit much from key partnerships with ___ companies and we’d like to ask you to maybe help us present and introduce our project.  I would appreciate it if you could help us connect with potential partners or just give us some suggestions or addresses.

It is just an extreme sample, but there is a pattern. A lot of this help requests make it virtually impossible for me, or anyone really, to help.  A few reasons:

  • Inward focus. The messages tell me why the job/internship/contacts are great for the sender, which is great but does very little to stir my interest. I do not (yet) have an emotional connection with you, so I frankly do not care enough (yet) to jump into action.
  • Too generic an objective. What comes through is often someone who does not really know exactly what they are looking for.  How can I help in any way if I do not know what you want to achieve?
  • WIITFT?. What’s In It For Them. They often lack any indication of what value the person is bringing to the table. What are you good at? What are your top skills? The expertise you offer? If no values is expressed, there is nothing to offer to a prospective employer or business partner.

So how can anyone maximize the chances that I (or anyone) may be able to help?

  1. Start with your value proposition.  One short, crisp paragraph about how cool, valuable, expert you are (or your project is). Ideally you want to get an intro from a trusted source, but frankly I know it is work, so I am not big on that one. It is that simple.
  2. Be (extremely) specific. Tell in as specific a way as possible what kind of company, position, person, business you want to get in contact with and why. Specifically! e.g. “I am looking to sit down for a meeting with the CMOs of company A, Company B or Company C in the next 2 weeks to learn directly from them this and that…”
  3. Tell me what you want me to do. Be explicit about the kind of help you would ideally want from me and also give me a plan B if I can’t. e.g. “Would you be willing to introduce me to Jeff or one of the members of his team via email? If that is not possible or advisable maybe you can introduce me to someone else at Company A that you think would be the right person to talk to.”
  4. Reduce the risk. The less I know about you, the higher the risk I am taking in helping you. After all there is always the possibility you may be a bozo or a nuisance. If possible, you should try to reduce or eliminate that risk in the back of my mind. “e.g. You can ask such and such about me. I am sure they will tell you how professional I am. I promise I will only ask your contacts for 15 minutes of their time. I will let you know how it goes next week.”

Help me help you, please. Thank you.

Visiting San Francisco FAQ

Night shot of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco

Night shot of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have lived in the Bay Area for less than 10 years, so by no means I know it all. But I feel it would help to collect the most asked questions I get from San Francisco visitors:

Q: What’s the best Italian restaurant in San Francisco?

A: I get this question a lot, predictably. My favorites in alphabetical order:

  • Acquerello delivers a formal dining experience of superior quality and service.
  • La Ciccia is a true neighborhood gem of a restaurant delivering Sardinian fare that is up to par with the original stuff.
  • Cotogna is a relatively new entrant on the scene and an instant success among foodies.
  • Farina e Focaccia has established itself as a must visit for fresh pasta and Genovese focaccia lovers.
  • Perbacco features Piemontese cuisine of consistent quality in a classy and relaxed  ambiance. Try the agnolotti!
  • Quince, top of the line. Period.

Q: What is the best pizza in San Francisco?

A: Pizza seems to polarize people, maybe cause everyone has a very personal opinion of what a great pizza should be like. Anyway, here’s my very personal list:

  • A16 delivers top wood-fired owen pizza with seasonal toppings.
  • Delfina has established itself as a solid spot in the SF pizza scene.
  • Zero Zero has got to be my personal favorite. Choose the Margherita Extra with buffalo mozzarella.
  • [Special mention] Pizzaiolo is technically not in San Francisco. Well worth the trip to the Temescal restaurant row in Oakland.

Q: What is the best spot for a drink?

A: So many choices, so little time.  This one depends on a number of criteria. I go by the bartender’s craft as the primary factor. San Francisco is home to some of the best. Again, in alphabetical order:

  • 25 Lusk, 70s ambiance and a nicely laid out bar.
  • Bourbon & Branch‘s bar tenders are as good at it gets. It is a speakeasy, so you need to call for a door password.
  • Burritt, a nice new spot in the Crescent Hotel.
  • Nihon has a top notch whiskey stock. The location is out of the way and the ambiance cosy and stylish.
  • Toronado, if you are into beer this is your spot.

Q: Is it worth visiting Pier 39?

A: In a word, no.

Q: Is it worth visiting Alcatraz? 

A: In a word, yes.

Enjoy your stay!

Want to become more productive? Work in slots

Human physical and mental abilities have not changed much for thousand of years, yet you are required to be tens or hundreds of times more productive than your parents were. And the pace of the demands on our time are not likely to slow down in the future.

So we have invented the discipline of time management, knowing all too well that it is not time that needs managing, but rather our attention. We need to adapt the way we work to squeeze out more output out of each unit of time and build a moat to stem the tide of (digital) distractions.

The single most effective change that has worked for me is also one of the easiest to implement. I have divided up my time in slots. There are vertical slots (i.e. days of the week or of the month) and horizontal slots (i.e. hours in a day).

Vertical slots are allocated to work projects, domains or themes. For example Mondays are for Project A, Tuesdays are for Accounting, Wednesdays are for Sales and Marketing, Thursdays and Fridays are for Project B, etc.

Horizontal slots are for individual tasks, routine or one-off. For example 7-9 am writing and editing, 9 to 11 am phone calls and email, 11 to 1 pm meetings, 1 to 3 pm project management, etc.

The resulting matrix helps me allocate activity more effectively, procrastinate less and, crucially, stay focused and away from distractions. Try it!

10 Tips for a healthier you

Tips for a healthier youIt is that time of the year. Days are getting longer, the sun is getting shinier and that layer of winter fat around the hips is harder to conceal without a raincoat. Friends start getting on a diet, joining a gym, hitting the trail.

Diets do not work, or rather, they never worked for me. The gym is boring and the chances to stick with it, slim. Here’s what has worked for me, simple ideas for a healthier, fitter, less stressed life:

1. Rekindle your college passions

Remember how much you enjoyed participating in sports in college? As much as watching them, right? No need to reinvent the wheel. Whether it was soccer, synchronized swimming, karate or tennis, there is no better, easier way to get moving again than picking up where you left. No learning curve, no need for beginner lessons and plenty of old buddies to share your passion with. Plus the added psychological bonus of feeling free to pretend you are still 21, living in a dorm and without a worry in a world.  Continue reading

Traveling to the Bay Area in July and August? Check out these tech events

Many of my European friends take advantage of summer vacations to visit the Bay Area. A few ask me to suggest tech events to attend while they are here.

I put together a list of interesting tech and business events taking place in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, in July and August 2010. The focus is mostly web, internet marketing, social media, software etc.

Here’s the Google calendar in HTML and iCal format.

PS: I am not associated with, nor endorse any specific listed organization or event.

Tips from personal experience

During the recent Mind the Bridge 08 series of events in San Francisco, I had the pleasure to meet the great finalist companies and their representatives. It was humbling to be part of the roster of presenters with Giacomo Marini, Vittorio Viarengo and the other speakers. Here are my slides from the day. I posted my two cents on doing business in the US from an Italian perspective on Slideshare.