Some advice I wish I had received

Going back to Princeton for reunions recently caused me to do some thinking about my personal network, which led me to thinking about advice I wish I had received when I was a kid.

The advice is this:

  1. Your personal network is the most important factor in your career;
  2. Your highschool and college years are the most important period for building your personal network; and
  3. It’s critical that you consider the above when deciding with whom to associate yourself during highschool and college.

Through a combination of being smart and (very) lucky, I managed to get myself into Andover when I was 14. While I was there, for reasons which I can not now remember, I made it a point to try to surround myself with people smarter than me. This wasn’t a financial calculation; I just liked being around interesting people.

Later, at Princeton, having kind of burned out on academics, I spent a lot of time drinking beer in a fraternity composed, to a large extent, of misanthropes and at Terrace, the “artsy” eating club.

Can you guess which of those networks has been most important to my career? Hint: It’s not the college ones.

In my business, early in your career, the most important factor in determining whether you will be successful is access to capital. Many of those smart guys with whom I spent hours clowning around in Andover dorm rooms went on to found companies, work at PE funds, etc. And that’s where the vast majority of my earliest real estate capital came from.

On the other hand, while I have raised money via Princeton connections, the amount is very, very small in comparison.

Looking back, I don’t regret the fraternity nor the eating club… I had a blast as part of both institutions. But I do regret not making more of an effort at Princeton to get to know people who were more ambitious and business-minded. God knows, there were plenty of them around.

Somehow, no one ever advised me about how important that was. But now I’m putting the advice out into the world, in hopes that you, my readers, will share it with the young people you know.