Cap Watkins, lead designer at Etsy, wrote at length on how he got his start. New to San Francisco, he sent out 20-30 emails to designers he respected but had never met. He got only one reply:
Daniel Burka (who at the time was the creative director at Digg) said that, sure, he’d love to grab coffee. We set up a time and I took the train to the city to meet up with him and his friend Mark. We chatted for awhile and, just before we left, they both mentioned that they were going rock climbing the next morning with friends, and asked if I’d like to join.
Absolutely, I did. The next morning I hopped on a 6am BART train from Oakland into the city to get the climbing gym at 7am. There, I met a few more people, which turned into a few more people, which turned into a few more and suddenly I wasn’t all alone in Oakland anymore. And months later when I was let go from PMOG, I had good friends who helped me find contract work while I looked for something fulltime. Eventually, my friend Willo introduced me to the guys at Zoosk and suddenly I was off to the races, designing products for millions of users.
I wonder sometimes about where I would be now if Daniel hadn’t responded to that email.
Cap’s journey (which you should read in its entirety) gives us two lessons:
- Your kindness can make or break someone’s career.
- A lof of hustle (and luck) is required to “break in” to any field.
It reminds us of Ben Casnocha’s theory from his interview with 99U EIC Jocelyn Glei: “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky,” he said. “They’re attached to people.”