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How To Surround Yourself With The Right People

My framework for finding the right people to surround yourself in your professional career.

Tam Pham
Tam Pham
4 min read

I struggled to meet the right friends when I was a college freshman.

I wanted to surround myself with interesting entrepreneurs or students interested in startups  with goals to: learn more about the industry, find new friends to work with, and hang out with those who shared the same values as me.

When I asked professors for advice on meeting new people, they gave me the most vague advice:

“Just go network.”
“Just go out there and network the room.”
“Get as many business cards as you can.”

How do you network? Why do I need all these business cards? What do I even say to these strangers?

I spent many months attending events but never felt like I made any genuine connections. What was I doing wrong?

It wasn’t until I read eye-opening books like Give and Take by Adam Grant when I finally realized the right way to build relationships. Fast forward three years later, I’ve been able to use my network to land my last 5 jobs (without any interviews or resumes), hang out with so many like-minded people, and even write my own book on networking.

What happened?

First, define who you want to surround yourself with

When I went to these business events, I was meeting everyone and anyone for no reason. I had no purpose. It wasn’t until I wrote down on paper who I wanted to meet and why I wanted to meet them.

I personally wanted to meet those who shared my values: being kind, ambitious, and entrepreneurial, in hopes to collaborate or help each other.

Once I had a clear definition, I asked myself... If I was a kind, ambitious, and young entrepreneur… where would I go to meet like-minded people?

For my networking goal, that happened to be entrepreneurial clubs, online Facebook communities, Bay Area Intern groups, and more.

So instead of going to random conferences to meet people in industries that I wasn’t interested in, I was now narrowing my focus. I now have a much higher chance to meet someone I clicked within these new groups, than at a random meetup, because I was clear on who I wanted to meet.

From my experience, I found that there’s a huge difference between paid and free communities from the people they attract. With paid communities, the group attracts people who prioritize building quality relationships and are willing to pay money for access. I’ve heard many positive reviews from friends about paid communities like Ramit’s Brain Trust and Young Entrepreneurship Council.

With free communities however, where anyone can join or show up, these groups tend to attract many wantrepreneurs (wannabe entrepreneurs) who aren’t as serious. Think: large Facebook groups, free meetups, and anything titled “networking event.”

I try to avoid those kind of events and save up money for these exclusive groups. They are willing to pay so much money because when you invest in your relationships, everything looks brighter: your business, your quality of life, your happiness, etc.

The biggest misconception of networking.

Many people new to networking have the mindset of, “What’s in it for me?” But if everyone in a conference was thinking that, who would actually give? This mindset is like going to a farmer’s market with no customers, only vendors, and it’s not going to be a successful day for anyone.

The most effective and genuine way to build relationships is when you have the mindset of giving. Give, give, give and never expect anything in return.

How does this work?

In the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, he goes into detail about the law of reciprocity which states how when you do someone a favor, that person has a deep psychological urge to reciprocate a favor in return. The more you give, the more likely the other person would want to give to you. Humans are hard-wired for reciprocity.

When you meet other interesting entrepreneurs, find out how you can help them with their life or business. Ask them about their biggest challenge and see how you can be of service. Give them an article that would help with their startup. Make an introduction that would be mutually beneficial for both parties. Always try to find ways to give.

By giving, we are playing the long game. We're building social capital so when we do need something, we can easily reach out to our friends. And since you have helped them so much, they will usually be more than happy to return the favor.

If you meet 1 awesome person every week for the next 6 months, you’ll have at least 24 awesome people in your network. Each of these 24 people will know 24+ other interesting people you can meet. And if you attract other friends who are givers, everyone will be more than happy to help each other, everything adds up.

Once you have your initial network, you’ll want to spend a good amount of time thinking who you want in your tribe, or your inner circle.

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn

Build Your Paypal Mafia

I like referencing the Paypal Mafia (former PayPal employees and founders) because they have gone on to start huge companies like Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, Palantir Technologies, SpaceX, YouTube, Yelp, and Yammer. Three of their members, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and Reid Hoffman, have become billionaires.


Is that an accident? No.

Their inner tribe was so powerful, it helped each entrepreneur get to where they are in a fraction of the time. It's all about relationships.

Make building your tribe your utmost priority while on your networking search. You might start or be apart of the next PayPal Mafia.

To recap the three biggest steps on how to build your network:

  1. Define who you want to surround yourself with
  2. Discover where they’re hanging out at
  3. Give, give, give without expecting anything in return

If you just follow these three action items over the course of six months, you’ll have a bigger network than you expect. This process works because:

  1. You’re targeting the people you actually want to meet
  2. You’re reverse engineering where the right communities are
  3. You’re building social capital which will benefit you in the long run

I'll end on a quote by a famous author and salesman, Zig Ziglar,

"You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want."

If you liked what you read, you can read my philosophy on networking with practical advice in my book, How To Network: Build Instant Trust & Respect With Anyone You Meet.


Tam Pham Twitter

I'm a writer and bachata dancer currently bouncing around Latin America. Trying to make the most out of my one wild and precious life.

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