Ms. Kluender and I are making our way through the heaving after 5 crowd on the restaurant’s patio. The alumni from The University of Kent are huddling around bottles of wine, chilling under the warmth of the early evening sun.
We make our introductions, meeting Julia, the university’s point person in the States. She possesses a boundless energy, the kind that is needed to carry you across the U.S., meeting alumni in hotel bars like Americano this evening.
We appear to be some of the first arrivals and quickly become acquainted with our hosts. As is normal at these events, conversations frequently begin with backgrounders, introductions followed with a staccato of questions from “Where do you live?” and “What do you do?” to “When did you graduate?” and “What brings you here tonight?”. Tonight, I am quickly finding out, is a crash course in San Francisco’s open networking style.
His Irish accent still pronounced, Colin warmly welcomes us like a veteran of these events and soon enthralls his new audience with tales of his adopted home in the Bay Area. I will not list his many accomplishments here, however as tech publicists in another lifetime, my wife and I both realize the importance of whom we are speaking with when he mentions his time as Macworld’s CEO.
Colin easily moves between subject matter with equal importance, from his conversations with Steve Jobs while at Macworld to his pride in the accomplishments of his sons, all of whom share his entrepreneurial gene. Ms. Kluender peppers him with questions, always eager to pull back the layers of experience to unveil the heart of success.
As more alumni arrive, Colin freely shares his details, listens intently as I describe my job search after relocating, fosters several partnerships, and soon leaves to catch the next ferry home. I am unsure if I will hear from him again given the West Coast propensity to propose vague plans that evaporate as soon as the conversation ends. Within the hour, I will receive an email form him offering to help me in my job search, a touch of the “get things done” attitude from abroad.
As the crowd of alumni continues to grow, pockets of conversation spring up and Ms. Kluender and I find ourselves in a situation we are sure to repeat time and again given our new home among billion dollar ideas. Huddling over an iPhone, TechCrunch co-founder Keith walks us through his latest start up idea.
I soon feel sorry for future presentations that will be measured in my mind against Keith’s truly fantastic concept as he manipulates the screen, clarifying his vision with each touch. Of course, I cannot share the details of his product here, however as a communications professional, it sets my hairs on end.
Ms. Kluender, ever the curious cat, quizzes Keith on the start up process from the light bulb moment and pencil drawings to engineer recruitment, presentation, and venture capital backing. Back in Boston, we were on the “other side of the river”, outside of the Cambridge bubble.
The Slanted Door hostess can accommodate our dynamic mash-up including Keith, Julia, Ms. Kluender, myself, a Frenchman named Roman, and three Cisco interns preparing to leave this fertile atmosphere behind and return to Kent in a month’s time.
Leaving the decision making to our charismatic waiter our stomachs bulge with glass noodles, papaya salad, rice and turnip cake, ribs, stuffed chicken, and filet mignon. The richness of the food is only outdone by the quality of conversation.
Keith sits in residence, weaving tales from his activist days at university and his travels abroad to family and the importance of language immersion. His retelling of his time in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup pull the English students across the table.
The interns share tidbits from their time at Cisco however their voices drop slightly from a combination of discussing returning to school and the weight they have gained at the table in the past few hours. It is tempting to read into their comments, as they highlight their enthusiasm for the pace of work at the hub of innovation and their hesitancy to return to student life. As the wait staff gathers the empty dishes, it is clear that the young students have seen their futures and are eager to get their as soon as possible.
Making our way from the restaurant to catch a cab, the conversations turn towards future plans. This environment seems strangely like home, filled with compatriots stretching their creativity to change the game, not satisfied just to be playing. Hopping a cab, I can tell Ms. Kluender and I will soon find ourselves in front of the computer writing thank you emails well into the night.
A reminder from Mr. Rogers to stay curious, meet new people, and grow ideas in “the garden of your mind”: