Love Is The Killer App

Without Love, It's Just Coffee

Tim Sanders, author of Love is the Killer App

By John Milton Fogg




Tim Sanders

When Tim Sanders, chief solutions office at Yahoo, published his book, Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends (Crown Business), he had only modest expectations. Writing the book, says Sanders, “was like a three-year confessional deposition devotional for me, a chance to look at what I’d done in business and say, why do I think this is working?” The book was an instant success, gracing the cover of the February (Valentine’s Day) issue of Fast Company, and Sanders was an instant celebrity. The young man from Yahoo, however, looked the opportunity at superstardom in the eye—and turned it down. Declining offers for all sorts of spinoff, ancillary and promotional deals (one enterprising fellow wanted to produce a doll based on Tim’s concept), Sanders, who answers every one of his numerous e-mails personally, decided to return to work: “I decided to return to my life, go back to work at Yahoo, stick to my knitting, and let the book have a life of its own."


NT: What does “Love is a Killer App” mean?

A “killer application” is an idea that supercedes the previous way of doing things, an idea that becomes so wildly popular that it’s difficult to compete with. It’s the “next big thing.” Home Depot was a killer application to the local hardware store. E-mail was a killer application to the written letter.

Everyone wants to add value to a situation. It’s one thing to sell widgets, quite another thing to add value. I got the idea that the way to stay valuable forever is to be a sharing person.

I was at a conference one day and heard three people all say the same thing: “How am I going to continue to add value with everything changing?” I said, “Hey, don’t worry—the next killer application is going to be love.” They all laughed; I liked the sound of it.

NT: You talk about three core elements to “love in business”: knowledge, network and compassion. How do knowledge and network fit in there under the heading of “love”?

    

Without Love, It’s Just Coffee

A fellow in Kansas City owned a coffee shop called PT’s Café Espresso—little restaurant, destined to fail. The owner cares about his company, loves coffee, loves his customers; he says, it’s more than a product, it’s a way of life. One day a customer says to him, “You know, Jeff, without the love, it’s just coffee.” It became his establishment’s slogan—and now PT’s has become a chain that has grown exponentially.

Without love, it’s just coffee. Isn’t that great?!
                                                       — T.S.

It’s a progression; picture it as a pyramid.

The foundation of your business is knowledge-sharing. When you and I first meet in a business relationship, whether you’re a customer or a colleague, we probably just talk about knowledge. I might even do some reading ahead of the meeting for your benefit, to add value to our conversation.

Once I’ve shared enough knowledge with you, you respect me, we have rapport. At that point I trust you enough to share my network. It’s one thing for me to spend some time with a book and tell you about it—it’s quite another for me to introduce you to my best friend the banker, who might fund your project based on my recommendation. That’s a deeper relationship.

Once I’ve shared my network with you, I can lower my guard and be compassionate with you. I can have an open heart, treat you like a friend, take some real chances.

NT: Say more about reading ahead of a meeting for the other person’s benefit.

When I knew I was going to meet with Gary Elliott, the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Compaq, I researched his number one competitor, which at the time was Hewlett Packard. HP was using this phrase, “customer capitalism”; I found a book called Customer Capitalism, by Sandra Vandermerwe, that was clearly HP’s blueprint. I spent the weekend absorbing the book; when I met with Gary, I gave him that book as a gift and we talked about what it meant. He got excited; it unlocked his imagination—which frequently doesn’t happen in business meetings.

Two weeks later he returned the favor by giving me a copy of The Profit Zone [by Adrian Slywotzky] and talking to me about how to find profit at the core of our business—in our case, the search engine.

That’s how it works. The more knowledge I share with others, the more knowledge they share with me. If I network you and make you successful, you’ll fall all over yourself to remember me whenever there’s an opportunity to do something for me. That’s why I’ve grown my network from about 300 contacts, in 1998, to well over 4500 contacts today.

NT: With your background in the Internet and what a fabulous knowledge resource it is, it’s interesting that you prefer books.

I like books because you get the synergy of hundreds of pages of stories and background. Books are well written and thorough, so they offer immense depth. If you’re stockpiling knowledge, books are the number one ingredient. Eighty percent of my consumption is books, 20 percent is the other stuff—Internet, newspapers, magazines.

NT: There’s a theme that runs through your book, which is, “Give it away.” What do you say to people who say, “No, you’ve got to keep some of it to yourself”?

It’s a fundamental disagreement between two cultures. Some people see that we live in a world of abundance; some say we live in a world of scarcity. The latter believe information is scarce, that we should bury it and sit on it, like squirrels burying a nut. People like me believe that ideas are only valuable when they are talked about—that information actually becomes more valuable when you give it away.

Alvin Toffler predicted that this would be the conflict of the 21st century.

NT: And if your competitors benefit from this sharing you do…?

That depends on how you feel about your industry. I’m in the Internet industry, and I know that if AOL goes down, we all go down. Frankly, it was not good for us when Excite went down. Love in business is a sensible and intelligent sharing. You have to choose people wisely for whom you’re going to read, share knowledge, or network.
That core belief, that you’re putting together people who simply ought to know each other, and the satisfaction that you get out of it, is what produces the most spectacular results. Really, really good things happen when there’s just that pure motive.

I’m aggressive in building my network, but very selective in who I put together. I’m looking for two people I think will resonate with each other. When I enter your business card into my database, the thing that takes me the longest time to do is to fill out what I call the “should meet” field. I really rack my brains thinking, who should he meet?

That core belief, that you’re putting together people who simply ought to know each other, and the satisfaction that you get out of it, is what produces the most spectacular results. Really, really good things happen when there’s just that pure motive.

NT: I love this line from your book: “Your network is your net worth.”

The worse times get, the more true that is. Right now, people’s networks and personal relationships are gold bars. Everyone is searching for answers, for jobs, for opportunities. You’ve got to put the time in if you really want to build a network. You have to be very committed to it.

Networking works best when you do it without expectation of personal gain. There’s nothing worse than a networker who’s got his hand out like a bellhop waiting to get paid. That person’s not going to grow his network: he’s creating friction.

NT: Can you speak a little about the third element, compassion?

I always want to be compassionate with people. To a stranger on the street, I’m a compassionate person with an open heart. But in my business life, I have a social contract to take care of Yahoo. I’ve got to balance compassion with business acumen.

In developing a business relationship, it’s very important that you have a foundation of respect first, involvement second, and vulnerability third. Respect, involvement, and vulnerability is another way of saying, knowledge, network and compassion.

I’ve learned to move through the knowledge and network phases faster and faster. Sometimes I find myself reaching the top of that pyramid in just a few business meetings.

NT: The idea that “love is a killer app” is a fairly radical notion; how are you being received?

If you aren’t kind to people, you will always lose—eventually, somehow, somewhere, you will lose. I know that a lot of companies have this mindset. My vision is that in the future, so will many, many more.

I expected it would be 50/50: every other review bad, every other person negative. Instead, it’s been more like one out of eight disagrees. That 12 percent come from that world of scarcity—they actually dislike my ideas intensely. They think it’s the wrong message for young people right now.

The other 88 percent of the people not only get it—they feel like I’m putting into words the way they live. Kurt Vonnegut once said, you write a book to let the readers out there know there’s somebody thinking the same thoughts they are. A lot of people, for a lot of reasons—many of which occurred after I wrote the book—are becoming far more warmed up to this idea that humanity is what matters, that sharing is more important than greed.

NT: Do you have a vision of the future?

Yes: I envision a future where people are able to look across the table at each other when they’re misbehaving and say, “NSPS, dude.” At Yahoo, if you’re being a jerk to a customer or supplier and someone leans over and says, “NSPS, dude,” then you stop it immediately. NSPS means, “Nice, smart people succeed.”

If you aren’t kind to people, you will always lose—eventually, somehow, somewhere, you will lose. I know that a lot of companies have this mindset. My vision is that in the future, so will many, many more.


“Easy For You To Say”

Dale Carnegie once said, you get more done in two months developing a sincere interest in two people than you’ll ever accomplish in two years trying to get two people interested in you.

I recently received an email from a young database programmer, who wrote:

“Hey, it’s easy for you to love people, you’ve got a job. I don’t: I’ve been laid off. Now, I’ve been beating the bricks: two companies want to hire a Web page designer—I don’t do that; another company wants a flash designer—I don’t do that; still another company wants a graphics designer—I don’t do that!” I picked up the phone, called him, and said, “You have any Web-designer friends who are unemployed right now?” He said, “Sure—we’re all unemployed right now! That’s not the point: I’m looking for a job for me.”

I told him, “Take the jobs you found and get one of your friends hired…and maybe—maybe—your karma will get you back into the job market. No promises; it may not work. But at least you’ll feel better.”

Two weeks later, he got a job. Here’s how.

After our call, he helped a friend land a job designing Web pages. One day, she hears the company’s database department manager two cubicles over, having an argument. Somebody’s quitting. The manager slams down the phone, picks up a clipboard with the names of 20 people who’ve applied for the job. She runs over and insists that this manager interviews her friend first, which he does. Boom—he’s got a job.

And that is exactly how it always works out.

— T.S.

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