Can you describe yourself in fifty words? Here: changing lives, BlackStar, STAR, ENFP, 42, Penny, Hannah, Ross, TJ, Mum, sisters, Ecademy, entrepreneur, memory, marketing, dogs, walking, lake, thinking, views, yoga, technology, business, statistics, books, lovesongs, wheat-free, caffeine-free, speaker, luxury, hotels, chardonnay, champagne, flying, movies, firewood, fires, corks, ChelseaFC, mountains, chateaux, pink shirts, tennis, reading, ponderer, observer, analysis, pioneer, networking, networker, collector, connector, knowledge, travel, countries, places, people, events, romance, brainstorming.

There: you’ve just met Thomas Power, chairman of the eight-year-old, London, England–based Ecademy (if an online network can correctly be described as being “based” anywhere). Why fifty words? “I believe,” says Power, “a rich portrait of anyone can be made with just fifty words. With fifty words, you can meet someone in a minute. And they can meet you in the same minute.” And meeting people—and having them meet you—is what Thomas Power’s life is all about. In fact, he holds more than a thousand meetings a year and has met personally about 8,000 Ecademy members.

Ecademy now has a bit over 70,000 members in over 150 countries, and a good deal of the magic behind the phenomenon is described with wit, humor, brilliance and insight in Thomas’s ebook,
Networking for Life. His newest book, A Friend in Every City, is being released just as this issue goes to press. — JDM


You said that Scott Allen “gets it” and that most people don’t yet. What is it that so many people don’t yet get?


We’ve been through version one of the Internet, the dot-com boom and bust, and it didn’t quite work. Now, second time around, they’re calling it “web 2.0” or “bubble 2.0” (which is classic California entertainment, at least for Europeans!).

What’s the difference? This time round, it’s about real conversations with real people.

It’s not about links and eyeballs and nodes and portals and aggregations. It’s not about buzzwords—it’s about you and me having a real conversation on a Wednesday night on the phone over a chardonnay. Real people, real-time, real business.


You mean reality is supposed to be part of this?!


Yeah, I think there’s been too much nonsense in technology, and not enough care taken for the poor old human, like you and I, how can we use this stuff? People who have to pick up their kids from school, pay the mortgages and make a living.

It’s dawning on people that you’ve got to do this person by person, conversation by conversation, town by town, city by city.


When the Macintosh first came out, suddenly everyone was a graphic designer—and we had all these awful posters and brochures that looked like ransom notes. A sudden burst of new technology allows large numbers of people to do something badly—is that what happened with the Internet?


Yes, that first version, “Internet 1.0,” was quite a mess. But I take my hat off to all the investment bankers and VCs for putting their money on the table and taking the risk. They allowed the Internet to be born at high speed, and they deserve credit for that. Some of what they created was rubbish, but some of it was good.

But the elements that were good—Amazon, eBay, Google—you can count on one hand.


Those examples are huge portals for lots of people. What kind of leap do we need to make to understand online networking, where it’s individual to individual?


It’s a huge difference. With eBay, Amazon, Google and Yahoo! it’s still aggregations, groups to groups. Skype is the first real example of Web 2.0, if you want to call it that.

Skype is very clever and very advanced: they’ve proven that it can be individual, text to text, voice to voice, person to person, video to video—one on one. We’ve asked all our 70,000 members to get on Skype so they can talk with each other and network.


Were there hints of this before?


eBay and Amazon have something of that individual idea, but there you can still be anonymous, you can still be “biscuit66” or “dog45.”


Which you don’t go along with.


I don’t support anonymity at all, I think it’s ludicrous. Here’s the reality: the more public you are, the safer you are. The more you hide behind four or five aliases and ten identities, the more people will be suspicious of you!


Have network marketers figured out what to do with the Internet yet?


No. We’ve had to forbid network marketers and multilevel marketers from Ecademy, because they don’t know how to behave online. If we allowed them in, Ecademy would be ten times its present size…


But they’d all be clawing at each other.


Yes. You look at a huge online community like Ryze, run by a friend of mine, Adrian Scott. They have over 300,000 members and are hugely successful. But at one point Adrian allowed the network marketers in—and it just about killed his business.


Why?


Because they only know how to sell. They don’t know how to buy, and they don’t know how to network.

We say to multilevel marketers, “You can join Ecademy, you can meet and connect and so on—but you can’t recruit and you can’t sell.” Because their attitude is that their product is the best product.

But networking is not about selling. Networking is about giving connections to other people.


Those are eight golden words!


If I were just meeting you in a bar or a meeting, I would say, “What’s your area of expertise? What do you consider yourself most experienced or qualified at?”

My second question would be, “What’s the biggest project you’re working on right now?”

And my third question would be, “Okay…who can I put you in touch with who can help you with that project?” And then I would make that connection.


Because networking is about giving connections.


If you ask people in America what’s the opposite of giving, they’ll say, “taking.” Ask people in Europe what the opposite of giving is and they’ll say, “receiving.”

The reason the Yanks haven’t caught onto the changes in the Internet, by and large, is that Internet is female. It’s not male, not hierarchical. It’s about questions, conversations, connecting people together.

At Ecademy we’ve built our reputation by giving connections. We don’t ask for contacts, we give them. We ask, “Who do you want to meet?” and we make the match. We’re a matching company.


You say the Internet itself is about making matches.


Google matches people with information. eBay matches buyers with sellers. Amazon matches readers with books and cinephiles with movies.

Network marketers aren’t about making matches—they’re selling products. But the Internet as a medium is about making matches.

People like to give connections. They like to give them at church, at school, everywhere they meet.


But they forget this when they step into the world of commerce.


Yes. Everybody thinks the world of commerce is about taking transactions. But the world of commerce is about giving connections, and as a result, receiving some transactions every now and again.


How did Ecademy start?


My wife Penny Power started it in 1998. I’d set myself up as a self-employed speaker and writer and wanted to be an e-commerce guru. I got very busy, and soon needed some support, finance people, computer people, a PA—and Penny said, “We need to create a support group for the self-employed.”

We put up a web site, rented a bar, brought some friends along, and had twenty-seven people at our first meeting. The next month we had fifty, the next, a hundred. Eight years later we have 70,000.

The Ecademy is like an intranet for the self-employed. You can find every resource you require around the world, every lawyer, doctor, dentist, insurance company, finance guy, IT guy, life coach, consultant…any resource you want is in the community.


I hear that and think, “Network marketers need that!”


Absolutely. I’d encourage your readers to join!


Do you think network marketers can learn to put their selling and recruiting in their pockets and just network like other people?


No.


Why not? Is it too much the nature of the beast?


In some ways. Network marketing is something people turn to in times of need. In times of need, people can be desperate, and that changes their behavior.

I understand only too well that people have to sell and pay their mortgages and feed their kids. But if you only sell, people don’t want to meet you.


What makes people want to meet you?


If you get known as someone who gives connections. When you change people’s lives by making connections for them, whether it’s a blind date or a million-dollar deal, they never forget.

People want to meet people who are well-connected—which means, people who give connections. That’s how you become well-connected!

If network marketers would only realize that they could get more connections by giving more connections, if that culture could change in multilevel marketing, it could gain the legitimacy it’s always wanted.

And it’s not a case of, “If I give you a connection, will you give me one?” It’s not a trade. You just give them anyway.


In a marriage or a relationship, there are two approaches: the quid pro quo kind, where you keep score, and the relationships where you just look out for the other person endlessly, because you want to.


And look at which marriages last. The quid pro quos tend to disintegrate. Keeping score doesn’t work. The marriages fail. But if you just keep giving, it works.


This all sounds so basic to human nature. How does the Internet change the whole equation?


The Internet accelerates it.


Which implies also greater volume?


Oh, yeah. Think about what we’ve done. We started in a bar eight years ago with twenty people—and we never got $10 million from a VC in California. Now we have two thousand new people joining us every month.

I think you get massive amounts of scale on the Internet at very low cost—provided the environment is safe. We’ve had to work really hard to keep the environment safe.


How so?


We have twenty-five moderators running 24/7 in eight-hour shifts. You have to keep it safe. You can’t have any sexual innuendos, you can’t have anything dirty or scary or sexual or perverted, and you can’t have any 419ers or other scams. All that puts people off from wanting to trade.


So all your traffic is monitored real-time?


Yes. Live. All the time. Right now, as we’re having this conversation, there are two thousand people on the site. If they feel scared or uncomfortable, as if someone is stalking them or doing anything fraudulent, they’ll leave.


Since they haven’t left, that must mean your monitoring is successful.


It is. And we have a complaint button you can click on any time to complain about sexual innuendo, fraud, stalking, MLM recruiting, 419ers, anything you want. You can complain completely anonymously, so no one will ever know who complained. It has to be that way on the Internet. It can’t be any other way.


On eBay there is also this self-policing dynamic of giving feedback, and feedback ratings become the coin of the realm.


I like the ratings on eBay and Amazon. But I completely object to the anonymity and aliases. I want to know somebody’s name.

If you walked up to me in a hotel or a wedding or a bar and I said, “Hi, my name’s Thomas,” and you shook my hand and said, “Hi, I won’t tell you my name because I don’t trust you,” I would walk away.

If you won’t tell me your name I don’t want to know who you are. We’ve got to get over this anonymity business.


We live in a pretty paranoid culture right now, at least over here in the U.S.


Well, you guys in the U.S. are the ultimate paranoids. You have a culture that’s very insular, with very little international travel, and you tend to view everything outside the U.S. with great suspicion. That level of paranoia promotes anonymity.


Some of us hope very much that may change soon.


You know when it will change? When you have a female President. We had a female prime minister in the U.K. and now we have a female president in Germany. You need women coming into those kinds of roles to make that kind of change.


I never heard the Internet described as female before.


A network is a female organism. A hierarchy is a male organism.


In network marketing, you have a male technique applied to a female environment. If you look at the multilevel marketing systems that work, they’re female. So when we had Internet 1.0, our first hurrah…


Right, that was the male version…


…and we dunked it in $10 million VC and went for the kill.


Yes—all male behavior. Internet 2.0 will be the female version.

But it takes time. We’ve had a dozen years, and the only Internet companies people can name are Google, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo!, MSN and more recently Skype. Six companies in twelve years.

I’m not saying there aren’t many successful companies on the Internet, because there are. There are probably tens of thousands now. But there are only six that people talk about.

The Internet is about community first and commerce second. It’s about people first and business second.

If you look at Skype, Google, Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon, they all lost tremendous amounts of money for the user to have an experience. Google gave us very good free search. Amazon lost two billion dollars giving us cheap books. Skype gave us free phone calls for eighteen months, before they had any idea how to make money.


What a leap of faith it must have taken to believe that model would prevail!


Penny and I lost money for five years on Ecademy, from 1998 to 2002. We didn’t make a profit till the sixth year.


What were you thinking during that time?


We believed that in the end, it had to work. We thought it was the right thing to do. We believed that people come first and business comes second.

Now it’s a very successful multi-million-dollar business; we’ve been offered tens of millions of dollars by companies who want to buy it. But we don’t forget the fact that it took us a long time to get it up and running.


Do you see the network marketing world ever learning the lessons here and figuring out how to apply them to our business?


Yes, I do, but recognize that change in an industry tends to take a generation, and a generation is generally thirty years long.


So take a long view!


I think so. I started what I’m doing at thirty-four, and I think it’ll be mainstream when I’m sixty-four. VCs say to me, “We can’t hang around that long,” and I say to them, “Then go invest somewhere else!” It takes a long time.

You look at the video recorder, the mobile phone, the personal computer—these products took twenty or thirty years to enter society.


What can we best do to help create that?


Understand that what people want is connections. If you want prospects, you have to give them away to other people.

When people go to conferences and seminars, they go because they want information and contacts. So when you meet them, give them information and contacts! That’s what they’re there for! If you do, they’ll remember you all their lives.

I would encourage your readers to join our Ecademy global family—that’s what we’re trying to build here, a global family. One world, one planet, one peaceful community. Just ordinary people talking. I don’t care about the color, the race, the religion, the sexual orientation, I don’t care a whit about any of that. I just care that people live in peace. n

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