Ep47: How A Finance Guy Turned Into A Technology Startup Founder

Yali Elkin - Live DialJoin me while I talk with LiveDial founder Yali Elkin. With a background in corporate finance, Yali had an idea after watching the 2012 Presidential debates and ran with it to create LiveDial, an app empowering users to convey their thoughts and opinions with a survey creation platform used by media, friends, leaders, and businesses. To date, LiveDial has over 7,000 downloads and growing.

Keypoint Takeaways:

Yali’s career has largely been focused around analytics, projections and working with data. His initial love for data was primarily financial and somewhat operational. Data first sparked Yali’s interest when he read about economist Herbert A. Simon discuss information having a cost attached to it. Yali realized making sense of data comes with a competitive advantage in the business world.

In 2012, Yali was watching the presidential debates with President Obama and Mitt Romney and noticed that regardless of your political leaning, every network from Fox News to CNN conducted “focus group theater”. Each station cut to the studio with moderator and boxes with a live dial on it to gage what the viewers thought.

That audience live dial concept inspired the name and basis for the app. But television’s version of a live dial is antiquated at best. The idea of a sampling is still a good one, but it Yali sees it as a fallback when you can’t ask everybody. That got him thinking about ways you really could ask everyone by distributing surveys on any topic instantly to an unlimited audience.

Yali saw a need for structured data and not the freeform response found on Facebook and Twitter. Unlike many survey tools on the market today, LiveDial only asks for a few identifiers to get the ball rolling. The app doesn’t ask for your name, but offer up your zip code, marital status and gender. Participants can download the app for free and respond to surveys or set up their own to gather information.

Democratizing opinion polling

LiveDial strives to broaden and simplify data driven decision making whether you’re a multi-million corporation or Dad who wants to find a fun movie for his kids over the weekend. Yali discusses how Amazon offers reviews that might be helpful to some when buying a product like a new TV. But you don’t know where those people live or if their opinion is entirely biased by budget or other factors. LiveDial can help narrow the demographic and focus to get a more relevant response.

Yali sees LiveDial’s growing to a poll during an online check-out process. Someone shopping on Amazon could answer a quick survey on shopping cart page to poll people most like you on your product. This in turn could help better inform who is really buying products and what their opinion is.

Making the jump from finance

It’s not your everyday finance executive who jumps from the corporate world to a startup. Yali says it takes a certain amount of “intellectual humility” to put yourself in the position where you don’t know everything. The longer you stick around in a corporate environment like finance, the longer homogeneity takes hold. It takes getting out of your comfort zone to constantly interact with new personalities and dynamics. Interacting with investors and developers is a totally different personality type than hanging out with corporate finance people all day.

First 1,000 customers 

To date, LiveDial has around 7,000 downloads. Yali initially tapped into his network of friends and family to get the ball rolling on first app downloads, followed by  advertising on Facebook. That helped get the ball rolling as word of mouth grew. But he warns not to fall so deeply in love with app or idea that you end up creating more distance between yourself and potential customers. Being so biased and blinded by your ideas can lead to an inability to effectively discuss and sell it.

Your network is your  most valuable resource

Entrepreneurs aren’t always well-versed in finance, and I asked Yali where to start. Helpful advisors are usually good at thinking both inside their box and thinking beyond it in different directions. Yali points to an example with LiveDial’s attorney. He went through some ideas about his content development strategy, but the attorney reminded him that he was the General. Yali’s job to make sure the right soldiers are in the right battles.

In other words, reach out to people who know more than you. Trying to do it all and becoming an expert on everything is not only impossible, but not productive.

Advice for 25 year old self

Network, network, network. Yali warns its tempting to get complacent. But it’s a big world with a lot of people who know more than you. Yali encourages entrepreneurs to attend  networking events touching on your personal interests as well as professional. Whether you’re attending an event for tech entrepreneurs or a discussion on politics, come ready to listen and offer value to others.

Yali also advises to ask the stupid question each and every time. It can be an intimidating prospect, but asking questions can help everyone get on the same page and make things happen faster and more effectively. “Don’t be afraid to look stupid.”


Think Like a Freak” –  Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics offer a blueprint of a new way to solve problems from minor lifehacks to global reforms.


Eric: Hi everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of Growth Everywhere where we interview entrepreneurs and bring you business and personal growth tips. Today we have Yali Elkin from LiveDial. Yali how’re you doing today?

Yali: We’re doing fantastic. Thanks Eric.

Eric: Great. Cool. Thanks for being on the show. We’ve love to hear a little more about your background first and then we’ll dive deeper.

Yali: Sure. My background is primarily in corporate finance and corporate development. I spent most of my career, I’d say, focused on analytics, on projections, on working with data in one form or another, primarily financial, but very often operational. I spent six years working in the telecom industry with a fair amount of operational responsibilities. There’s an awful lot of data there that needs to get, that somebody needs to make sense of. I think it was Herbert Arrow who was an economist who said that information actually has a cost attached to it and that information is management attention.

I remember reading about that in business school and that was sort of an “ah ha” moment for me that there’s a: if you can develop a way to make better sense in data that can become a real sustainable competitive advantage. That’s something that I always—that’s been a bias of mine for a long time and it’s largely affected my approach to business problem solving and basically to the way I do what I do.

Fast forward a few years. My partner and I were watching the presidential debates in 2012, President Obama and Mitt Romney, and whatever your personal politics may be is almost secondary, because after every debate you had, no matter what channel you were watching, Fox News, CNN, NBC, every station would then go through what we call focus group theater where they would then cut to a studio where they had a moderator, he was asking questions and everybody had little boxes with a dial on it, that’s where we got the name LiveDial.

It was a cute exercise, but the notion that that was somehow was indicative of undecided voters in Ohio, or in Florida, or elderly retirees in Virginia, it just seemed, frankly, antiquated. One thing I remember from statistics in school was that sampling is well and good, but sampling is you’re fall back. It’s what you rely on when you can’t ask everybody.

We asked ourselves; what if there was a way to ask everybody? What if there was a way to distribute surveys on any topic, instantly, to an essentially unlimited audience? We asked ourselves, if you had five hundred million people watching debates why can’t you have some mechanism for them to all essentially see the same questions and to respond with answers?

That’s essentially structured data. That’s not just freeform content like Facebook or Twitter. But on a scale of one to ten, the Support, Strongly Support, Opposed, Strongly Opposed, whatever the question, and then as the data comes in real time, now you’re getting some real, through the volume, some real useful information. We played with that idea a little bit more and what we ultimately settled on is the act itself, the Live Dial app.

There’s a profile where you have to tell us a few things about yourself. No personal identifying information. I don’t need your name or your date of birth. We’re trying to stay on the right side of the creepy line so your year of birth is sufficient. I need your gender, your marital status, and your zip code. Now, I still don’t know who you are, but now I know enough about you—now it become very interesting to a lot of different people in a lot of different industries.

Again, you download this app for free, tell me a little bit about yourself, and you get points for each survey that you respond to, and we use those points to rank and identify who the most active users are, but also to give out gift cards to Amazon or Target. So the math our users do is, “I downloaded this app for free. I’ve answered a lot of questions and I’m getting a lot of free stuff online.” That’s a pretty cool calculus.

Fast forward a couple of months and a friend of mine posted on Facebook that his lease is up and he’s trying to decide which car he should get now, should he get the new Maxima or a new Camry at whatever the lease rate was, whether it was the same number, “Which one should I get?” He posted it on Facebook and maybe two of them were actually useful.

That was sort of another light bulb moment for me. When I read that I said, “One second. What he’s asking without actually articulating is “Not my entire Facebook circle of friends, because frankly I don’t care what my aunt in Los Angeles thinks or my brother-in-law in Miami thinks. I care about what married dads within a couple years of my age from mid-New York City, with traffic and weather. I care what that little piece of the pie opposed to the whole circle.

Those are the opinions that matter to me the most.” [INDISCERINIBLE 00:06:17] you get more, you get a lot of content, you don’t really get very much data. That sort of solidified the concept for us that if you could strip away the noise and make it so people can extract the underlying data, what do people who are most like me think about; this topic, this issue, which movie I should see with my kids this weekend, which car I should get, what you think about this particular political issue, should the Giants draft next season, whatever the issue is, now there’s a lot more depth and dimension to the underlying data. That was essentially our starting off point. That’s how we began development and that’s the app we built and did use.

Eric: Got it. Okay. So LifeDial, the company today how is it doing? Are you able to share the number of customers, users, and revenue?

Yali: Revenue, we’re still early stage. We have revenue generating enterprise deals. That’s essentially what the business model is predicated on it’s free for users and enterprise users get access through the website to use advance features and analytics and that’s the model. Right now we’ve just passed 7,000 demos a while ago. We’ve got nice distribution. We’re in all 50 States.

We’ve got an interesting balance of users all over the place and we’re seeing some, on certain questions we’re seeing some really interesting identities and correlations and, frankly, some dis-correlations where we wouldn’t have necessarily expected it. Apparently America was really, really into the Kim Kardashian, Kanye West wedding.

Eric: Cool. Great. What really stands out to me, you have this corporate finance background and now you’ve transitioned into being an entrepreneur which you don’t really see often. How has your finance background helped with the transition?

Yali: That’s a great question. On the one hand most people in corporate finance tend to be a little more buttoned up and a little more risk averse. I would say that this is, on the one hand the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. But on the flip side being a numbers person and being a, what I would call a high end data of data products, I’m evangelizing a little bit. This is something where—in a way what we’re trying to do is to democratize opinion polling, we’re trying to broaden and to simplify better data driven decision making.

Whether you’re a major multi-national corporation or just a guy who wants to know which movie he should take his kids to see this weekend. The notion that data driven decision making is generally superior to no process, I don’t really think that’s up for discussion anymore, so what we’re doing is trying to—the power of that to tap social media networks or your personal contacts, whatever modality you want to use, in order to make better data driven decisions.

Eric: Got it Cool. Early before the interview you talked about a new product that you think would be really interesting to marketers in particular. Can you talk a little about this feature?

Yali: Sure. This feature’s called Mirror Me and what it does is enables you to, in a way it dis-intermediates the growth of your digital media network. If you were, let’s say a 45 year old doctor and you’ve got a question, it doesn’t really matter what, it’s predicated on the assumption that other doctors with similar backgrounds to yours will probably be a useful sounding board for certain questions or issues, or whatever it is.

For example, you might want to use that to see what, if you’re a 45 year old gastrointestinal specialist you might want to know what others, like you, think about new therapy or new protocol procedure and this could be a very easy way to do that, connect with people you might otherwise you wouldn’t be able to connect with. It’s predicted on the profile that you build and the more complete that profile is about yourself, obviously the more effective this tool’s going to be.

I’ll give you another example. Our television broke, must be like a month ago. First thing I did I went on Amazon, I looked at the reviews, and again now, because I was thinking about it I looked at the reviews and it hit me for the first time that the sort of underlying assumption is that every review is equally equated. It got thumbs up, thumbs down, how many people found it useful, but you have to look at every review in order to assess that.

If you’re a 45 year old looking at a new television, there’s going to be reviews from 70 year olds who didn’t appreciate or didn’t care about some of the new technology, or advanced technology features and it maybe got lower ratings from some younger consumers who were more prices conscious. Either deviation by a number of years is going to drag down the average whereas if you focus on people primarily where you are demographically, it might have been a five star rating as opposed to a two star rating.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. Obviously this will be very helpful for any type of e-commerce giant and I can see this applying to various different businesses too. Is the plan to eventually take it to Amazon or someone like that, and kind of distribute it, or what’s the plan with this?

Yali: It’s almost like I set you up for that. Yes, that’s something we would like to do. We’d like to incorporate that and if you could do a very quick survey, let’s say on the shopping cart page, if you could just poll people who were most like you and say, “Hey guys, this smoker, this new grill, this new, whatever it is, I’m kind of curious. What do you guys think? Do you love it? Do you hate it?” Whatever it is. That’s something that can have a big impact on your purchase decisions.

Eric: Love it. Let me know when that goes life. I’d be curious to test that out myself.

Yali: Sure. Absolutely.

Eric: Cool. Great. I want to jump back a little bit, going back to your corporate finance background because I have friends in the finance world and that’s kind of what they’ve been conditioned—they’ve been trained to do that and like you said, they might be risk averse, they don’t want to try new things. What got you to make the entrepreneurial jump from the finance background? Like you said you don’t typically see that.

Yali: No you don’t. That’s actually true. It’s difficult to really pinpoint. And this is something that I have seen with other entrepreneurs, it’s a bet. You’re making a bet that something that speaks to you; that you see as obvious, is something whose value you’ll be able to convey to other people. Now, you can’t just come out of the shower one day and say, “Oh. I get it. I gotta do this app. This is going to be the future.”

Obviously coming from a corporate background this is something that you want to think about, something that you want to sketch out a bit, think through, and you want to consult with people, it requires a certain intellectual humility, obviously going into it knowing you don’t know everything. The first thing you want to do is bounce it off people you believe are smarter than you are. We did that.

I was initially fairly skeptical of it. I said, it sounds like a cute idea and eventually I said it sounds like a cute app and finally after talking to people who, we spoke to people who were in politics, and people in sports, and people in media, we realized this is more than an app, this could be a real business.

Eric: Got it. Okay. I’ll give you the persona here. Let’s say I’m a 25 year old guy, I went to a great school, I work for a big investment group right now, I’m pulling in 3-400 K a year, I look like a hot shot. How does someone—what are some things that—I’m trying to figure out a way to frame this—how does someone make that—you talked about how you made the jump, but what are some other key things someone needs to do to go into the entrepreneur world—because being in the finance world is totally different from going through the struggles of being an entrepreneur where you’re getting punched in the face every day, which I’m sure you’re dealing with right now, and it’s not comfortable anymore, at all.

Yali: No. That’s true. I would say that, the first thing would be, try to put some money away because you’re going to have ups and downs. Definitely go into it prepared, from that perspective. Another perspective—actually you do this, you hit the nail right on the head. You’ve got to be comfortable dealing with very different people.

Having spent most of my corporate career in finance there’s a certain—I guess the longer you spend in it the more of a demographic homogeneity really starts to take hold and ethnicity doesn’t matter, but it’s really a personality type. At some point you’re surrounded primarily by people who think more or less alike, whose approach to problem solving is more or less alike.

There tends to be a lot of overlap on big things and some people are fine with it and some people find it a bit stultifying. But in order to make the move you have to be comfortable interacting with some very different personality types. You’re going to have to, if you’re not a coder, if you’re not a developer, you’re going to have to find one. Those people are pretty different from corporate finance types. If you’re not a funding it yourself, you’re going to have to find investors.

Those people are very different from corporate finance types. You’re going to be interacting with anything technology based, you’re going to be interacting with attorneys, so there’s definitely somewhat of a learning curve there. In corporate finance, obviously, you deal with attorneys as well, but when it’s your baby, when you’re responsible for everything, you realize that there is no detail that you don’t get to sweat, there’s no detail that you can really delegate to somebody else.

I believe it requires a certain, organization’s not the word, it require an attentiveness and a focus that I would say borderlines on pathological. It’s a bundle of different neurosis that you can channel and harness to make it work for you.

Eric: Got it. I love it. And this is something, perhaps, we can dive into another time. I believe you talked about $7,000 is that correct?

Yali: A little more. Yes.

Eric: Okay. How did you get your first 1,000 downloads?

Yali: That’s a great question. Initially we started with mostly friends and family. We started there and then we began advertising on Facebook. That was the next step. The advertising we did was kind of more targeted and focused then some roll outs are. We really wanted to finish polishing up and make sure the app was ready for prime time.

We rolled it out on somewhat a targeted approach and we used a couple of other advertising platforms because our focus was we wanted to get as broad a base as [INDISCERNIBLE 00:18:51] because, as I said, it’s predicated on different people coming together to share opinions on whatever issue. Ideally what you want is some balance reflecting an actual cross section of the population. We had to venture outside 30 miles from New York City otherwise we just weren’t going to get that. At this point we’ve got some of our most active users are in Texas, or Indiana, or in Kentucky, or in California, got a bunch in Hawaii.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. I look forward to seeing it continue to grow. What’s one big struggle you faced so far while growing this thing?

Yali: One big struggle. I would say it’s, like I touched on earlier, it’s where you’ve got in your mind the vision of not just the product but the value that it brings. In your mind that’s already settled and you’re passed that already, then you’re planning, “The next generation we want to do this.” and once we’re done with that, “Oh, that will position us to that. We’re going to take over the world.”

It’s very easy to start thinking so many moves ahead that it can become more difficult to discuss with people who aren’t in your head. It’s a challenge. I’ve noticed that early on so I’ve been more conscious of it. It so easy to fall deeply in love with your project, with your app, with your idea that it actually ends up introducing a little more distance between you and people who aren’t you and you have to be mindful of that in order to prevent that from complicating your ability to discuss it and to relay why and how it can deliver so much value.

Eric: Okay. It sounds like you have to—Sometimes you get stuck in a bubble and I totally get what you’re talking about. You have to be mindful enough to break out of that bubble every now and then.

Yali: Right.

Eric: Got it. Okay.

Yali: Absolutely.

Eric: Cool. I talked about you coming from a finance background and going into entrepreneurship. But myself I’m like “Fuck!” Sometimes I—I need to censor that out, but [laughter]. Sometimes I need to understand finance better. Sometimes I think I need to understand mergers and acquisitions and things like that. How does an entrepreneur, what resources can they go look at, get a better foothold on finance?

Yali: That’s a great question. I’m glad you phrased it that way because our attorney, actually, and this is—having been a consultant I appreciate the value that advisors bring to the table. There’s plenty of advisors who bring no value, but good advisors are usually very good at not just thinking inside their box, but sort of thinking a little bit beyond it in different directions.

Something that our attorney pointed out was; when it comes to, I think it was content development strategy. I was explaining to him what we were doing and he heard me out and then he said, “I want to give you a little reminder. You’re the general. It’s not your job to fight every battle yourself. It’s your job to make sure that the right soldiers are in the right locations to fight each individual battle.” I like that analogy. His point was; don’t be afraid to reach out to people who know more than you. It’s not your job to become the expert on everything. That’s just not possible. Frankly it’s not productive. If you need some domain expertise what makes a lot more sense, for a couple of reasons, is to reach out to someone who is an expert. So, there’s a couple of batches [ph 00:23:03].

  1. It expands your network and that’s valuable in and of itself.
  2. It saves you time. Assuming you’ve got a fairly steep learning curve that’s fine, but that’s still time you’re spending you’re not spending on the nuts and bolts of growing your business. That’s two.
  3. It’s almost impractical—there are secondary and tertiary benefits to reaching out to other people because they don’t have the biases and the prejudices, they don’t have all the baggage that you’re bringing into the conversation.

So you might be going into a specific issue or specific question and just to answer a couple questions that you had and say, “Okay that was answer I was looking for.” Somebody who has no idea, who you need to get up to speed, says, “Oh no that’s not what you want at all. I’m glad I asked. What you really want is not XYZ; it’s ABC.” You can tap into the expertise of people who’ve been—who are domain experts without having to become one yourself. Almost invariably in grows your network in a very positive direction.

So, when it comes to something technology oriented like this that can be reaching out to finance people, that can be reaching out to marketing specialists, that could be reaching out to professors, that can be reaching out to people on a number of different tiers, where your paths might never cross otherwise, but almost invariably it’s a good exercise to go through because one of your biggest assets as a professional is your network. It’s the network of people you know and what they think of you. The more you can expand that and build on that, ultimately the more problems you’ll be able to solve, the more resources you’ll be able to tap, the more effective you’ll be able to be, whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Eric:                 Got it. That’s a really helpful answer. That ties into going, when you need to go deep you go talk to an expert. I totally agree with that. But what if someone wants to just get the surface view of how finance, basically the surface view of finance where if I go talk to an expert I’m not a total idiot?

Yali: Okay. Again, I’m bringing my own biases into this, but one of the ways I went and got a read was the “Wall Street Journal” with my dad when I was eight and nine years old. It’s difficult to improve on spending some time with a publication like the “Wall Street Journal” every day. That’s a really good way to familiarize yourself, at least at a high level, what the big issues are and whether it’s in marketing or finance, or whatever it is.

You get some pretty good background, you understand who the players are. You get a pretty good summary of what the major issues are. You want to go one way or down, if you want to talk, if you’ve never done this before, you want to talk about how valuation is done; you’re not going to get that out of a newspaper. That’s going to be a little bit harder.

I will say this though. There are certain business school professors—One of them, I went to NYU business school so [NAME 00:26:31] he’s one of the foremost experts on specific issues like valuation so he’s got a lot of material up on his website. That’s probably a great place, a great resource to look at. In other cases you have to, much like expending and curating your own personal and professional network, you have to become your own curator of information also.

For that Twitter and Facebook, and LinkedIn, can be great resources as well because if you have a good network you can say, “Hey guys, I need a refresher on valuing startups.” Forty people point to the same link out of your network.” that should be pretty meaningful.

Eric: Got it. And I totally agree with that especially with Twitter. Twitter has a little bit of a learning curve, but once you get it right, what you learn there is invaluable. I think people need to start realizing that more. I totally agree with you. LinkedIn and Facebook as well. We’re changing gears a little bit here. If you could go back in time, talk to your 25 year old self what’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 25 year old self?

Yali: Oh wow! Network. Network. Network. I would say that those would be the top three pieces of advice. It’s very tempting, I would say, to get complacent, but there’s a big world out there, there’s a lot of people who know more than you and that knowledge has often been a qualifier expensively one way or another.

I would say, network, network, network because in many cases, people like to share the wisdom of their experience. Two: you may find yourself in a position where you’ll be called upon to share the wisdom culled from your own experience. When you have a real professional network of people whose judgment and expertise you trust that can be very powerful when it comes to getting things done, when it comes to figuring out a solution to a particular problem, when it comes to getting an introduction to somebody that you’re looking for.

I would say that it’s necessarily a straight line or a simple function like a Metcalf’s Law when it comes to your personal network, but—

Eric: I’m sorry, what’s Metcalf’s Law?

Yali: Metcalf’s Law is an approach to valuing a network. He essentially boiled it down to the value of a network is simply a function of the square of the number of people in the network.

Eric: Okay.

Yali: A network of three people—let’s say you have a network of two people, it’s an exponential function, not a straight line, just a simple function—There’s tremendous value to actively managing and directing the growth of your professional network. What’s interesting is that being conscious of that now I’m finding out, other friends of mine from an attorney here, from and accountant here, people who drive two hours out of there way once a week to go to a network meeting, and I was surprised by this.

I was talking about partners in law firms and they say that you have no idea. You talk to people, we talk to the other attorneys, and somebody’s got a case that’s not for him and next thing you know you’ve got a referral and you’ve got a fantastic relationship. That’s one isolated example, but it’s been my experience that some of the most successful people are ‘people’ people; people who want to meet people, who want to figure out two things:

  1. Can I be of value to you
  2. Can you be of value to me.
  3. Then establish that as another connection.

It doesn’t have to be right away. It could be in six months. Could be whatever it is. You could be looking for question and say, “Eric’s looking for a question on this. Oh this is great I just met this guy. Eric, you should talk to Yali. He can help you out.”

Eric: Got it. Okay. And when you say networking, I’m trying to think of something actual for the audience. What do you exactly mean by networking? What’s something someone can do where they can just go out and network tonight?

Yali: That’s another great question. Let me give a couple of examples. Being in commuting distance to New York City I sometimes have actual events called networking events that are sponsored by my school or certain tech entrepreneurs in the New York City area, or marketing people who are just looking to get together. That’s just a pure networking event.

You bring a stack of cards with you and you’re probably going to go through your elevator pitch, 15, 20, probably 30, 40 times that night. It can be tiring, but if you come away with three, four useful new contacts that can easily be time very well spent. That’s one. Two: you can have an alumni network depending on where you went to school. Some are much more active and robust than others. That’s easy to get involved with either on Facebook or LinkedIn.

They publicize that a lot and that’s an opportunity to connect with people who are in the school you went to, who graduated from there. Oftentimes there’s a lot of good contacts to be made there. In other cases it could be volunteering. It could be not for profits, could be political organizations, it could be any place where you’ve got a big gathering of people where you share something of value, could be professional, could be political, it could be religious, it could be whatever it is. Odds are there’s some interesting people there. I

If your approach is—I don’t want to make it seem too professional oriented, but if you’re a people person or you realize the value of acting like a people person, you could meet some really interesting people just by going and introducing yourself and having some conversations. In some cases it’s an outlook, it’s how you do certain things, you can do a conference, could be a professional conference, a networking event, you could just show up and take notes from the speaker and go home, or you can stick around and ask some questions, strike up some conversations, give out a few business cards, and guess what? You’re networking.

Eric: Totally. I like the thing that you said about, it’s all about adding value to the other person first before anything else. I found in the beginning when I first started networking, maybe four or five years ago, it’s a very transaction from my side, like, who can I meet, who can I meet. But, when you reverse that and you start to think about how can I add more value it starts to become much easier.

Yali: Right. Actually that’s very interesting. I went to a meeting, a pure networking event with business journalists a month or two ago and somebody asked them, “How do I get covered on CNBC? How do I get on FOX Business news? How do I get covered on a couple of different online properties?” And they said, “Look. We’re busy people. We’re always looking for something interesting, but we’re going to miss some things.

The easier you make it for us, if you say, ‘Hey, here’s my pitch. You guys should do a segment on me.’” Realistically you’re probably the 30th person to email them that day, but if you weave it into something that they’ve done in the past and they say, “Hey by the way, I love this piece that you did. Here’s an interesting angle on it. Let’s do a follow up. Here’s a couple of points. I’d love to sit down and talk about it.” Now, right away you’re making it a little more personal.

If you can connect it to something where you know that it’s relevant to them, like you said, it’s adding value, so if your app is a travel app and they’ve done a review on Tent Google Travel or tell you the top ten travel apps out there and you’re coming up with one that blows them out of the water, that’s the person that you probably want to talk to. There’s some signaling going on here also:

  1. You’re telling them that you’ve done some homework, that you know who they are and what they have done. You’ve at least gone out of your way a little bit and now you’re taking your ask and weaving it into what they’ve done and here’s an opportunity for them to continue informing their public in a valuable way.

Eric: Got it. Cool. That’s super helpful and I think perhaps that’s something we need to make into an e-book on how to network effectively. But anyway, what’s one productivity hack you can share with the audience?

Yali: One productivity hack. I would say, this can be counter-intuitive, but: get a good night’s sleep and do it then. A lot of people think that success is a function all-nighters and denying the body sleep for as long as you can and turning entrepreneurship into something that’s a physical endurance contest, but I think it’s a lot more than that. I forget where I read this, it said “Burning the candle at both ends is not nearly as important as just being awake during the day.”

That’s something that I found that’s interesting, it happens to be a kind of rough week for me, personally this has been an extremely busy week, but in general when you are firing on all cylinders it can be shocking how productive you can be or you just way too much coffee inside of lunch. I sometimes feel like I’m stuck in [INDISCERNIBLE 00:37:10] and the to do list is piling up and you’re sort of dragging through the day as opposed to when you’re really engaged and on top of things. I find I can be two to three times as productive.

Eric: Got it. Okay. It’s interesting, there’s that investor, James Altucher, and he said the one thing he found going into his 40’s, he said it’s all about getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep, don’t cut yourself short on that. I totally agree with that. There’s a lot of people that think they’re being superheroes sleeping 4 to 5 hours a day, but most people can’t do that. I totally agree with what you’re saying. Final question from my side. What’s one must read book you can share with the audience?

Yali: One must read book. I have to limit it to one? Let’s see. One must read book.

Eric: What’s provided you with the most utility in the last few years? That might help.

Yali: It’s going to sound a little bit trite at this point, but I would say, just because I happen to be in the middle of it right now, the Super Freakinomics books, the latest one, How to think like a Freak, I think that it’s, again, the reason that it’s cliché is because it gets used a lot and rightly, very often, that it’s not about having the answers.

Like I said before, once you’ve accepted that you can’t possibly have all the right answers, but you’ve got to get them so you have to look for people who might. It’s not about having the right answers. It’s about asking the right questions. That can be painful for some people. Here, I’ll give you another little hack. It’s something that if I could go back to my 21 year old self, just graduated from college, because it took me a couple years to learn this, I would say, “Ask the stupid question. Ask the stupid question every single time.”

That’s something where I see over and over again where I’ll see people who just won’t ask the question that sounds stupid and then six months later they’ll ask a question that essentially assumes they knew what that initial question was and they finally just say, “What does this mean? What does it mean when this does that?” I’ve just seen it so many times, the person their asking they do this double take, like, “Wait. If you don’t know the answer to that, how do you know any of the rest of this?” Like whoa! Are we starting from square one for the last six months? That’s one.

Two, I find that sometimes by asking the stupid question, especially in a meeting where it’s possibly the most intimidating environment to do that, ask the stupid question because somebody’s going to say, “Oh, that’s a stupid question. We’re trying to do A, B, C.” and somebody says, “Wait, I thought we were trying to do X, Y, Z.” Next thing you know your question should have been asked by everybody, because nobody knew the answer to that question.

It can be very intimidating to do that, but like they say, those are the guys who usually figure stuff out faster. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. I think it was Ted Turner who said every meeting he goes to he brings ten ideas at least nine of which are embarrassingly stupid.

Eric: Got it. Okay. I totally agree with that. You can’t be embarrassed to ask a stupid question. Hopefully the knowledge you pick up compounds just like interest.

Yali: Exactly.

Eric: Anyway Yali, it was great having you on the show. Everyone, Yali Elin from LiveDial. Download his app, don’t forget to subscribe to the show. Yali, definitely want to have you on the show again sometime soon.

Yali: Fantastic. I look forward to it. Thanks again for your time and keep up the great work.

Eric: Alright. Take care.


About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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