To Mighty Bell CEO and Lean In cofounder Gina Bianchini, the entrepreneurial narrative gets told with consistency: You have a lone-wolf, rugged individualist of a hero that breaks out on their own and, against incredible odds, somehow succeeds.
“Yet this has never been my experience,” she said recently, as part of a talk. Her experience is a staggering one: Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Bianchini had a front-row seat to the rise of social media.
“I didn’t know a lot of lone wolves,” she continues. “Instead, what we had was a thriving community of passionate people, of competitive people who supported each other, helped each other, challenged each other in a close, tight-knit community.”
How tight-knit? She reports that at one point in 2003, the giants-to-be all lived within a five-block radius of one another in downtown Palo Alto.
What a community to be a part of, one giving birth to a new form of technology: Facebook, which was connecting you with people you already knew; LinkedIn, connecting you with career crushes; and, as well, the company that Bianchini cofounded with Marc Andreessen–Ning, which was built around the idea of getting people who didn’t yet know each other, together.
That closeness of network was reflected in the people that made up these organizations: Bianchini says that not only were lessons and difficulties shared between these people, but also jobs, which helped develop teams-to-be:
“Networks of strong ties and weak ties created not just one great company but multiple great companies because there was, at its core, a community of people who were willing to share, willing to collaborate, willing to collide with each other.”
This shows not only that organizations are the people within them, but the people that those people know. This has come up before: When Max Levchin was an early employee of PayPal, Peter Thiel asked him to list every smart person he knew–and more than a third of them got hired.
It’s easy to call this in-group recruiting nepotism–perhaps because it is. But it also shows that if we want to get great gigs and work in awesome companies, that geography and social aspects are gigantic components. Opportunities are attached to people–and people are in the places.