And a preview of RIFKIN for Startups
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a companion piece to “* GiantPeople RIFKIN Report #1 – Top 10 Giver States And Bottom 10 Taker States.” While related, the two pieces were different enough to warrant separate treatment. Originally published 2022-04-01.
I joke around that I have one good idea per decade and that that has been good enough to sustain my career.
My ideas fall into a couple of categories.
Some of the good ideas – such as my first book – are obviously good at the time. (My first book, “The Legal List,” was about how and why lawyers should use the Internet. From 1992-1995, I wrote seven editions of “The Legal List,” one before law school, four during law school, and two after law school (after selling the rights). That book paid for law school.)
Other ideas are good only in hindsight. The topic of this article is in the latter category.
From MIT To Clocktower
In 1988, while a senior at MIT and for my undergraduate thesis, I got my first computer: a Macintosh SE. (My thesis was a “Computer Interface For A Passive Self-Contained Microcomputer Controlled Above-Knee Prosthesis.”) Shortly after getting that computer, I entered all of my contacts into a FileMaker database. FileMaker – like Apple computers – is very easy to use and is highly customizable. In addition to being able to create your own fields and layouts (collections/views of fields), you can create scripts (series of steps, such as “find then sort”), and buttons to automatically launch those scripts. You can import and export data in a variety of formats.
Since 1988, I have been constantly updating that early Contacts database. At some point, I made email address the unique identifier for each record (also a good idea). At another point, FileMaker integrated Internet access into the database, making it possible to open a URL in a web browser via a click of a button from FileMaker.
In 2001, when I launched Clocktower, I added a Docket database to keep track of the various legal matters (patents, trademarks, and other matters) that we were working on for clients. By using “match fields,” I could take advantage of the relational database features of FileMaker, quickly connecting records in one database to records in another. For example, our Companies database includes the legal details about our clients. Each company has corresponding records (employees, advisors, and the like) in the Contacts database, each has corresponding legal matters in the Docket database.
In 2006, I added the Emails database, which does several things, including adding the subject line of all email messages (for better searching and finding) to the Contacts database. (This is why I sometimes change the subject of email messages that you send to me.)
Over the years, I have made other enhancements to the Contacts database (and to related databases), including moving to the FileMaker Cloud platform to enable Clocktower to move from a physical to a virtual office in 2021 (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
The RIFKIN Years And 20 Million Data Points
More recently, I have been able to get deep insight about the people that I have been interacting with over 30+ years.
In 2017, after reading Adam Grant’s “Give and Take” book, I founded Treehouse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote this about Treehouse:
Treehouse (https://www.treehouse.red/) is a network of givers that empowers and inspires its members to make an impact via a series of small, invitation-only, nontraditional events.
Treehouse is technically a networking group, but it is also a civic and social organization (https://www.linkedin.com/company/68767545/). The Treehouse mission is to help each other and our communities: by doing favors, giving back, mentorship, paying it forward, referrals, sharing our talents, and volunteering.
The inspiration for Treehouse comes from the excellent book “Give and Take” by Adam Grant (https://www.treehouse.red/1.html). The basic premise of the book is that you can be a giver – in business and in life – and be a champ, not a chump.
All events (including food and drink) are paid for by sponsors. Sponsors demonstrate the “give first” mentality that is central to Treehouse.
Treehouse members are curated via a proprietary, trade secret process. Since Treehouse members are givers, you are far more likely to get help (whether personal or professional) from Treehouse than from any other networking group.
The trade secret process alluded to in that blog piece is RIFKIN, the technology behind Treehouse. Adam Grant’s seminal “Give and Take” book defined the qualifications that characterize success based on an individual’s propensity to give, match, or take in their relationships. RIFKIN includes an algorithm that identifies an individual’s reciprocity style based on attributes of their LinkedIn profile:
- Most people (60-80%) are matchers.
- Some people (fewer than 1%) are strong givers. They are the people most likely to be founding/leading various networking groups.
- Other people (also fewer than 1%) are toxic takers. They are the people that can do the most damage to your network(s).
And what are those attributes? That’s the trade secret part. But I’ll give you some insights:
- People, on average, have 2 email addresses.
- I have about 100,000 records in my Contacts database, which equals about 50,000 unique contacts.
- I have about 400 fields per record.
- 50,000 records times 400 fields/records = 20 million data points.
Does RIFKIN use all of these 20 million data points? No. But it could. I am constantly testing new additions for statistical validity. (And here I will note that I really enjoyed statistics while at MIT.) For example, last fall, while on my daily walk with my wife, she questioned whether my algorithm contained gender bias. I assured her that it did not. Because I believe in data, I checked after our walk. But of course she was correct, my algorithm did have both gender and racial bias. So the updates that I made over the winter corrected for both gender and racial bias.
Continuous improvement is my goal.
Bad Ideas vs. Good Ideas
Not all of my ideas are good ones. And nobody is perfect. This is why Clocktower includes a mistakes policy in its engagement letter (acknowledging that no lawyer or law firm is perfect but defining what we will do when we make mistakes). It is also why I include a prominent “Notable Failures” section in my LinkedIn profile.
But I’m pretty sure that RIFKIN, which exists, in part, due to a good decision that I made in 1988 (namely, to put my contacts into a database) is a good idea.
I also believe that “RIFKIN for Startups” can help sartup accelerators (such as MassChallenge and Techstars) help decide which startups to accept into various cohorts. And for startup investors (angel investors, venture capital (VC) investors, family offices, and the like), “RIFKIN for Startups” may be able to predict which teams (founders + mentors) will succeed and which will fail. But that is another blog post for another day.
Today, we announce “RIFKIN for Connectors.” According to the teachings of “Give and Take,” eliminating toxic takers from your network should be your #1 priority. That’s what “RIFKIN for Connectors” does.
If you would like to get deep insight into your own contacts, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And use a good subject line, because that’s going into the database as well!