It’s been a year since I graduated from college and one thing has already become clear - my friends are moving. A few weeks ago, I moved to San Francisco for the summer. When I did, I reached out to a few friends who lived here the fall before. Their responses were indicative of the trend.
“Damn, I just moved back to New York!”
“Stephen! I’d love to get coffee… except I now live in Israel.”
“Eek! I’m actually in Korea, sorry :(“
I get it. People move. According to a recent Gallup study, Americans will change homes an average of 11.4 times in their lifetime. For college graduates, the distance and frequency of those moves are even higher.
Unfortunately, when I talk with friends, they’re generally less happy after the move than before. They change cities for the promise of a better life - a cooler job, more interesting people, nicer weather. But, many end up feeling isolated socially, disconnected from the place and the people in their new home.
Why do we move so often, yet know painfully little about how to approach a new city? There are hundreds of books about starting a new job. I’ve had friends show me there “90-day plan” at work. But, there is little research showing how to develop meaningful connections in a new place.
In three pieces, I’m going to investigate what successful people do when they move to a new city. Why can some people integrate quickly while for others it takes years? Particularly, I’ll focus on three areas: the social, the emotional, and the logistical. In other words, “how do we meet people we like?” “How do we feel connected to this new place?” and “how do we find places to go and things to do?”
Let’s start with the social - how can we connect with the right people? In my research, I’ve found that the most successful people don’t look for opportunities to connect with others, they create them.
Step #1: Have a platform to reach out
In 2015, Tomas Reimers and his friends were looking forward to another summer out of Harvard and in San Francisco. They’d enjoyed their last summer as software engineers; but, it wasn’t until the fall semester that they’d realized how much they’d missed. A conversation back on campus would often go like this,
“Wait, you were working in SF this summer? I was in the city! We should have hung out!”
As Tomas spoke with other friends who’d been in the bay area, they expressed similar regrets. To add on, they’d felt they’d missed professional opportunities. Interesting people flooded the valley - there were VCs, tech founders, AI researchers, etc. And yet, they hadn’t met any during their past summer.
Tomas and his friends devised a plan to transform their next summer and the summer for hundreds of other interns. It embodied the first step of socially succeeding in a new city - create a platform to reach out.
They planned to create a community of tech interns from Harvard in the Bay area. They called it “ Summer Camp ” Not only would they use it to meet other interns. They would also help these interns connect with interesting people and companies.
Their strategy was simple; they would ask tech companies and individuals to host events for interns. The companies would get access to top talent, and the interns would get an opportunity to socialize.
Flash forward three years and “Summer Camp” has hosted dozens of events with hundreds of interns. Their guests have ranged from the co-founder of Airbnb, Sequoia partners, to some of the technical leaders at Facebook. The Summer Camp team has helped hundreds of interns meet friends, co-founders, and mentors - people who would have otherwise been difficult to access.
To understand why Summer Camp was successful at bringing people together, we should take a VC’s perspective.
Imagine two scenarios.
Scenario A: You are a busy VC at a successful firm. You receive an email from a summer intern who would love to “connect” and “learn more about VC.” She asks to get coffee one-on-one.
Scenario B: You are a busy VC at a successful firm. However, this time you receive an email from an intern inviting you to speak at an event of 50+ students in tech. She describes the other students’ background - technical, smart, and entrepreneurial. They fit the profile of future founders you might want to invest in.
If you were the VC which scenario would you be more excited about? Likely the answer is B. The 1-1 coffee chat might be fun; but, it could take time from your other goals. The tech interns event, however, is fun, gives back to the community, and in line with your goals. When the summer camp team reached out with a platform, it amplified their voice.
The same is true for Summer Camp connecting interns. Without a compelling reason, it’s hard to bring 50+ college students into a room. But, when there’s a panel with successful start-up founders, interns are excited to come together. The event, in this case, is the platform that brought interns together.
A platform doesn’t necessarily need to be a group. When I lived in Vietnam this past summer, I began a research project to understand foreign entrepreneurs in Asia. When I reached out to entrepreneurs in the country, I used my research as the platform – “would you like to be interviewed for this study?” As opposed to chatting with a recent graduate, entrepreneurs and VCs felt they were contributing to a broader mission.
When you move to a new city, try to find a platform – or a reason – to reach out. It will make it easier to send cold emails, and it will make the other side more likely to respond.
Step #2: Source people broadly
In the summer of 2014, Luke Heine, a rising sophomore at Harvard, was studying in Italy and wanted to travel around Europe. Unfortunately, he had two problems – he didn’t have enough money, and he didn’t know many people on the continent. When he spoke with friends, they gave him the same generic advice, “Why don’t you reach out to classmates or alums who live in the area? I’m sure they’d want to host you.”
But, Luke’s problem wasn’t reaching out. His problem was that he didn’t know who to reach out to. He tried looking through Facebook to find friends, but it was difficult to see their location. He looked through an alumni website, but the information was consistently out of date.
Luke quickly realized this was an issue many college students faced. During the summer, students travel to new cities and countries. When they do, they don’t who they should hang out with. The problem isn’t knowing how to reach out; it’s more simple – students didn’t even know who from school was in the area.
Over the following few weeks, Luke tried to get everyone in his class to share where they’d be that summer. So, he posted in multiple Harvard Facebook groups and messaged hundreds of people directly. Luke then spent a couple of hours manually placing each of their locations and names on a big map. He called it “Summer Playbook” and he sent it out to everyone who had signed up.
Not only did Luke use the Summer Playbook that summer to travel around Europe, so did dozens of other students. A few students were traveling to Italy and found out through the Summer Playbook that there were other students in the area. They met up through the list and became close friends.
Since 2014, the Summer Playbook has expanded rapidly – from one school and a few hundred students to thousands of students spanning 400+ schools and 126+ countries. Recently, the Playbook was funded by the Y Combinator to expand more broadly; last year, the product helped make 3,000 introductions between students.
Luke and Summer Playbook can teach us an important lesson about sourcing new people. The problem, as Luke discovered, is that people misunderstand two things: 1. How likely people are to agree to hang out and 2. How wide they should cast their net.
When moving to a new city, spread your net wider than you initially think. When I spoke with most people about this article, I asked them how they met friends in a new city. The most common answer was “Friends of friends.” However, this, as pictured in the graph above, can be limiting. If you only source from friends of friends, you’ll be interacting with people who are similar to yourself. However, you’re missing out on a very long-tail of other, exciting people you could meet.
Casting your net wide means going beyond friends of friends. If your school has an alumni organization, join it. Seek out gathering places for people who like the same thing you do. Ask distant contact who to meet up with, not just your close friends.
Much of finding new people is probabilistic. So, you have to meet a lot of people before you can meet the right ones. To do that, you need to source widely.
Step #3: Don’t attend events, create them
Imagine, it’s the first few weeks of freshman year. You’re chatting with a new person from your dorm, trying to act nonchalant. Things are going well until they ask you the question you’ve been dreading. “So,” they ask innocently, “what are you doing this weekend?”
Immediately, you feel a pit form in your stomach. Attempting to maintain composure, you flip open your calendar on your phone. Friday night – empty. Saturday night – empty. Sunday afternoon – call parents. You look up at your would-be friend.
“Yeah, I’m deciding between a few things,” You reply.
Moving to a new city can feel like freshman year all over again. Because you don’t know anyone, you probably wait, hoping someone will invite you to an event.
However, if you think back to Freshman year, it’s important to realize that everyone feels that way. No one knows what’s happening during the first few weeks of school; so, if you plan an event, party, or outing other people will usually join.
Why plan an event instead of simply attending? Well, the benefits of being the creator far exceed being the attendee. For one, you actually know there’s an event you are invited to. As well, the more events you throw, the more people will see you as someone who is the center of their social circle; that leads to further connections as they introduce you to other people or bring their friends to the event.
To be fair when you first move to a city, it will be difficult to throw a rager – you just don’t know enough people. But, you can start small even in your first week – going to dinner with a few new friends that you met or inviting your co-workers out to drinks on a Friday.
Don’t wait for others to plan your weekends. Dive head first into your city and make events for others.
When we move to a new place, we can’t wait for a social network to form, we need to create it. From having a platform to reach out, to casting a wider net, to becoming the person throwing the party instead of merely attending. You control your destiny in a new city – the key is to make sure you’re an active force in it.
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I’d like to thank Tomas Reimers, Luke Heine, and many others for their interviews. To learn more about Summer Playbook please click here.