Bring People Together & Being a Connector

Benny Mathew Orion3

At the end of the day, community is at the center of personal and professional growth, and life is so much more fun with friends anyway! Today’s guest is Benny Mathew, the founder of the Orion3 network. Our conversation with Benny is all about the power of bringing people together and his gift of being a connector! Benny tells the story of his difficulty making genuine connections in Chicago initially and how he solved this by putting his gift for connecting people to good use and founded Orion3. He takes us through the growth of this amazing network which now enjoys packed events, also sharing the symbolism of warm connections in its name. From there, we get into the networking mindset, talking about what it takes to build genuine connections, authentic relationship building as a long-term game, and building true friendships in your professional network. We discuss all the benefits of community next and hear some high points from Benny about how his life has changed since he started giving back in this way. Wrapping up, Benny shares a few lessons he has learned along the way, weighing in on the value of having a growth mindset and the role his networks have played in making him who he is today.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Why Benny started to host networking events after struggling to connect in Chicago.
  • Benny’s gift for connecting others which he applied to founding Orion3.
  • The story of the growth of Orion3, going from 5 to 150+ attendees at their events.
  • The symbolism of the name Orion3, signifying warm connections.
  • The importance of the connector mindset, and having connections and community for growth.
  • High points for Benny: Realizing many of his friends came from his events, and hearing about the value of Orion3 from participants.
  • Gaining value in your own life by bringing value to others, but not making this your motive.
  • The idea that building genuine connections has to be conceived as a long-term process.
  • Being yourself and building genuine relationships with your professional network.
  • How much you can grow by meeting others and your responsibility to pay it forward.
  • Having a growth mindset and how Benny learns from mistakes rather than dwell on them.

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:21] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Benny Mathew, a senior business development manager for Baker Tilly Search & Staffing out of Chicago. Benny and I talked about the power of bringing people together and being a connector. Hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:41] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.

[INTERVIEW]

[00:00:48] AD: Benny, welcome to Branch Out. I’m excited for our conversation today. You and I were talking a few weeks ago and you are sharing with me this networking community that you have started called Orion3. I would love if we could start with you sharing some thoughts around why did you start it and then what lessons have you learned in the process.

[00:01:08] BM: I started working for Bake Tilly as a Senior Business Development Manager almost three years ago, two and a half years ago. Baker Tilly is a huge CPA firm. I’m tied to the search and staffing division, which is a professional accounting and finance recruiting company that only does accounting and finance roles that’s built into the CPA firm as a service line. My job is to build and grow that out for downtown Chicago. When I took the job here, I never had Chicago as my market. For the last 12 years before, it was always in the suburbs, right? I knew Chicago was going to be hard, but when I took this — I had no idea how hard it was going to be.

It was so different because when I was at my last company, if I called someone enough times, emailed them enough times, send handwritten letters. If none of those work, all I had to do was like stop by there with box of bagels and with a handwritten note, and there’s always a chance of getting a response back. But it got to the point where nobody is returning my phone calls, nobody is returning my emails, nobody is returning my LinkedIn messages. Then I was like, “Man, I got to figure out a way to meet people, and then as I meet people, I need to make sure I’m staying in touch with them.” Then I joined a bunch of different finance organizations, HR organizations, just Chicago networking groups. I mean, I would start by day early and I would be done 9:00 at night because of like different events.

The cool thing is, I got to meet a lot of really good people. So as I started meeting people, I’d start to realize like, I want to figure out a way to keep in touch with them, because Chicago is so big, it’s really hard to have multiple touch points with other people, with prospects and just people in general. I was like, okay, I know happy hours and how to do good happy hours. I know all the good bars here, so I will just send a blind carbon copy to people that I meet. I let them know when I meet them. “Hey, would you want to be on this list?” I was like, okay, I’ll buy a carbon copy and all do like once a month.

It started about a year and a half ago, I want to say. At first I was like, I have a lot of people that I invited, but it was like, 5 people would show up, then 10, then 15, then back to 5, then whatever. Then it was last May, the weather was really nice so I got lucky. It was like a last-minute thing where a lot — there was like 25 to 30 people that cam. It was great, really good group and so that made me feel good. In June, I had my favorite rooftop in Chicago. It’s called The Godfrey Hotel, their rooftop. I was thinking maybe 25, 30 people would come to that. Long story short, almost 150 people showed up. It was unreal and it was all — it was an invite-only type event, right? The people were great, everyone had fun. And on top of that, every month actually, since June, it was like — throughout the summer it was between 100, 250 people. Again, organically grown, invite-only type thing.

Then in the fall, the weather got bad. I thought for sure like people are not going to really come to these as much anymore. So I got hooked up with somebody at Cow, which is one of the best bars, restaurants in Chicago, but I still didn’t think a lot of people are going to show up. All of a sudden, literally, every month since the fall and the winter, until February before shelter-in-place happened, it’s always 100 to 250 people. It was phenomenal.

That’s like the event side, but the whole concept of Orion3 is the ability to connect people to build a small community, because I know how it feels to be in this big concrete jungle. I know how it feels to be lonely, be alone and feel discouraged. It sucks, man, but then once you start meeting people, and you start meeting good people, and you start introducing them to another person, and to another person, and then somehow comes back to you and you meet other people. It’s just like my job got so much more fun. It got to be so much more rewarding. The one thing I’ve always been good at his legacy patterns within people and patterns within behavior. When I’m talking to someone, my mind automatically goes to, “Okay. So and so.” If I’m talking to John Doe, I might be thinking, “He works for this industry, he’s this.”

My mind automatically goes to like, “Okay. I should connect him with Mike or Michelle.” I would bring that up during like those first conversations. I’d be like, “Hey, actually. I know this guy, Bob, this and that. Would you be interested in meeting with him? I think because he works in the industry blah, blah.” The answer was always yes. I would always make it a point to connect people. I would always take time to send these connection emails that were easy, short and people would take it from there. I’d get all these responses saying, “Hey, thank you so much, this and that” or “He helped me with this” or “She helped me with that.” Then that’s why there’s always a lot of people that would come to these things, because I saw that people genuinely appreciated the connections.

I also saw that human beings have this need to be connected with people. I also saw the power of free, meaning if I connected this person to another person, that first interaction is a lot more genuine and authentic rather than cold calling someone or just randomly meeting someone at a networking event. By the way, I hate that word, networking so we’ll call it relationships. As the happy hours start to get really big, a lot of people that were coming are like, “Hey, you got to give us a name, because you can’t call it Benny’s happy hours anymore.” So I wanted to pick name that actually made sense. So the whole concept of three, I wanted to make sure I put that in there, but I wanted it to mean what it stands for.

To build a community of people from diverse backgrounds that are very successful, that are very driven, that want to help others and want to get help from others. The whole concept of three, I was like, “You know what? What’s something that I could signify as unity?” I named it Orion3 from the three stars of Orion’s Belt. So no matter what part of the world you’re from, what color of your skin is, whether you’re gay, bi, straight, what religion you are, those stars are always the same and those starts have been around way before mankind had been there. So I was like, “All right. I’m going to name is Orion3.” That’s basically the — I think I was pretty long-winded, but that’s basically the whole concept of Orion3 and what it stands for.

[00:07:24] AD: I love what you’re saying there, Benny. A couple things to recap for our listeners. One, you were hitting some brick walls in developing out your relationships in downtown Chicago when you first started, so you step back and said, “Okay. How do I overcome that? How do I change the dynamics?” You said, “Okay, I’m going to create a community.”

Then when you started to work on creating a community, you said it didn’t — I don’t want to say it didn’t work at first, but it didn’t start off big. It was smaller, but you kept at it, you kept inviting people. Over time, that took off. I want to be clear for our listeners. That’s not saying that everyone should go out and start a community group and try to grow it to 150 people. But realizing that just starting a community group or starting a small group of friends or finding that community group, whether you’re joining one. But finding some area where you can have like-minded people come together, can be such a powerful tool for everybody involved.

I love that you said it there and I really want to hone in on the connector mindset. It’s this idea that you want to be able to meet people and bring them together. And when you meet someone new, you’re immediately thinking, who can I connect them to, how can I help them, who should they get to know, right? Because of that now, when you had the community, you built up the following that would calm at each of these mixers through Orion3. All that really gave you was more of a platform and more of the community to work in, but it didn’t change who you were as a person from being a connector, right? That’s been core to what you’re trying to do.

[00:08:54] BM: Absolutely. One thing I will say is and this probably more specific than downtown Chicago, and probably some of the bigger cities. So if you look up like a networking even in Chicago, pre-COVID, you would literally get hundreds of them, right?

My whole thing is, I wanted to keep it closed. I didn’t want it to be where grand of people could come in. So every single one of mine is invite only. I would say, I don’t buy anybody’s drink, like it’s just kind of a pay for your own drinks kind of thing. It’s more about the experience, why you’re there, which is exactly what you said. It’s the connecting with other people.

[MESSAGE]

[00:09:28] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[00:09:38] AD: I want to speak to our listeners for a moment. This is not saying that everyone should go out and start a community group or start some kind of an organization like this. However, there is absolutely a need for it and there’s absolutely an opportunity. If you’re someone that does enjoy that, or you have the knowledge and the expertise to do that in a start of a network, to start inviting people. Think about the value you’ve added not just to yourself but to all of those people that participate. Do you have any stories where you’re like, “Wow! Look at the ripple effect I’ve been able to have by helping to bring this together.”t

[00:10:08] BM: Yeah. That’s by far had been the coolest experience of my entire 15-year career now, is that ripple effect that you could it. One story is last September, my buddy, Matt, we’re on a sailbot. There was like I think 15 or 16 of us. It was a Sunday afternoon, we’re all just chilling, having beverages and just hanging out. And all of a sudden, somebody brought up like, “Wait! How did we meet?” We’re all like trying to go back in time to figure out. It was literally — and we were all friends. Every single one of them was connected through my happy hours. That was like such a cool feeling.

On the other side in terms of like with businesses, I mean, I can’t begin to tell you how many little gift certificates, whatever you want to call it that I got last December. It was like the coolest thing. I would like get different things in my office like almost every week, because the connections that they made with others led to more business. Some of them got brandnew jobs. Man, it was really, really cool. I think that definitely — if I didn’t see people getting those results, I don’t know that I would have done it the same way.

[00:11:15] AD: One of the things I want to point out here, what I’ve yet to hear you say is about the business that you personally generate or how it personally helped you. What I think is really neat about this is, for those listeners that know me, I’ve done a very similar approach here at Metro Detroit. I’ve hosted networking events, and I’m a big believer in community and that’s why want to bring Benny on here. Benny and I have had a lot of conversations before this podcast even, about when you do that. What you’re really doing is helping a ton of other people and you’re giving other people opportunity. There’s no doubt it helps you. There’s no doubt it helps your personal brand, your professional brand, your career. But that’s not the highlight of why you’re doing it. It’s not, “Let me just do this so I can go generate more.” It’s, “Let me do this so I can help other people.”

Knowing that if you’re that connector, if you can be that conduit or that nexus to help people connect with other people, there is a tremendous amount of value that you can give to others. When you give value to others, eventually, that value comes back.

[00:12:14] BM: So I think you have to have that mentality, and the other thing I’ll say is, people can tell if you’re genuine or not.

[00:12:28] AD: You said another really important aspect here, relationship building in general takes a long time. Whether you’re starting a community group or you’re just simply going out and having coffees or going to meet people. No matter what, it takes a long time for that value to really come back, so you have to have a long-term mindset. When you genuinely approach it and genuine is a word that gets thrown around a lot. If you think your true interest for yourself and if you really dig down and say, “Why am I doing this? Why do I want to host this group?” or “Why do I want to have this meeting?” or “Why do I want to connect these two people?” if at its core, your answer is, because I want to help them. That’s the right mentality. It’s not about how it helps you because the second you start thinking about how it helps you, that’s when the word genuine goes out the window. So you’re so right there, you have to have that mentality of service first.

Now, Benny, you and I have talked a lot about this idea of personal life mix, personal versus professional and we’ve talked about this on previous podcasts. But where I want to dive into a bit here with you is, you go back to the friends you’ve made through your relationship building efforts. You have been able to build genuine friendships and people that you see and a lot more than just a professional context and setting. Share some thoughts around that. How do you approach that and maybe some some great stories of where you’re like, “Wow! Look at the relationships I’ve built, and how it’s help me both personally and professionally.”

[00:13:58] BM: Yeah. So again, this is my mentality, it does not mean at all that it’s the right thing for other people, because I have friends and family that have the opposite mentality. To me, my work life balance to me is having a job that I like a lot where I’m passionate about it and I integrate that into my life. And also to be transparent, like most of my friends that I grew up with, almost all of them, they’re all living in the suburbs, and they are married and they have kids. If I didn’t have an outgoing personality or wanting to build new relationships, I’d be one lonely dude. That’s one thing.

The people that I work with, I like a lot so I always invite them to these things. The people that end up being my clients, a lot of them are part of that group. So it keeps with the relationship stuff. I don’t know, like I get that some people don’t get personal and I have clients in context like that too. But literally, for me, it’s all about just being authentic and real. Then I’ve just made so many friends in this big city ever since I started doing this Orion3.

[MESSAGE]

[00:09:28] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with the leading middle-market professionals.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[00:15:10] AD: You talked about there that it’s not right for everybody, and everyone is going to have a different view of how work-life happens and how they mix together. The one thing I will really encourage our listeners to think about, if you’re someone who is sitting in a service-provider role, in a role where you’re really helping to add value to your clients by solving problems for them. Which means that a lot of your job is around meeting people and working with other people. Ultimately, the person that you are at home, the person you are in your personal life is the same human that goes in your professional life. Recognizing that when you go out and you are in a setting where you’re building relationships, who you are as a person is the same, and I would really encourage people to look to build genuine friendships with their professional network. Because then, everything becomes more fun.

[00:16:03] BM: Right. Well, I’ve met so many other people that have been doing this stuff a lot longer and are like extremely connected in Chicago. They see that I’m authentic so I think that’s probably the main reason why they give me advice. And I’m friends with a lot of them now and it’s like — the legacy that some of them have built just from doing right by people. For me, it’s I’m just curious with people and I like people, And I’ve always pride of myself no matter where I was, what point in my career, my age, whateer. I’ve always met some really, really good people who have had some awesome impacts on me. Like some very, very positive impacts on me. I always have to keep learning, and the only way I’ll do that is if I’m meeting a lot of people.

[00:16:48] AD: You hit on, you’re meeting new people to keep yourself learning, which I think is such a valuable aspect of why you continue to build relationships, because people bring new perspectives, which is what helps you learn, and grow, and develop as a professional. But you also said there, you’ve met some really great people that’s been able to pour into your life and recognizing that it’s not — it’s also our job, we get fortunate to have people that will help us. It’s our job to go help others, right? It’s our job know to figure out how can you pour back in to someone else, to help them elevate their career and help them succeed in life. That’s the cycle, right? That’s the pay-it-forward cycle.

[00:17:27] BM: Absolutely. Like I said, I get a dopamine rush out of that.

[00:17:31] AD: I love it. So let me ask you this. If you step back and you said, okay. Throughout your career, you’ve made some mistakes and we’ve all had overcome challenges, right? Every one of us has thier own set of challenges. If you could look back and give yourself some form of  career advice for 10, 15 years back, what would that be? What would you say? Man, if I would have done this differently or if I were to started this sooner, what what would you say?

[00:17:56] BM: I’ve made a ton of mistakes throughout my career. By no means am I perfect. I’m in a completely different space right now than I was in my 20s or even like very early 30s, where I would always look at what I didn’t have and what I wanted or the mistakes that I made. And I’m always worried about what’s going to happen next. Whereas now, I don’t have the mentality at all.

[00:18:18] AD: I really liked about what you said there and I want to unpack for a minute. You have openly said, okay, I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’ve learned from them and it’s helped me become the person I am today. And I think that it’s so powerful for someone who is sitting back in either has just ran into some form of a failure or is bumping up against some challenge, or someone who is sitting back and saying, “Man, if I would have done this differently, I could have been in a totally different place today.” And recognizing that you are where you are today, reflect on the past, understand where your mistakes were made and learn from them. But in the end, that’s part of life. Every decision and every experience you’ve been through is what makes you into the person you are today.

[00:19:05] BM: Absolutely. This is also something that I — my mindset changes as I got older is like, the only thing really care about, I literally just want to be the best version of myself. I don’t know what that. I’m starting to figure that out more and more as you get older. I keep trying to get better, and I always look — one of the coolest thing about meeting new people is just like — especially when you connect with people, you have this aha momen during a conversation. To me, that impacts me way more than anything I watch or that I read. I’m always on the quest to, okay, I know I have a purpose, I want to fulfill that. I want to know what that is

[00:19:42] AD: What I love that you said there was, it’s this idea that you don’t necessarily know where you’re going in clear detail, and you don’t know exactly what your, the things you’re trying to achieve but rather you’re focusing on being the best version of yourself. I am such a believer in — if every day I go to bed a better person than I woke up, and one way or another, I’ve done something to invest in myself and to ultimately serve others. If you can do that day in and day out, don’t worry about the long-term. You’ll be fine, right?

I don’t want to discount the value of sitting down and really thinking strategically about where you’re going and making sure you’re pointed in the right direction. But I think so many people focus more on, “Well, if I just make partner then” or “If I earned X amount then” or “When I can buy that house then” right? That’s not the right mentality. The right mentality is here in the present, today, let’s work on making ourselves better. Let’s work on helping other people today. If you do that day in and day out, again, and again, and again, those little changes, those little efforts are what are going to lead to the long-term success in really reaching those larger goals that you’re striving for.

[00:20:54] BM: Absolutely.

[00:20:55] AD: Benny, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I’m sure we could keep it going for hours. I really appreciate your time on here today and super excited to have had you as a guest on Branch Out here.

[00:21:06] BM: Dude, this is awesome. Awesome. Thank you. I really appreciate it.

[00:21:10] AD: Absolutely.

[OUTRO]

[00:21:13] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in this week. Share this podcast with your professional network to help others connect, grow and excel. Like what you hear? Leave us a review and don’t forget to subscribe now.

[END]