Getting There And In Front Of Anyone – Interview with Gillian Zoe Segal

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Episode Summary

Gillian Zoe Segal is the author of Getting There: A Book of Mentors. She interviewed highly successful entrepreneurs, mentors, and inspirational people such as Warren Buffett and Anderson Cooper for her book, which took roughly five years to complete. Gillian talks about some of the key lessons entrepreneurs can learn from successful individuals, how to not take rejection personally, and why persistence is one of the keys to success.

Getting There, Getting In Front Of Anyone – Interview with Gillian Zoe Segal

Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch podcast. Today’s guest is Gillian Zoe Segal. She is the author of the book Getting There; A Book of Mentors. Gillian has incredible access in this book from Warren Buffet to Michael Bloomberg, Anderson Cooper, to Kathy Ireland. Gillian, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me.

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Getting There: A Book of Mentors

The people who listen to The Successful Pitch podcast are often curious about, “How can I get in front of the right investors? I know I need to know how to pitch, but how do I get to meet these people?” You’ve written an incredible blog on your LinkedIn profile with over 128,000 views, congratulations on that. It’s been featured in Fortune and Inc., about how you can meet anyone you want and here’s the formula you use.

Before we get into the incredible interviews, I’d love to have you walk us through how do we understand the lay of the land of these busy people?

For my book, I interviewed 30 luminaries. It took me five years to complete the book, mainly because getting these super busy people to participate was really hard. I put a tremendous amount of effort into it. The blog post you’re talking about is really all the tricks I used. It was a learning curve to do it. I learned from mistakes and that kind of a thing.

First of all, you were talking about the lay of the land. I think that you’ve got to understand, if you’re trying to get in touch with a very successful person, for whatever reason, they are going to be extremely busy. You just have to know you are not the most important thing on their radar. You have to not be upset if they ignore you and reject you. You have to know that that’s going to happen before you even set out, and not let that take you off course.

I love that. It’s so relevant to founders trying to get in front of investors. Sometimes, even if you have a warm intro into an investor, and I’m assuming you had some warm intros into some of these amazing people, they still can ignore and reject you even with a warm introduction. It’s not always a guarantee.

It’s completely not a guarantee. You have to know that if someone’s ignoring you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like your product. It might mean that they’re just too busy so try again, try again, try again.

I love this whole concept of how do you handle rejection and not taking it personally, is so important because if you take it personally, then you’re going to be depressed and discouraged, as you said. You start doubting yourself. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


How did you learn not to take rejection personally, personally?

I think if you put yourself in a position where you get rejected enough times, you get a tougher skin. When I was contacting all these luminaries, I just got rejected over and over again and I just learned to not let that bother me. What’s interesting about that is that a lot of people in my book, the people who are billionaires in the book, credit early jobs in sales with giving them the skills they needed for their ultimate success.

Basically, it all goes down to rejection. The early sales job puts you in a position where you’re going to pitch something and get rejected again and again. It toughens your skin. I think that’s really one of the big names of the game, is to have a tough skin and get back up and be as enthusiastic in your fifteenth pitch as you were in your first.

There you go. You can’t let the previous no affect your next request.

Exactly. You can’t walk in like you’re already defeated. You have to walk in with some good energy and like you’re excited about your product or your idea or whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

What gave you the idea to write this great book about getting there and finding these mentors?

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At a certain point in my life, I found myself looking around at different highly successful individuals and thinking, “I wonder how he figured his career path out?”

Growing up, I never really had a mentor. At a certain point in my life, I found myself looking around at different highly successful individuals and thinking, “I wonder how he figured his career path out? How did he get there? How did she become so successful? Why are these people successful and so many others aren’t? I wonder what the trick is?” I just decided to knock on their doors and ask everybody all of the questions that I wanted to know.

I love that. Your curiosity was your passion, basically. That’s what kept you going.

Exactly. I asked all the things I was curious about and I assumed that if I was curious about it, other people would be too.

Did some of the people want to know who else was already committed to being in the book to make sure that they were part of an elite group? Was it difficult getting the first one or two?

You know what’s interesting, some people did want to know who was in it, but the real, real, real, the biggest leaders, I would say, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett, they didn’t care. They didn’t ask. If you’re up there, you know that if you’re in it, it’s going to …

That automatically elevates it.

I don’t know if it’s because they knew what I just said or because they’re such independent thinkers that they don’t care. If you’re invited somewhere, you could just say yes. You don’t need to say, “Who else is going to be there? What’s it like?” That’s a little bit more of an insecure way to behave.

I also really love what you write here about never accept no from someone who can give you a yes.

I love that. That is a piece of advice that a friend of mine gave me early on in the process. Basically, what that means is if you’re approaching someone and you get bounced by that person’s publicist or that person’s assistant or something, don’t get defeated. Try another angle. I use this metaphor that if you can’t get in the front door, try the back door. If you can’t get in the back door, try the side door. If that is locked, then try climbing in a window.

Basically, there are different avenues to get to people. Sometimes, if I called someone’s office and they rejected me, I might call a business that that person owns and try to get in that way. The toughest part about approaching people is having the person know that you’re even there. Everybody has so many guards around them, gatekeepers, that you can’t be sure. If you’re contacting Warren Buffett, how can you be sure he ever even saw your request? That’s the tough part.

That resilience is exactly what startup founders need. They have got to figure out a way to get in front of the investors through warm intros or whatever it takes. One investor said, “If you can’t figure out a way to get to me, you probably can’t figure out a way to get to your customers.” Part of that test is, “Oh, are you smart enough and resilient enough to find me, to get to me?” Your examples here are spot on.

The other thing that’s so great that you write about here is, once you get a response, don’t let go. Instant follow-up is everything. You cannot let that die down because they’ll forget you in ten minutes.

They’ll forget you, yes. Exactly. Think about how many emails are coming into their inbox. Basically, if you see a sign of life, grab a hold of it and keep the ball rolling in the direction you want it to go in. Say, “Can I meet with you,” or this or that, whatever it is you’re after.

I used to send people a copy of my first book. I’d always try to get as personal as I could. Get the assistant’s name, that kind of thing. Try to form a connection so that at least when your package comes to the office, it might say, “To …” whoever you’re after, “To the bigwig, care of …” and give the specific assistant’s name.

At least you know that assistant will get it and open it and you’ve emailed with that person. You have to do whatever you can do to get yourself noticed or to not be shuffled to the bottom of a huge pile.

Also, you talk about, the more human you are, the harder it is for them to say no. That personal touch that you just described is a great example of that.

Definitely try to form a connection with whoever you can form one with, whether it’s an assistant, or a manager, or a publicist, or whatever.

That’s really what it’s all about, especially in the world of startup founders. Founders need to have a connection with investors because, at the end of the day, when everything else is what it needs to be … You know your numbers, you have a great product, you have proof of concept, all that good stuff, they’re going to invest in people they like and know.

You’ve got to make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward even in how you approach to get the meeting. If their assistant says, “Oh, this guy’s a nightmare,” then the person’s like, “Oh, then if we invest in them, they’re going to be a nightmare to work with.”

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Don’t be rude to anyone, always be pleasant and nice.

Yes. You have to be the kind of person that you are to work with all around. Don’t be rude to anyone, always be pleasant and nice. A little anecdote on being a real person when you can, I get a lot of requests on LinkedIn and I don’t accept any of them from people who don’t put a picture up. I think it’s just a widget to me. If they’re not putting a photo up, they might have something to hide. For all I know, the people with photos, it’s a fake photo, but I know that they’re at least holding themselves out there.

I love that because one of the investors I interviewed said, “Make sure you tell your clients to make sure they’re LinkedIn profile represents them and their brand.” You did such a great job of that on your LinkedIn profile where you have the actual book as your title, as your background picture. It’s not just your profile picture, step it up, people. Have some branding going on on your LinkedIn profile so that when people click on it, especially if you want to connect there, that they know what you stand for.

Yes. People do judge books by their cover.

I’m sure there’s a story there about working with … Were there other titles before Getting There? Or were there other choices of colors that you had to decide?

I liked Getting There. Actually, at one point it was called The Crooked Path because most people don’t have a smooth, steady ascent to the top. Most people have some kind of failures or obstacles they have to overcome. Then that title, The Crooked Path, sounded like it could be about something illegal, the word crooked. Then it got to be The Jagged Path, but I liked Getting There.

I like it too. I also love hearing the back story and that’s what you are able to get so many of these people in your book to open up about the back story. In fact, I remember Anderson Cooper talking about overcoming his fear of taking the first step and that it’s not a linear straight up path to success. You look at his life and you look at his connections and his background and his career and you assume, “What did he have to be afraid of?” But everyone has fears.

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Everybody has a good story. The trick was to get people to be open and talk about it.

That’s what was interesting. When I first started doing the book, I thought that I had to find highly successful people who had a good story. Then I soon realized that all I had to do was go for highly successful people because basically, everybody has a good story. The trick was to get people to be open and talk about it.

The way I did that is that I told everybody to just talk and that I would absolutely send them their essays before publishing and if they wanted to change anything or cut, they could. Almost no one changed … People changed like, “Oh, my daughter, Sarah with an H, not just an A,” or whatever. I had a really good response from the essays.

I love it. One of the people you interviewed of course is Matthew Weiner, the founder, the co-creator, or the creator of Mad Men, one of my favorite shows. He talked about how a lot of artists don’t like, they hide the brush strokes. They want to make it all seem so easy.

For you, you were willing to not hide your brush strokes and say, “I had other titles before I got to Getting There.” There’s a process. The end result is not always the first thing. In the founding world of startups, it’s called pivoting. You keep changing it until you get it just right. Never assume that you’re going to not have to keep evolving the idea and evolving your pitch.

It took Matthew Weiner seven years to get his show, Mad Men, on air. That’s the time from when the script was finished until finally somebody wanted to put it on air. During that seven years, it was being rejected all over Hollywood. He really has an incredible story and he really persevered.

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It took Matthew Weiner seven years to get his show, Mad Men, on air. He really persevered.

One of the things that he says that I love, which might be applicable to this audience is that he says that, “When you get rejected, you should register the fact that the person doesn’t want whatever you’re pitching, but don’t always listen to the reason why.”

He says that a lot of times people would give capricious justification to stop from hurting your feelings. If you go around altering your work or your company, whatever it is, for every rejection, you’re going to be running around trying to please an imaginary audience.

People would say to him, “Yes, I like this. If only Mad Men wasn’t a period piece,” or, “If only it wasn’t this, or if only that,” or whatever. He really stuck to his guns because he really believed in his original vision and it ended up paying off.

I love that. We’re going to tweet that out. When it comes to rejection, don’t always listen to the reason why. Matthew Weiner took seven years before he got his show done and you took five years to get your book done. There’s some similarities of perseverance and action, that’s for sure.

One of the things I love about what Kathy Ireland said to you was a lesson she learned from her father, having a paper route myself when I was a little boy, she said her Dad said, “People expect the paper to be on the driveway. You over deliver and put it on their front porch.” What a great life lesson.

She has an incredible work ethic. She’s another one who is like Anderson Cooper. People like to look at her also and see how gorgeous she is and that she was a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and they like to assume that she probably had everything pretty easy.

Kathy Ireland talks about almost going bankrupt and how she would have to sleep in airports to save money.

Kathy Ireland talks about almost going bankrupt and how she would have to sleep in airports to save money.

She now runs a two billion dollar business called Kathy Ireland Worldwide and she brands over 15,000 products. She failed for years at starting her own brand. It wasn’t easy. She was finally able to launch her own brand with, of all things, a line of socks.

The way that that came about is that she was pregnant and she was offered the big opportunity to model a pair of socks, which was not quite what she was hoping for after being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She said to the guy, “I’ll do it if I can partner with you. If it can be Kathy Ireland Socks and we go into business together.”

That’s how she started her two billion dollar business. Even once it started, it wasn’t easy. Kathy, in her Getting There essay, talks about almost going bankrupt and how she would have to sleep in airports to save money. It was not easy for her.

I love that. Thank you for sharing that Gillian, because I think everyone assumes supermodel, gazillions of millions of dollars. You don’t need to worry about saving money. That’s great.

Let me ask you about Graydon Carter. Having worked at Conde Nast myself, was it at all intimidating interviewing someone who’s such a great editor?

Totally. It was also intimidating interviewing Anderson Cooper because that’s what he does. I had to figure that my questions are as good as anyone else’s and I’m a good representation of the average Joe. If I’m curious about this, my readers will be too. Basically, I wrote it up, the essay, and I gave it to him and he had very few changes. I guess I’m flattered.

That’s a huge compliment because I know he’s known for circling a lot of things with a red pen, like back in school.

Yes. I also photographed everybody, the book has a portrait of each person. That was also intimidating because Vanity Fair is known for its amazing portraits.

Annie Leibovitz, yes.

I was going up against someone who works with Annie Leibovitz every day. He’s happy with his portrait and so am I.

I love what you said to Warren Buffet when he said, “Look, you can’t take my picture,” and you’re like, “It won’t cut into our ten minutes of time even if I have to take a picture of you running away from me.”

I had a ten minute slot with him. To take someone’s portrait and interview them in ten minutes is really a tall order. I knew that to have him in the book, I had to keep up the formula, which was having a portrait of each person along with their interview. I figured, even if it’s one of him pushing me out his door, I’m going to get one.

Do you notice a similarity between Laird Hamilton, obviously an incredible athlete, John Paul DeJoria, incredible entrepreneur who started that wonderful John Paul Mitchell hair care. Are there similarities between successful entrepreneurs, successful athletes that you can see through their story lines from the interviews?

I think that the most common thread between all of the subjects is resilience and determination. It goes back to what we talked about, what I had to channel when I was trying to get people to participate in the book. Nothing is easy. Nothing worth doing is easy.

In order to do something and do it well and do it better than others, you have to really be determined and resilient. You’re going to get knocked down and knocked down and knocked down. Everybody in my book found a way to keep getting up after they got knocked down. That’s Laird Hamilton, that’s John Paul DeJoria. You name it. Everybody has been rejected and had failures and obstacles, but they didn’t let it deter them.

That goes back to the rejections that you experienced, which is you kept saying to yourself, “I am passionate about this. What I have to ask these people is just as valuable as any other person interviewing them.” Your confidence level has to be there so you’re not taking rejection personally and that you have a reason to pick yourself back up. Is that a good summary of what you learned and what you did?

Definitely. Kathy Ireland actually has a quote in her essay that I love. She says, “If you never fail, it means you’re not trying hard enough.” I think that if you can look at failure that way instead of taking it personally and letting it deflate you, if you fail and the next time you do it, you say, “This means I’m doing my job. This means I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m trying hard and I’m going to get back up and get back out there. Try the same thing, try something different, learn from this mistake,” whatever it is.

I think you’re really ahead of the pack if you can look at it that way. Remember that quote. “If you never fail, it means you’re not trying hard enough.”

That’s good feedback. What kinds of challenges did Frank Gehry have, because he’s just so known now for incredible architecture, like the Disney Hall here in Los Angeles. You can’t imagine that anybody would ever reject him, but I’m sure he wasn’t always as successful as he is now.

Absolutely not. He does things a little differently than other people do. He doesn’t fit into a certain mold, especially when he started out and his buildings were different. He wasn’t doing what people thought architects should be doing. On account of that, a lot of his colleagues rejected him and made fun of his work.

He fell in with artists because artists didn’t mind people who did things differently. They embraced that. He had a really tough time. For years, he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Finally, things hit. He has a great story. You’ll enjoy his essay.

Hard to imagine that somebody like Kathy Ireland or Frank Gehry, both facing bankruptcy. Talk about having to pick yourself up. It’s an interesting similar thread there. Talking about Frank finding comfort in the family of artists, you were also able to get Jeff Koons which is again, really someone who has this distinct unique look to his art. It’s not for everybody, but he must have held on to his vision. Do you have anything you can share with us about that essay?

You know what I love? First of all, when he was younger, he worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, selling tickets. He loved art and loved being around art. Basically, the way he got to where he is is that he just never said no to an opportunity to share his work in any way. If someone said, “Do you want …” he’d say yes before they finished their sentence, if it was anything. I think eventually, if you’re out there enough and you’ve got some talent, you’ll be noticed.

That’s a great lesson.

I love that. I love his attitude.

This has been an incredible interview. Thank you for taking so much in depth of how you got these amazing people and what you learned from them. It’s certainly incredible information that our listeners can take with them about if you get rejected, don’t listen to the reason why and change your ideas all the time, resilience and determination, and, if you never fail, it means you’re not trying hard enough.

Those are such valuable life lessons, especially for iconic people who we look at and assume, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be as successful as they are.” You figured out a way to not only show us how to get there, but how you got there, and that is just as valuable. Thank you so much, Gillian.

Thank you.

Before I let you go, I want to see, how can people … Obviously, we’re going to put your book in the show notes for people to click and buy it. They should definitely check out your LinkedIn blogs. Is there any other way for people to follow you on social media or anything like that?

Facebook, I’m on Facebook. You could give my email address, if you want. It’s, if anyone wants to contact me about anything. I have that one for book stuff.

Your Twitter is?


That’s easy enough, isn’t it? Are there any other books that you recommend that inspired you about perseverance and resilience that you want to recommend over and above Getting There?

Nothing above.

In addition to, excuse me.

I’ll go recommend Dorie’s book, Stand Out.

Excellent choice. We’ll put that in the show notes of your episode as well. Thanks again. Be sure, everyone, to get this book. If you want to know how to get there, including how to get in front of the right investors, Getting There is a great road map to do it.

Thank you.

Okay, Bye.


Links Mentioned

Gillian Zoe Segal Website
Gillian Zoe Segal LinkedIn
Gillian Zoe Segal Facebook
Gillian Zoe Segal Twitter
Gillian Zoe Segal Email
Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal
Stand Out by Dorie Clark

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