Shakil Khan on Human Capital, Fearlessness

Day two of Pubcon opened with a powerful keynote from Shakil Khan. If you’re not familiar with Shak, hi, where have you been? Also, Shak is the director of special projects at Path and holds the same position at Spotify. He has been instrumental in growing both communities, as well as others, and is a long-time contributor to WebmasterWorld.com. He’s basically a pretty big deal. Much of Shak’s conversation this morning centered on the idea of growing human capital. Not in a creepy way, but in the importance of building strong networks kind of way. Something that Spotify, Path and ALL companies have in common is they have a need to get shit done. And that means having access to an amazing network – Shaq has created that for himself and for the many companies that he works with or serves as an advisor for. Shaq brings the people and his network to whatever project he’s working on. That’s huge. It’s the difference between having a real network…and 40,000 fake Twitter followers. ;) Path is really big in Asia, but no one from the management team had been there. Shaq went and spent four days seeing people on the ground, meeting the local media, and inserting himself into that environment. These are the actions really important to growth. He says he’s able to move a lot quicker than most people. It’s not because he’s an expert that any of this has happened, he says he’s just slightly less ignorant than everyone else. Really, I think it’s because he’s fearless. Shaq will enter situations that others would shy away from because of uncomfortableness. Brett asked Shaq how you develop this fearlessness that he seems to have – is it a personality trait you’re born with, do you cultivate it? Awesomely, Shaq shared a story about when he was a young boy. When Shaq was 9 and his brother was 15, his dad told his older brother he needed to get a job and that Shaq should go with him while he looks for one. But his brother was really shy. So when they came upon a factory that was hiring, Shaq went in, as a 9 year old boy, and asked for the supervisor on his brother’s behalf. Not only did his brother get the job, but they gave Shaq one, as well. They figured that a 9 year old who had the chutzpah to walk into a building and ask for the supervisor was someone they wanted to have around. What all these experiences have taught him is that the worst thing someone can say to you is “no”. Once you can handle that “no”, life becomes so much easier. Most people go through life not wanting to get out of their comfort zone. At this point I’m not sure whether I want to go hug Shaq or just start crying from my seat. Another big theme from Shaq’s talk was about diversifying your traffic and using common sense. Shaq admits that he made his money on the Internet by selling Viagra. They’d get all this search traffic, but it would only convert at certain times. He says you have to overlay data with common sense. Sure, guys were searching for Viagra for laughs with their friends at 2pm, but they weren’t going to purchase it then. They were going to sneak back online at 2am and complete the purchase. The last big point I took from Shaq’s talk was the importance of building a brand. You can no longer run an Internet company without factoring in brand. Right now Shaq works at Spotify, it’s an amazing product but his biggest challenge is taking the product and getting it out to the right people. When they were launching in the US they were careful to give beta invites to the people who could spread the word and who would be passionate about a product like theirs. Marketing is about what happens after the initial spike. Overall, a killer talk from Shaq this morning. I think everyone’s wandering around the expo halls a little more inspired right now. ;)