There are two kinds of clubs. The first kind is “official” where the rules of admission are clearly posted and you will know whether you are eligible to get in or not. A country club in your town will be one example of that. The second kind of club is, as you might have guessed, an “unofficial” club. People within the club and people close to the people within the club know that the club exists. Others don't. By the nature of the club, the rules are vague and entry is typically through a strong recommendation from an existing well-respected member of the club.
The unofficial clubs exist in the entertainment industry, venture capital industry, in the Network of Angels, Publishing industry and pretty much everywhere there is an opportunity to make a big influence.
Being in the Silicon Valley, I get to watch many of these clubs -- sometimes from within and sometimes from the sidelines. Some other times, I hear about them from others who are within those clubs.
I am not against these clubs. As people gain power to exert more influence, demands on their time keeps growing. There is no way for them to scale if they don't put restrictions on how and with whom they spend their time. Soon those restrictions become the unwritten rules of the club.
Membership in a club is typically egalitarian and hence the advantages are pretty clear. Expanded reach, access to super high-quality people for brainstorming, extended network, exclusive deals not available outside the club to name a few.
When you are starting, you can’t get an entry to these clubs and you know that NOT belonging to such clubs can be a huge competitive disadvantage for you. You are between a rock and a hard place - you badly want to belong to the club but they (the club members) badly want to keep you away from the club because they don't think you are ready yet.
What can you do to address this dilemma?
In a nutshell, you do everything in your capacity to create something remarkable. Not once but over and over again. If you focus your attention on contribution rather than on getting noticed, you will automatically be or do something that will eventually get noticed.
Here are stories of a few people that showed how to get something done even when the odds were against them, more importantly, even when they didn’t belong to the inner circle of a club.
Salman Khan of Khan Academy is a one-man education army. Rather than worrying about credit or commercial gains, he started recording and releasing videos covering areas ranging from Solving Equations to Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO), the instrument that was one of the stars of the recent financial collapse. It was not one or two videos but hundreds of them. The result 1700+ videos on YouTube now offered under Open Source (BSD) license to anyone who wants to extend and amplify the project.
All of you know JK Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter series of books. She started writing the first Harry Potter book in 1990 and it took years for her to complete it. During these six years, Rowling lost her mother, got divorced from an abusive marriage, struggled as single parent with her young daughter Jessica, went through bouts of depression but never gave up on her dream. She completed the book after six years. Most of the book was written in long hand and later typed in a second hand typewriter. She found a literary agency (Christopher Little Literary Agency) to represent her after initial rejection letters. However, things were not easy even after that. The agency pitched the book to 12 publishers and it got rejected by all twelve of them. Finally in 2007, Bloomsbury picked up the book for an advance of 1500 pounds. The rest is history. No club, no problem - she had a masterpiece and she was willing to give more than seven years of her life to work on it.
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made waves with their independent film The Blair Witch project. With a production budget of less than $25,000, they created a hit independent film called Blair Witch project that won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award. Adding to that, they engaged in some super creative marketing on the Internet (again a low-budget initiative) where they made it look like the film was based on true events. The result: a roaring commercial success that even led to a sequel soon after.
Again, in the above cases, you can see that people didn't have all the resources that you might think were required to reach their goals and dreams. None of them belonged to elite clubs (official or unofficial) but that didn't stop them from pursuing their goals and put in whatever effort was required for the project.
Want more inspiration? You can watch the famous CNBC series How I Made My Millions.
Rajesh Setty is an entrepreneur, author and speaker based in Silicon Valley. You can follow him on his blog at rajeshsetty.com/blog or on Twitter at twitter.com/rajsetty. This article is an excerpt from his upcoming book codenamed “Smart, but stuck!”