Build A Better Network: The Third Tier Theory

Build A Better Network: The Third Tier Theory

There are people at the top and then there are the rest of us. And most of us in “the rest of us” camp pay special attention to the folks up top.

We follow them around, dream of them noticing us, fantasize about them becoming our best friends.

It’s human nature to see things in binaries like this.

  • Black / white
  • Alive / dead
  • Safe / unsafe
  • Celebs / regulars

But I met a group recently that shattered this whole “worship the people up top” view for me. And it’s changed how I approach conferences, bars and anything social.

At a conference in San Francisco I was in a bar with a handful of some real top-tier legends of of the internet. You probably wouldn’t think they were too special, but to me they were heroes.

I had spent most of that day trying to find out where these celebs were going to be. I wanted to make an impression, to be there with a funny quip or something that would make one of these heroes realize I was cool and they wanted to be my best friend.

After an hour or so of hanging around the edges feeling absolutely lonely and ridiculous I saw a small group behaving strangely.

Instead of orienting themselves outwardly — towards the potential “out there,” towards successful people and opportunities — they oriented themselves towards one another.

They invested in one another. They were interested in one another.

They weren’t looking over each other’s shoulders to see if they could sneak away and get a quick chat with one of the bigwigs. They were talking, listening, laughing at each others’ jokes as if there weren’t any celebrities in the room.

They looked comfortable, at home in their own skin.

Their behavior was so different than the rest of us in the room.

We were being the “rest of us,” worshipping at the altar of whoever was coolest in the room, hanging around the edges in hopes we’ll get our 5 minutes of face time with one of them so we could tell them about our business and they can realize how great we are… how we’re destined to be besties.

And in that moment the Third Tier Theory crystalized in my mind. It applies to conferences, networking events, any situation where there’s a bunch of like-minded people.

There are three tiers of people in environments like these.

The top and the bottom are easy: it’s the celebs (first tier) and the regular folks (third tier).

But most people don’t realize there’s another tier somewhere in the middle there (the second tier).

This crew of friends I saw was clearly on a different level than anyone else in the room… if only by nature of the fact that they were having a better time.

But it went deeper than that. Or, at least, it has become a lot more than that to me.

The Bets

People in the second tier make two bets that inform their behavior.

First, they bet that fame doesn’t matter much. It’s awesome that someone is successful enough to merit notoriety. That’s cool. Let that just be cool. Let them be regular people, people you may or may not get along with, people with their own friends, their own needs, their own lives.

Second, meaningful relationships matter most. I’ve had the chance to get friendly with a few folks who were a celebrities to me. And you know what? Once you get past the specialness of it all you get to ask yourself: “do I actually like this person? Are they my kind of person?” Experiences with those questions cause me to value much higher the people around whom I can be unabashedly myself.

In the face of these two bets I realized how much I was messing up and missing out. You guys, we are surrounded by amazing people! You are one of them. So am I. These are my people. These are your people.

And in my attempts to “meet someone cool” I was missing out on the good stuff — the birth of each others’ first born kids, the project launches, the arduous bug fixing nights, the giggles at breakfast as we recited lines from the previous night’s events, the awkward bathroom bonding moments, snuggles.

When we put too much stock in people who are more successful than us, when we see the world in two tiers — black / white, successful / unsuccessful — we miss out on a better network with deeper, longer-lasting results.

The Point

The astute reader sees there’s only one real difference between the second and third tier: the second tier knows nobody’s special, everyone’s equally awesome, and it’s important to find the people you have the best time with and invest there.

An even more astute reader sees there are no fucking tiers. There’s only people; people all the way down.

But I find the tiers instructive for this one reason: the point is not to “try to be a second tier person.”

The point is to go all in on the third tier. Realize we’re all on the lowest bit of the totem pole. Then say “fuck the totem pole” and invest in people who make you feel like yourself.

See how that’s different than the blasé ‘try to be a better person’ platitude? The platitude says ‘reach higher.’ Going all in on the third tier says, ‘be who you are.’ You’re already there… act like it.

That crew I saw in San Francisco had undergone some kind of transformation. It reminded me of Josh Brolin’s character in Goonies.

He played the older brother who, at the beginning of the movie, hated babysitting his much younger brother’s friends. He resented them for keeping him away from the cool kids (and from the girl he liked).

Josh Brolin Goonies, gettin’ the girlBy the end of the movie, however, after all the hijinks and danger and adventure with the kids, he had changed. He saw how awesome those kids were, how brave and smart and interesting. He loved those kids, loved the adventure. He ends the movie smiling and sincere instead of sniveling and cynical. (And he totally gets the girl).

That’s the kind of transformation we need. Not a platitude, but a realization that these kids we get to hang out with at conferences and cocktail parties are awesome… especially the little asian one with all the gadgets. (Please watch the movie; this is not a racist statement).

Going All In

I implemented this with some friends at the last conference I attended. By the end of the weekend I had educated them all in my little theory about the third tier. I’d chant to them “all in on the third tier, baby!”

They got it. It ended up becoming a little bit of a rally cry for us. It informed how we behaved, how we planned our time, how we invited people into the group.

It was hands down the best conference experience of my life. Hell, it was one of my favorite life experiences in general… complete with epic snuggles and a theme song and a few new life-long friends.

I want to live like the 2nd tier, go all in on the 3rd tier and put my ass on the line for friendships instead of fame.

Go all in on the 3rd tier. Find the people you enjoy. Invest in them. Plan every dinner, lunch, walk, conference, breakfast and hotel choice you can with them, and make the same bet with me. I like our odds.


Live like the 2nd tier—go all in on the 3rd tier and put your ass on the line for friends instead of fame
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More conferencing tips

We mentioned this Third Tier Theory and a bunch of other tips and tricks for getting the most of going to conferences in our most recent podcast episode. Check it out if you haven’t ==> Tips To Make The Most of Conferences (FS032).

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  • Deborah Owen

    Wow, this is pretty profound, actually. Chase, you don’t strike me as a “hang back and wait to be invited wallflower” type of person, but thanks for writing this! I recently completed Scott Dinsmore’s “How to Connect with Anyone” course, and while some of it was about connecting with “influencers” and your “dream connection”, most of it was about how to connect with anyone, how to make everyone’s day. In this post, it sounds like you made the decision that everyone you met, regardless of the tier, was a potential new best friend and awesome connection. Honestly? That is the way I try to go into every social situation, but occasionally we all get stars in our eyes and hope to meet the “influencers” in our lives. I guess that’s OK, as long as our focus remains on looking at everyone as being in the third tier; we’re all “just folks”, right? BTW, I hope to get to meet you guys live and in person next summer at WDS! We’ll all be third-tier influencers together! :-)

    • Chase Reeves

      Thanks Deborah — Looking forward to meeting you as well!

  • Rhonda Hale Warren

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a while (and not just because you referenced Josh Brolin:)) I’ve always seen the tiers, but have intentionally tried to be one of those that don’t recognize them. People are people; each one of us can bring something valuable and unique to the conversation. But it’s hard not to “go with the flow” and worship the 1st tier. I find that “friendraising” is my favorite theory to apply: try to have “to the heart of the matter” conversations and see how many people you can truly connect with. This is a much better way, I’ve found, to live and run a biz. Thanks for the content!

    • Chase Reeves

      “Friendraising.” I like that.

  • Chase Reeves

    Please watch your language, Carole. :)


  • josephjrobison

    Really awesome outlook, I love it! I heard this on some dating advice show once. The girls aren’t attracted to the guys at the bar sitting there with a drink watching who walks in, they’re attracted to people having fun in a group who are social and having fun without caring about what everyone else things. People who are comfortable in their own skin. Nailed it!

  • Kristy Korcz

    You just “get” me. Thanks for the read and the Goonie’s reference. :)

    • Chase Reeves

      I do it all for you, Kristy :)

  • Michael Corley

    Chase, you’re a mad man … and I dig it.

    Probably the reason why I’m signing up to join the legion of fizzlers already inside … well, that and the chance to find out Corbett’s secret negroni drink mix recipe *wink*

    • Chase Reeves

      Oh man… that negroni… oh man… don’t plan on negoing anywhere for a while if you neguzzle that negroni.

      {walks away, ashamed at his dad-level jokes}

  • Tony Jay

    Sweet read, Chase. So who was that 2nd tier group?

    • Chase Reeves

      I’ll tell you sometime, Tony. Find me at the bar at the next event and I’ll give you all the nitty gritty :)

  • Carrie

    This post is brilliant. I am new to Sparkline/ Think Traffic and this just hooked me. I love everything you say in this. I recently have discovered that message to just be who you are and fuck what everyone else thinks. I love it!! This is an awesome post. I hope to one day write like something like this! Thanks. Cant wait to hear more!

    • Chase Reeves

      Awesome, Carrie! Thanks.

  • Munifah Mus

    Such a refreshing article for my morning today! I have always believed that the more humble we are, the higher we’ll rise in most aspects of life. Your weekly articles have become a good friend of mine. Thanks for sharing(:

  • Chris Johnson

    So if I hang out with the mediocritizes I will have teh traffic?

  • Kimberly Crossland

    Amazing points! I think this extends beyond just networking. For example, businesses today shouldn’t focus on only going toward the first tier, big spenders who are certain to pour money into a product they may or may not need. I’ve found that I get the most satisfaction when I work human-to-human, attracting the people I *really* help, rather than just a big name to say I worked with a big name. If you extend your idea about seeking out likeminded folks at conferences, the ones you *really* connect with to seeking out likeminded people with similar values, work ethics, and drive for your business, you’ll build something to be proud of AND something that brings in enough money to put food on the table. Great post Chase!

  • jasonglaspey

    In some circles, they encourage people to have three types of characters in their lives. Older folks who can help and mentor you through life. Peers, people going through the same thing you are and will have empathy and share their tips and tricks and be there to hear you when you need someone, and younger folks who need a mentor that you can help out. I think there’s an obvious parallel from a business perspective.

    As an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for someone who’s made it past the pain and into success. Not because they’re celebrities, but because they’ve made it and can see more clearly from the other side. They make great mentors. I’m also constantly reaching out to people who are in the middle, like I am, of building something and have a million questions and we giggle and fart and talk about how exciting it all is. And I try really hard to make time for folks who are just starting out, have no idea what adventure they’ve even signed up for, and to be a voice to them, to help them get to at least the middle of the game.

    But, I think it’s important to not make heroes out of someone just because they’re known in the tech world. I’ve met a few of those guys and I thought they were total assholes in love with their own status. Fuck those guys. They would be shitty mentors, and expect people to just throw roses at their feet. I’ll find someone who’s quietly built success and follow him.

    Smooches Chase. Love your crazy ass mind.

    • Chase Reeves

      Yea, I think you make a good distinction between “mentors” and “celebrities.”

      The problem I’m addressing here is the latter, and specifically how the “celeb” script in ourselves and our culture causes us to miss out on the Good™.

      The mentor thing… man, Jason, will you be my dad?

  • Rod Knight

    This is the Best article to read before I jump back into the “game”. Having this sort of paradigm shift in thinking is invaluable. The same thought process should be applied to customer/clients also. With the launch of my third venture ( after two successful failures) I am so excited to follow your sage like advice ….
    thanks for the share !!!

  • Chris Johnson

    In all serious, I think you need a mix of people.

  • 1amberb

    Chase, your reflections here remind me so much of C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Inner Ring.” Have you read it?

    Of course, he references army generals and not internet-eurs, but in warning the addressed students about the lure of the “inner ring” (1st tier-ers) he unveils the reality that those who are victorious over the lure (the desire to be in the inner ring), and rather invest in their own interests with people they genuinely enjoy, will inevitably find themselves in their own inner ring. Which, to me, sounds like what you’re exploring with the 3rd & 2nd tier-ers.

    Anyway, I think you might enjoy the read if you’re still noodling on this. It’s in The Weight of Glory essay collection.

    Loved your reflections on this!

    • chasereeves

      Thanks! True story: I was a real big C.S. Lewis fan at one point. Still am, just less zealously.

  • Jason Pockrandt

    I must say how interesting this really is. After talking to Sutton Parks yesterday I began to feel a little like the third tier craving for his lifestyle of being in the middle of the First Tier. Then I think about what you say here and I stop to consider if they are my people and what kind of friendships we could form. Because as you say relationships matter, fame is just an illusion.

    I can speak first hand having my first coaching client become my closest friend who allows me more than ever to go all in. He is who I am and the reason I do what I do. Cheers to Chase at the next cocktail party as you will see me and Adam at the table he will be drinking out of the pitcher and we will be loving the 3rd tier of our lives.

  • Sam Collett

    Great article.

    It’s so important to remember people are people – some of them maybe more well known, some of them maybe nicer, some of them richer. But the fact is – whoever you are – you still shit the same.

  • John Muscarello

    Great Post Chase. I feel that it’s human nature to want to be friends with the big key players in the industry. But it makes more sense to build relationships with people who will help you and be there for you when you need them. The quality of your relationships is what matter the most.

  • Jeff Goins

    I like it. I like it a lot.

  • clare thwaites

    Awesome. :-) Couldn’t agree more :-)

Up Next:

15 Honest Techniques to Meet New People (FS061)

We have all felt lost and lonely in a room full of people. Sweaty hands, awkward voice… what should you say? Who should you approach? How should you do it? Nobody wants to feel like that, but we’ve all felt it.

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