Nikhil believes Twitter is a great way to create real friendships offline; 60-70% of the people he meets these days is through Twitter.
In our conversation, we explore Twitter from all the angles:
Nikhil Krishnan: Twitter has been an amazing tool. I started posting “more seriously on it” five years ago or so when I started at CB Insights. The thing that hooked me on to Twitter is when I tweeted at Fred Wilson when I just started at the company. I was a nobody — I’m still a nobody — but even more of a nobody then. And he responded back with a thoughtful response. I asked something along the lines of “how many pitches do you see a day?”.
He actually responded back and I thought Ohhhhh shit, I can actually reach out to people I could never in a million years thought I could talk to.
From where I am today, I thought this is something I would have to work up really hard to. Twitter lets you short circuit that process if you are a thoughtful person online. That was the catalyst for me.
Then I started to tweet more about things I learned about in tech and I started replying more to people to see if I could get more responses like that. And then eventually I started meeting people from Twitter in the real world. I realized it was a totally different dynamic.
Look, we just met basically through Twitter and we can get close as people since we’ve bantered with each other online. So it’s more than just short circuiting social circles, it’s short circuiting basically how close you can get with people and change how friendships work.
Before I had started using Twitter, I thought of it to post “What sandwich I ate today”. I think most people who don’t invest in Twitter think it’s that or yelling at politics. But Twitter is anything you want it to be, which is what makes it so interesting. Tech Twitter especially is an intimate community — it’s really easy to meet people and learn quickly about a lot of topics, and people are really accepting of cold outreach on Twitter. It’s been an awesome experiment to learn how relationships can be built on the internet through Twitter, how you can learn through Twitter, how you can meet people you never knew you could meet through Twitter. Also it makes you distill your thoughts into something really really crystalized if you are trying to put it online, and that’s been a great exercise for me personally.
Nikhil: I probably meet 60-70% of new people now through Twitter. I probably do 3 coffee/drink/dinner kind of thing per week via Twitter.
Nikhil: It’s a little of both. If it’s a person I think is interesting I will reach out. Sometimes people who just moved to New York reach out. I’m also trying to build an interesting tech community in New York so I’m always happy to chat with people who are trying to crack into the tech scene or New York scene. Or in healthcare — I’m also free and open to talk about that. So yea, a lot of Twitter interactions.
Nikhil: In the beginning, I made a Twitter account in college almost exclusively to follow 50 Cent because he had gone off the rails at this point. I have now deleted all these tweets so don’t go back and find them. While I had that Twitter account, I saw other people posting what they were thinking about and I did the same, like “flaming hot Cheetos are great”. Something no one cares about, whether I’m popular or some random person. I was treating Twitter as this stream of consciousness for me life of the non-interesting thoughts.
Once I started working, I was introduced to tech Twitter which is such a different beast. It’s kind of like the LinkedIn tech people want. Treating it semi-seriously, adding some personality into it. Which is totally different than how I thought about it before.
Nikhil: I think you’ve hit on a point that is actually making Twitter slightly worse. It is becoming a signaling competition. Whenever someone asks me how to get into Twitter, I stress that the less followers someone has, the more interesting they tend to be. Because they have way more to gain to say interesting nuanced thoughts versus someone who already has a lot of followers has kind of done it and says what the masses want to hear.
There are a handful of accounts that say nuanced things and have a lot of followers. There are so many more people who have sub 1,000 or 5,000 followers who tweet very interesting stuff and also tend to be on the front lines of their industry, and they have a different perspective on things. If you’re a VC or CEO of a large company, you have a different perspective how you’re industry works. People with less followers do less of the signaling game to prove they are smart…less flexing.
I think that the long tail accounts are more interesting.
Nikhil: I think I do. It’s funny because on Twitter I’ll get dragged a few times. I ran a newsletter on CBInsights which had 80,000-90,000 subs so I’d get dragged or trolled in my inbox all the time. You have to realize that there will always be haters in some capacity. If you don’t have anyone dragging at all or hating on something, you’re probably not saying enough interesting stuff. Then you’re saying stuff everyone likes… it’s kind of boring.
So yea, I think I have thick skin. No one’s ever been super personally offensive to me and punched me in the face, which would probably be a different story.
Nikhil: I think that’s definitely a big reason among people in my friend group who don’t use Twitter. It’s a combination of thinking they don’t have enough interesting opinions to post online, or if they do have opinions online they will get dragged for it.
My argument is that you have way more upside in putting that online than downside currently. There’s a higher chance you’ll meet interesting people and people will vibe with your thoughts. Unless you’re just posting racist stuff or stuff that’s totally random. If your posting stuff about your industry and it’s nuanced and not outraged, there is a higher chance it will benefit you in the long run then keeping it to yourself.
Nikhil: I still spend a lot of time on Reddit. I’ve definitely spent a lot of time before Twitter. I gravitate towards text based social networks. I’m not on Instagram, Facebook has become…Facebook –I don’t think I need to explain that one — I’m big into Reddit. I’m in quite a few Whatsapp groups with family members, friends, or from college etc. I prefer reading. I was a big Facebook person but it is so mindless.
Everyone has a vice. Facebook and Insta are good for people who are curious about the lives of other people. Twitter is a little more for people curious about the ideas of other people. Twitter has become my vice — everyone has a vice and that’s fine — but it’s become my most productive vice. Most of my vice time is spent on Twitter.
Nikhil: Vice is what you’re doing when you’re wasting time on the internet. When I’m in the bathroom, I’m wasting time on the internet. When I’m on the subway, I’m wasting time on the internet. You can only binge podcast so much.
There’s a time when you want to just mindlessly scroll. If you’re going to choose a place to mindlessly scroll, I think Twitter is more interesting than the rest.
Nikhil: That’s why I consider it the productive vice.
Nikhil: Twitter: if you want to hire me and be your ambassador — hit me up, you know where I am.
Nikhil: On the product side, I’ve been hopeful that they’ve been prioritizing lists. That’d be great because Twitter is great for filtering by topic. If Twitter can figure out how to make better topic filters that don’t require me making separate lists every time thats a huge benefit for everyone. I’m very bullish of Twitter’s product. Everyone was crying about the desktop app — I think it’s fine. It has not changed my life.
For me personally, I want to keep my Twitter game up. Diversify the topics I talk about more. I’ve been on a healthcare binge since I changed companies to a healthcare company. My goal is to encourage more people to contribute to the internet — that’s my overarching belief. I’m trying to demonstrate to other people how valuable Twitter has been to me by colliding my worlds a little bit – to bringing people who I have met only through Twitter with friends I’ve met through everything else — to show them it’s a normalized thing to meet people on the internet first and be friends with them. It’s been beneficial to me.
I’ve been hosting these peer to peer Ted Talks thing every month – it’s got maybe 50% of people that I’ve either met through my Twitter or my newsletter and 50% of people I’ve met in the real world – and trying to make it a more normalized thing. When I tell people “Hey, I’ve met this person through Twitter” I get super weird looks. I’m trying to make that less of a thing, and I think a big part of doing that is building sort of a following online and turning it into a real community.
Nikhil: Normally with friendships you meet someone physically either through a friend of a friend or at work, and then you have banter, see if you like the same things, you might randomly run into them again, and eventually someone will reach out to the other and you’ll hang out one on one and become real friends. That’s pretty inefficient process and limits the kinds of people you can potentially meet.
What’s cool about Twitter or meeting friends online is that you can figure out their interests first and then have banter non-randomly because you see them all the time online. If you think they are interesting, it’s really easy to reach out and meet in person as the next step. In that scenario, you are way more likely to vibe with the person because you already know what they are interested in.
I actually met someone for the first time when I was with two friends – after I left he told them this was the first time we had met in person — and they were like “Oh what the hell I thought you guys were good friends” and the reason is because we shit posted in each others direction enough to have banter and feel comfortable roasting each other that it feels seamless. Now I have many good friends I’ve met through twitter, which I could never have imagined 5 or 6 years ago which is crazy. I think it’s a way better process to meet people.
Nikhil: I’ve been experimenting with a few different ways to build communities to see what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve been building a few healthcare operator Slack channels which are small and intimate – talking about stuff healthcare people face as companies are being building. Smaller cells of communities. I’m thinking about how to build large communities online and turn those into small communities offline.
I’ll be hosting a NY scavenger hunt at the end of August.
I’m trying to do more structured events so it’s easy and not awkward to come.
We recently recreated Hot Ones, where two people do an interview while eating spicier wings. That is super painful by the way, if anyone is considering doing it we should talk because it was an experience. It’s not just eating the wings that hurts. But it was great.
People are looking for a wider range of activities to participate in. Especially around not drinking. How do you create cool events or communities around that?
Nikhil: I’m curious from your perspective with the newsletter — what have you learned as you’ve built it out?
I’m also interested in creating communities that are channel-oriented. As opposed to creating a community around “startups”, I created a Whatsapp group that’s just about Words. It’s friends and people into semantics and words, and we share phrases and words we’ve learned. It’s interesting because it’s an international bunch of people, so sometimes it’s a Spanish phrase, sometimes it’s in english, sometimes it’s an acronym. If you have an interesting word to contribute, you contribute it to Words and we discuss.
Another Whatsapp group is about Food — it’s a bunch of people who are founders of food companies, investors in food companies, or interested in cooking food, etc. So it’s a very dedicated channel to talk about food. What’s interesting is most people in the group have not met — but it doesn’t matter since we talk about food companies, restaurants, etc. and bonding over that shared interest. I like the idea of channels that are super dedicated and you know what you’re getting if you join it.
Nikhil: There’s something interesting about what you’re talking about around creating places of intent – you’re going there to do something specific. Going full circle, this is where Twitter also fails. You don’t know why you’re on Twitter when you first start. Is this a place to follow celebrities? Read the news? Post my thoughts? The answer is all of the above, which is also why it’s so intimidating. If you’re a new user, you come to Twitter and you don’t know why you’re here and there’s no one there to guide me. What’s cool about the stuff you’re talking about — you come to the Whatsapp group and you know exactly why you’re there so you can hone in on what you want to post in there. That’s what I want to do with my newsletter: I ask a question each week; I answer it and post my three favorite answers the next week. You know exactly why you’re there. That’s the difference between a community and a generalized tech platform. You know exactly why you’re a part of the community and how to interact with the community.
Nikhil: There’s definitely a lot more nitty gritty healthcare stuff I could go into. It’s been a great forcing function for me to figure out a way to explain things a regular person could understand. The thing that makes me the happiest when people reach out to me because they want to learn more about healthcare because what I’ve written or tweeted about what want to get more interested in the space. That means that I’ve written in somewhat like simple enough terms that even people not in the industry could understand it. So I’m definitely cognizant about how technical or in-depth I get when I tweet about stuff. But when I respond, I’ll get more technical. If they are in the healthcare industry, I can get into the nitty gritty. That’s how my output changes — if its general audience, I hope everyone may find it interesting, but in conversation I’ll get more technical and specific.
If day 1 on Twitter someone wants to get started, what do you recommend?
Nikhil: Follow me, obviously. Then, following other people you really respect and look at the people they follow and follow them.
Greg: What words do you have muted on Twitter?
Nikhil: Trump, Hillary, I muted Lambda school for a little bit…Sorry Austen. I can’t remember the others but they are all politics related.
Greg: What is your most viral tweet?
Nikhil: I had a tweet about God’s plan the meme and made a Softbank version of it. I really didn’t think much of it when I tweeted it out, but it got posted on some Instagram VC meme account and here we are.
Greg: How did that affect the rest of your day?
Nikhil: I’m going to be really sad if I’m known for that tweet. It was almost a throwaway and now I’m like should I just make a meme account. What am i doing with my life? But it did make me more seriously think about if you add memes into anything it makes things more palatable. Now I add more memes into healthcare stuff. Even though it’s only funny to me 50% of the time, memes are dope.
Greg: What is one feature you have for Twitter?
Nikhil: I would love if Twitter had a mute by topic instead of mute by word. It should be able to figure out with reasonable accuracy what the topic of someone’s tweet is about — and if its explicitly something I don’t care about — like sports or politics in my case — I’d love to be able to mute those.
Greg: Jack, if you are reading/listening: please mute.
If you want to follow Nikhil, follow him at @nikillinit.
Nikhil: Reach out to me with any questions about Twitter or getting involved in the community. I’m always happy to help. I don’t mean that in the meme version, I mean that in the real version.
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