Third Tier Lessons

Third Tier Lessons

Third Tier Lessons

As I write this I’m literally in the bathroom at my hotel in Las Vegas enjoying a quiet moment before another night out with friends and conference goers. I’ll let you guess at the chair I’ve engaged.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article here at the Sparkline about the Third Tier theory of networking and growing more meaningful relationships at conferences. You can find that article here.

I put the theory to work in Las Vegas this weekend for the New Media Expo (NMX). NMX is a real big conference. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was thinking quite a bit about how, specifically, I’d apply the Third Tier stuff this time around.

For a little refresher: again, there are no fk’n tiers. But we behave like there are, paying special attention to those we think are cooler and more important — the Gary Veynerchucks and Chris Brogans and that specimen jackpot of a gene pool that is Lewis Howes (holy god, the facial structure on that guy!).

I remember there was a moment where about 20 of us we’re sitting at a lunch table. Included were some top tier folks like Pat Flynn and Amy Porterfield. There were no plans for the night… yet.

I knew I could spend the next 4 hours trying to be where Pat or Amy were (trying to get around the top-tier action) or I could look at those in my immediate friend group — Caleb, Justin, Michael, Mike, Nathan, Jessica — and make our own plans for a good night.

(More on this good night in a bit… it’s a doosey).

That right there was the Third Tier moment: do we sheepishly hedge our bets, hoping to be at the right place at the right time to hear about the party more important people than myself will be going to?

Or do we say “f’k it,” go all-in on this small and meaningful group of people and invest our night in each others’ company?

I call people who become aware of this tier stuff and actively choose to ignore it “Third Tier People.” We believe friendships always trump follower counts, that someone who is good to have a cocktail or coffee with is worth a thousand successful douche-bags. We go all-in on the third tier.

At a conference like this it can be hard to look back and pin point some favorite moments. I have 3, each of which taught me a thing about how it looks to do this Third Tier thing.

Third Tier Moment 1: Schvitzen-Walkin

After one lunch with some friends I decided to go on a little walk around the delightfully tacky Rio hotel (where the conference was happening). I wanted to do that thing old Italian men do where they walk around slowly and talk about wars or women or gardening… like ya’ do.

I pitched it to some friends and Michael Schechter said he was in. I’m a big fan of this self-labeled “schvitzy jew” of a dude. I could think of no one better to talk gardening with.


(Side Note: I took a bunch of pictures at this event. Michael is blurry in everypicture, like some super-Jewish ragemonster, too molecularly active to take solid form for any single, photo-exposable moment. That’s the guy I went on this walk with.)


Here we are, Michael and I, a couple nobodies walking around where you’re NOTsupposed to be in Las Vegas (outside), reminding each other that we do not have the answers, that we do not fit into the existing bento boxes of blogger/speaker/author types and that, because of those things, it makes sense we’re thrashing around looking for what feels right.

As Michael said, when you’re forging a trail (instead of following one) thrashing is the name of the game.

It was an exceptional conversation; one of my favorites.

The Third Tier is about that conversation… and that friend. We could have been trying to get with MORE people in MORE sexy environments shaking MORE hands and earning MORE followers hoping for MORE famous friends.

We opted instead for more depth, more meaning and a deeper relationship with one another.

People of the Third Tier are blind to status. They see earnest people trying to build things in spite of fear. Third Tier people lean in to those who are still figuring things out and speak a little encouragement there.

Third Tier Moment 2: Cornholing

One night Justin recommended we go to a place called The Golden Spike.

Turns out there’s a whole separate part of Vegas called downtown (or Fremont). It’s about a $20 taxi ride from the strip, but my goodness did I absolutely lovethis part of town. We sent out the group chat to our band of misfit third-tier renegades and we were off.

The Golden Spike was Cool™ — capital “C,” little TM. Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame purchased this place (and a bunch of others in downtown LV) and has turned it into a dream spot for chillout drinks and conversation, complete with a massive set of cornhole boards, pool tables, over-stuffed bean bags, darts and human-sized connect 4.

I walked into this place and hoped to god we wouldn’t have to leave for a long time.


(Side Note: it seemed weird to me that Tony, who knows his food and drink, would create this space and put absolutely NO effort into the cocktail menu and bar talent. My whole time in Vegas I searched the strip for a bar with a decent sweet vermouth for my negroni fetish.

I thought for sure the Golden Spike would have what I wanted. I landed there as hopeful as a dog at the beach only to be greeted by Martini Rossi sweet vermouth and a bartender who asked me “what’s a negroni?” Whatevs. It was still a good time. And they had La Fin du Monde!).


About 2 hours into our time at the Golden Spike, after the food and drink and corn hole, I took a look at our group.

We were at two tables, each table with about 5 people each (basically all people who’d never met each other before), each person at the tables totally engaged, laughing, sometimes telling some seriously vulnerable stories.

In fact, my table was a handful of dads talking about labor of all things. Not “labor” as in the political party in the UK, but “labor” as in OH MY GOD WHATS HAPPENING TO MY WIFE’S BODY!!?!?!?1!?

I’m proud to say the only sexy bits I talked about in Vegas were my wife’s.

I’m also proud to say I was able to talk about my son Rowan who didn’t survive it through labor earlier this year. These men around the table were considerate, caring and honest… the vulnerability they showed back to me was a sweet moment to have at a conference in Vegas.

People of the Third Tier aren’t afraid to get away from the crowds and create their own experiences (even if it means they won’t end up seeing someone famous). They end up finding surprising common ground with one another because they make space for each others’ real lives.

Third Tier Moment 3: Small Connections & Active Voices

Remember that doosey of a night I mentioned above? I was at a long lunch table with a bunch of people, some of them well known folks, all of us wondering what was happening that night.

I felt this decision point. I like Pat Flynn a lot. I want to get to know Amy Porterfield. I want to hang out with John Lee Dumas. These are people that people want to know, and I have the privilege of calling most of them friends.

These folks were down at the far end of the table from me. Around me was the crew I came to NMX with, Nathan, Justin, Mike, Michael, Jessica, Caleb.

It was a Third Tier moment. I knew it. I said as much out loud. Nobody heard it… i talk to myself a lot.

So I looked at my friends — this group of us relatively unknown but hopeful, earnest and caring builders of things — and I said, “I want to get a very good cocktail tonight. You guys in on that?”

“Yes” all around.


A note before I go on: I think there’s a special difference between asking “what’s going on tonight?” and “what do I want to do tonight?” Can you sense the passive vs active directions of those questions? Only one is active. I think this active thing is something Third Tier people learn to do more often.

A second note before I go on: I have the privilege of being close with Pat and John and so many of those well known people. They’re good friends. This story is not about not hanging out with them, but rather choosing to create a moment with a small group of friends when I had the chance.


I met Nathaniel in the halls of NMX earlier. Neither of us had heard of each other but I was surprised and delighted by his knowledge of cocktails and good food. I like that stuff too.

He mentioned a bar you had to text message to get in to. I had experienced this kind of thing in New York before, it was a memorable night. These bars are a little hard to know about, so I knew Nathaniel geeks out about this stuff the same way I do.

So I tag Nathaniel on twitter:

He was on it. We made plans to meet at the front of the Rio at 6:30. I was finally going to get that negroni 🙂

6:30 rolls around and our group of about 7 had tripled. Not only that, but all those well known people at the table came along as well!

Here I was putting together a little cocktail gathering with my friends and Pat Flynn, John Lee Dumas, Greg Hickman, Jason Van Orden and Amy Porterfield choose to join up as well.

What followed was an absolutely epic night.

The specific cocktail bar we wanted was closed but Nathaniel found another called the Vanguard Lounge. I call ahead as we’re shoving our massive group into multiple taxis.

“I’ve got about 25 people coming your way, any chance you can make room for us?” He told me the place was empty, come on down (it was a Monday).

I was in the last taxi with Tom and Arfan (two guys I’d met at the conference) and we arrived to a dark lil’ bar with a bunch of us internet nerds talking in little groups and ordering Moscow Mules (here’s a picture).

I took that picture like a proud papa of a new-born memorable night. It felt great to expose a bunch of new friends to something near and dear to my heart — well crafted cocktails.

So I did what any new dad does: ordered shots. 20 half-shots of Chartreuse green, coming up.


Side note on bartender theory: along with the Third Tier Theory, I have this other theory: if you want great experiences, make friends with the bartenders and baristas… these folks love to tell you where the best stuff is. Quickly, I’ll relay to you my battle-tested process for making friends with bartenders:

  1. Peruse the shelf for Fernet (prnounced fur-nett, not ‘fur-nay’). Order one and ask the bartender if you can buy him/her a shot of fernet as well. (Note: this sequence only works at good cocktail spots. Good ones have Fernet. The bartender’s face when you ask for one is usually a sign about how the rest of this sequence will go. Note: Fernet tastes like peppermint and motor oil.)
  2. Order a negroni. This is a classic Italian cocktail, typically not on the menu, but a well respected one… not one made famous by any TV shows or movies. Bartenders, more often than not, respect this decision.
  3. Close out right then and there and tip well. You’ll put in your card again later if necessary.

From there it’s normally very good vibes with the bartender. You’re not best friends for life, but you’ve gotten through the walls and into an actual relationship with the person behind the bar… these are good people to know.

Why? Because they’ll tell you where to go next.


I got to know Landon at Vanguard and he helped us find the one place with exceptional food that we’d be able to get this many people into. This place just happened to be run by the 11-time world’s best pizza winner… apparently that’s a thing.

After tasting the pizza, I believe it.

At the cocktail bar, on the walk to the pizza place where we were seated in two long tables right next to each other (I had called ahead), during the several hours of standing and drinking at the bar after eating… people kept saying how pumped they were to be there, how glad they were I put this night together.

And it all happened because I wanted a good cocktail and met a guy in the hallways.

It was an amazing night. Everyone was grateful, engaged, smiling. The 1st tier was mingling seamlessly with the 3rd tier and we proved the rule: there are no fucking tiers, only people you can choose to invest in.

Say it if you mean it:

When all’s said and done there are no tiers… only people you can choose to invest in.

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