Community Stories

How Cal Poly Prepared Me for “Business Lunch”

By Brett Bernstein, Finance, '09


Earlier today I met a colleague for lunch. It was a first meeting with a fellow entrepreneur, and like most of these connections, it came via an email intro from a mutual contact.

Brett meet Alex, Alex meet Brett. You are both cool people working on something cool, thought you two should connect. I’ll let you two take it from here.

From this point, someone inevitably suggested lunch and thus another “Business Lunch” was born. I bring this up because how I prepare for, and act, during these sorts of meetings has been key to my success, and I have Cal Poly to thank for it. Here are five very specific things I learned at Cal Poly that helped me here

  1. Always bring pen and paper to a meeting. This was something I quickly picked up during my time in the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, and I’m amazed how many people don’t follow this practice outside of college. You don’t need to take notes, but being prepared to write things down shows that you value what the other person has to say.
  2. Always end a meeting with the other person talking. I learned this theory from my COMS minor, and it goes back to a few principles of interpersonal communication: Be interested, not interesting; the person asking the questions is driving the conversation;” and “people like to talk about themselves, so let them.”
  3. Bite your tongue. If someone is offering advice or explaining something you already know, that’s fine. Being the “know-it-all” gets you the same amount of friends post-graduation, as it did during school… very few. When you’re in a conversation with someone who is trying to teach you something, listen. The other person already thinks you’re smart if they’re investing the energy to explain a topic. Teaching you something is partially their way of showing you that they are smart. Let them do so.
  4. Jump on the opportunities that often go overlooked. I scored the lead role in a couple cell phone com
    mercials during my sophomore year at Poly. There were flyers for the audition taped up all over campus, yet I was competing with just three guys for the role. When the commercials aired, it resulted in a ton of exposure for me, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I never had to worry about finding a beer pong partner afterwards. Moral of the story: Don’t assume every opportunity has a ton of competition, and take meetings outside your comfort zone.
  5. Learn something interesting. One of my freshman COMS professors turned me on to podcasts way before the mainstream hits like Serial or Radiolab. He used podcasts as a platform for distributing verbal notes, but now it’s a medium that’s deeply engrained in my daily life. Find a few series that you like, and listen to them while commuting, falling asleep, or on walks – you’ll be amazed at the seemingly random information you’ll learn that will be useful in conversations later on — either in meetings or just in casual conversations with anyone.

Brett Bernstein graduated in ’09. He majored in finance, minored in communications, and was an active brother in Delta Sigma Pi. In the six years since college, he sold Natural Cravings, a healthy vending business that he co-founded with another Cal Poly alumnus; spent more than three years at the tech company Box; and is now the founder of Gatsby, a SaaS tool that helps ecommerce brands build and analyze intelligent promotions.

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