Tristan arrived at Stanford in 2008, and quickly took in the thriving ecosystem of Silicon Valley that surrounded him. “I was twenty-four and I saw other twenty-four-year-olds not only making millions of dollars but fundamentally changing the world. And I thought, Wow. Why didn’t I know about this place?”
Tristan quickly became not just a student of business but a student of every technological shift taking place around him. He wasn’t what you’d call a geek, but he did geek out over new ideas. And he started seriously geeking out over Twitter, back when the social media platform had a relatively cozy community of five hundred thousand monthly users. Tristan was one of its more active members, but his classmates? “They just didn’t get it,” Tristan said. That is, until a fateful incident with the rapper MC Hammer.
“I was in accounting class, and I remember MC Hammer was supposed to speak on campus,” Tristan explains. “And there was this commotion going on—people wondering if he was actually going to do it. I opened up Twitter, and I just asked MC Hammer, ‘Are you coming?’
“Thirty seconds later he replied back, and I turned around to my fellow classmates, and said, ‘Yes, he’s coming. See?’” Getting a personal reply from a multi-platinum artist? It built Tristan’s confidence in his ability to spot a trend. “At that point, I realized how important Twitter’s part in the innovations within communication were. And it was my first understanding of the way seemingly bad ideas can actually be a good idea. Because everyone else around the table was like, ‘Why are you on Twitter? What’s the point of this thing? I don’t care about what you’re eating for breakfast.’ And that showed me that there was something there that I had to dive into,” Tristan says.
Tristan wasn’t just predicting the power of social media. He was learning a crucial early lesson in trusting his instinct. He has a knack for seeing the open space. Where other people saw “No,” Tristan saw “YES.” And the earlier you can predict a “Yes” in a field of “Nos,” the bigger your opportunity. For Tristan, he wasn’t just an early Twitter user—he wanted to help build the company. So he started cold calling, searching for the closest connection to the company he could find. “I emailed twenty different folks who I knew were either one or two degrees separated from the company. The last person I emailed was David Hornik, because he was a professor at Stanford, and also a partner at August Capital.”
It turns out that David was an old friend of Twitter’s first CEO, Ev Williams. And two days after meeting David in his office, Tristan received an email from Ev, offering him an internship. Remember, this is 2008, and the size of Twitter’s workforce at the time? Twenty employees, total. Tristan spotted the company’s potential not just ahead of his classmates but ahead of the market.
Shortly after his Twitter internship ended, Tristan started his next email campaign, bombarding the founders of a fledgling startup called Foursquare. And again, the CEO, Dennis Crowley, responded.
“I emailed them eight times. The eighth time, Dennis sent me an email—I’ll never forget, this is verbatim—he said, ‘Tristan, you know what? I just may take you up on some of this. Are you ever in New York? Dennis.’ That’s it. I was in LA at the time, and I was sitting on the couch with my wife, and I said, ‘How should I reply to this guy?’ Ten minutes later, I sent him an email and I said, ‘Actually, I was planning on being in New York tomorrow.’ I booked my flight that night, flew out the following morning, hung out with them for a week, and a month later I was running business development for the company.”
The lesson here is not just Tristan’s persistence but his prescience. Some people get lucky, and board a rocket ship by chance. But two rocket ships? That’s no coincidence. That’s a sign you can spot an undervalued idea ahead of your peers. It’s like this spidey sense that just keeps tingling. Tristan has a knack for seeing white space. He says “Yes” when the world is still saying a resounding “No.”
Tristan Walker is now the founder and CEO of Walker & Company, whose flagship product is the Bevel, a single-blade razor designed for coarse or curly hair and whose company is dedicated to designing health and beauty products for people of color