Personal networks are a powerful boost to innovation
Networking | Features

The Secret Life of Tea

What A Tale About Tea Shop Revealed About The Might Of Networks

By Claudia Feldman

What A Tale About Tea Shop Revealed About The Might Of Networks

The other day David Karohl found himself completely absorbed in a story about a tea shop.

He was sucked in by the descriptions of the indomitable owner who had to sell because of declining health and the customers who ranged from Rice Business professors to yoga devotees to weary hospital staff.

“Things end,” an ICU nurse and tea lover told writer Claudia Kolker. “People die. But I thought (the tea shop) would go on forever.”

But it wasn’t just the poetry in the story by Kolker, Karohl’s dear friend, that grabbed his attention. He had been a regular at the tea shop himself, and he realized that he knew all the characters in the unfolding drama.

He is close to Connie Lacobie, the woman who is now the former tea shop owner. He is a friend and former business associate of Connie’s husband, Kevin Lacobie. And Karohl saw the story because he was scrolling through Rice Business Wisdom on the internet. He is a proud graduate of Rice Business, Class of 2001, and he knows the Rice professors who used to patronize the shop, too.

“Am I the center of the universe?” Karohl joked in a fan letter to his Rice Business friends. “Thanks for the fond memories of ‘all y’all.’ ”

Karohl is founder and president of My Best Plan, a company that helps clients get the best home electricity plans at the cheapest rates. As an entrepreneur, he knows that the sunny side of every business challenge is a lesson in life.

In 2015, as Connie Lacobie was struggling to find a buyer, the moral was this: In business, love isn’t enough. Prospective buyers weren’t interested in Lacobie’s vision of a nurturing community center for the city’s eccentrics. They cared about what was lacking — big profits and an industrial-sized kitchen.
Karohl knows that his intense, even joyous reaction to the Rice Business story might hold some lesson or kernel of business wisdom, too.

Perhaps his jest about being the center of the universe contains an earnest message about the power of networking. “People are generally pleased to find out they have connections to someone else,” he says. “I play squash, and through the game I can get to an amazingly broad number of people.”

Al Danto, a lecturer in management and entrepreneurship at Rice Business and managing partner of The Danto Group, says Karohl is onto something. Business networking, Danto says, is about relationships: whether it’s employees supporting each another, companies knowing their clients to best serve them or businesses working in tandem with other businesses. Increasing research now shows that employees' personal networks – and the networks of their friends – are powerful boosts to innovation.

“To make things happen, it’s critical to connect the dots,” Danto says.

That explains why Karohl greets friends and strangers with a few simple questions. He pries gently to find out what friends or connections they might have in common and if they’d like to pay less for their electricity.

The simple strategy has fed his growing success.

When Karohl opened his business in 2009, he had little more than an idea. Today he has a staff of five full-time employees, and his company’s software has more than 80,000 lines of custom-written code. Over the years, he’s employed more than 20 interns who have gone on to companies including Google, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft.

Rich soil for more networking.

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