At age 24, Gelie Akhenblit found that she highly disliked her job, and set out on a journey to find her true passion.
“I am freakishly in love with networking,” Akhenblit says. And so she made it her career. In 2008, at age 27, Akhenblit founded Networking Phoenix, an online platform for professionals to connect with other professionals and meet at mixers and events. Her self funded startup has boomed into a massive business with 500 events listed monthly, 33,000 members in the Phoenix area, and plans to expand both nationally and globally.
“The whole entrepreneurial endeavor,” Akhenblit explains frankly, “it is brutal. It’s devastating in many ways to your life because you have to give your all. There are many dark times but you learn a lot.” Not just about yourself, but what it is like to dig deep and be an entrepreneur.
Akhenblit is a Russian Jewish refugee from the former Soviet Union. Her parents brought her to the United States at the age of 8. She says her background molded her into the type of person who chases dreams.
“If there is a better option somewhere, anything less than that is not really a choice. My parents didn’t give up their lives to bring me here to be any kind of mediocre.”
When she left that corporate job at the age of 24 to start “networking”, Akhenblit never questioned whether or not it was the right thing to do. She just went for it. “I’ve built my entire life, my professional life, on networking.”
But there is a big difference between networking and really bad promoting, she points out. It is important that people focus on building relationships and friendships instead of just connections.
“The way to be interesting, is to be interested in other people,” she advises. “It’s not about your business card or your company, it’s about you as a person. Your personal brand, your why, and your story is huge. It is networking.”