One of the immortal advices from my ancestor-philosopher Confucius has to do with never underestimating your peers. Confucius says, “When I walk along with two others, from at least one I will be able to learn.” (三人行，必有我师焉. Translated by James Legge.)
More or less on the same note, there is a set phrase in Chinese, derived from the 3rd century classic Records of the Three Kingdoms, which says, “If you have not seen someone for three days, you must look at him/her with a fresh set of eyes.” (士别三日,当刮目相看。)
Confucius’ words and that Chinese phrase came to my mind today when I stumbled on Robin Kassner’s website http://hautpr.com/.
To those who have to ask “who’s Robin Kassner?” I am gonna quote a statement from Robin’s website http://robinkassner.com/ — “…according to Google. Robin Kassner was named one of “the most connected and possibly the most influential people in NYC.”
And simply Google the name “Robin Kassner” and you will see and feel all the buzz she’s generating. But this grandiose persona of Robin Kassner is not the Robin Kassner I came to know some six years ago.
I recall it was around lunch time on an early spring day in 2007. I was browsing through Craigslist “Computer Gigs” classified and stumbled on a desperate plea to fix a contact form on http://hautpr.com/. I emailed the advertiser – a certain Robin Kassner and got all the details. Before I finished my sandwich I jumped on her site and quickly fixed the form. It was not a big deal but not an easy one either – her site back then was hosted somewhere and the form submission could not use real server-side code but had to piggyback on some generic CGI submitter. (This was pre-Web 2.0 days.)
Robin was ecstatic. It turned out she had hired three other coders before me and each one of them screwed up the form into worse shape; by the time I got on it, the form was not even loading.
So long story short, Robin put her money where her mouth was and wanted to reward me. We decided to meet in front of the building, at the corner of 36th and 8th Ave. Robin arrived in a red Mercedes convertible, pulled over, jumped out and handed me an exquisite (and very feminine) envelope with a $100 cash in it. Parking was not allowed on that section of busy street so we did not chat for long, but promised to keep in touch. I vaguely remember I was impressed with what she was wearing, but I regret to say I do not remember the details.
Subsequently, Robin and I had many conversations, all very casual, about each other’s career and life. I was shocked to learn that despite the red Mercedes, she’s actually quite broke. She and I at some point discussed ways to revamp her website. My impression was she was quite determined about her public relations business adventure, but was struggling to get things in gears.
But Robin was Robin. She had an impressive style. She may have discussed bartering services with me instead of paying me to re-do her website, but she was a PR person and maintained her panache and aplomb – the car and her Manhattan apartment, and a quite-spoiled boyfriend at that time.
But that was then. I am looking at Robin with a fresh set of eyes now. I have to say, behind all the façade – the car, apartment and dress – Robin came across to me as someone genuine and, vulnerable (you know, her doling money and love on her then-boyfriend who apparently was being an ass to her, and her struggling hard to blaze a trail in the Big Apple’s PR jungle.)
As of my check today, @RobinKassner has 181,084 followers on Twitter. I clicked on “follow” and made it 181,085. All the best Robin!