Q&A With Derek Coburn: The Power of “Word of Mouth”

Meet Derek Coburn, co-founder of cadre with his wife Melanie Coburn, a former Washington Redskins marketing exec. A 13 year veteran of the financial services industry and an owner of the Washington Financial Group, Coburn, specializes as a “connector” by bringing local and national  professionals together, navigating major professional transitions such as job retirements, wealth management and working with foundations and endowments. In his interview with WashingtonExec, Coburn talks about “the big four” of social media, proactive and effective networking, as well as his company’s dive into youtube. You can learn more about Coburn and his methods through his online column in the Washington Business Journal.

WashingtonExec: How would you describe your on-line and off-line brand?

Derek Coburn: The core of my brand, on or offline, is helping people. I have always been a serial connector and when I have a great experience with a person or brand, I become a huge advocate for them. My offline brand involves working with people I like who share in one or more of my passions. Whether it be hosting wine tasting events, playing golf or attending sporting events, I view these common interests as a way to further deepen existing relationships, while meeting new folks in a fun environment. It is very difficult to maintain an online brand in the financial services industry, given all of the compliance. One of the reasons I started cadre was to build a brand where I could utilize all that social media has to offer. We are still learning, but we have established a presence on the big 4 (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube). This has made it easier for us to create WOM (word of mouth) for our members, and hopefully allow them to do the same for us.

WashingtonExec: What is cadre?  How does it work?

Derek Coburn: cadre is a DC-based community for remarkable professionals who are one — decision makers at the top of their respective field of A++ quality and two — more interested in developing relationships by focusing on how they can help their clients and fellow members, as opposed to using self-promotion or pushing their own products or services. We are all about facilitating high-level connections and word of mouth between our members. We currently have 75 members and host eight Un-Networking Lunches per month, which consist of 8-10 members sharing their story with the others. Each month we rotate everyone so they are consistently meeting new folks.  We have also created a private, social network to make it easy for our members to further deepen their relationships with one another. Melanie and I then serve as the members’ accountability partner by providing proactive introductions and follow up to ensure connections and opportunities are being seen all the way through. However, when we ask our members what they like most about cadre, the most frequent response we get is how they can connect and develop relationships exclusively with world-class professionals/marketers/people.

WashingtonExec: How has connecting with the right people helped your career and business?

Derek Coburn: A lot of people look at what we’ve done and seem impressed with how quickly we’ve grown our membership. The idea came to me in November and we were up and running by March, but it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the relationships we had with our founding members, which took years to develop. I’ve always focused on adding value whenever possible for my clients, friends and strategic partners without expecting anything directly in return. I went to 12 people who I had great relationships with and asked for their help in forming the initial core of cadre. cadre is by invitation only and they had to invite folks who fit the criteria I mentioned earlier. cadre is working because of the quality of our members, and bringing 70+ folks together in short order would have been impossible if not for the help of our founding members.

WashingtonExec: How do you use social media to enhance your brand?

Derek Coburn: We’ve used Facebook and Twitter as ways to connect our members who participate with each other and then have everyone collectively share with their respective networks when other members are doing something notable. LinkedIn has been a great way for us to do some proactive marketing. We’ve been able to research great professionals, especially those in industries we are looking to add, to see who within cadre they are connected to. We then have our members reach out to introduce them to us if appropriate. It’s pretty powerful when someone receives emails from three or four members telling them they should get involved. We are just getting started with this, but the early returns have been good.

We have also been collecting video testimonials from our members and recently set up a YouTube channel to showcase all of them. This works well when someone asks what our members think of cadre. We can point them to one url with 10 different perspectives on what we are doing. We have several members who want to contribute to this and our goal is to have a page with 40 or 50 videos in the next month or two.

WashingtonExec: What is something most people don’t know about you?

Derek Coburn: I had only read one book by the time I graduated high school and three by the end of college. I have always been a “numbers” guy and never enjoyed reading or writing until recently. Last year I read 51 books (one short of my goal) and I just starting guest blogging for the Washington Business Journal. I really enjoy learning and always push myself to be better.

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