U.S. Markets closed

Here's the story of how billionaire Mike Bloomberg got his first customer

Julia La Roche

Billionaire entrepreneur Mike Bloomberg shared a brilliant story about how he earned his first customer for his financial media and technology empire, Bloomberg LP.

Bloomberg highlighted the importance of people and building relationships at the Goldman Sachs’ (GS) 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington, D.C.

“No matter how much digital we have, people are what makes businesses. It’s an analog world we live in and we use digital things,” Bloomberg said.

He identified Merrill Lynch as his first target customer. Every morning for about a year, he would stop in a deli and pick up two cups of coffee and two cups of tea to go. In each case, he would buy one of each with milk and one without.

He would then roam the halls of Merrill Lynch.

“I’d see someone sitting in their office, 6:30 or 7 in the morning, reading a newspaper or working. I’d just barge in and say, ‘Excuse me. I’m Mike Bloomberg. I’m trying to build a relationship with Merrill Lynch because I’m trying to sell you a product that I’m building and I bought you a cup of coffee,'” Bloomberg said. “Well, some people didn’t like the fact that I was barging into their office and they would say something stupid like, ‘Well, I only drink tea.’ ‘Ah, I have tea for you!’ ‘I want mine with milk.”

The bottom line is that Bloomberg built relationships.

Bloomberg L.P. founder and CEO Michael Bloomberg poses for a portrait November 2, 1998 in the training room at his offices in New York City. (Photo by Chris Casaburi/Getty Images)

One day, he was in a meeting at Merrill Lynch waiting to hear that they weren’t going to purchase his product. That’s when the chairman of the board walked in and saw Bloomberg.

“He said ‘Hi Mike, how are you?’ I had known him by barging into his office with two cups of coffee and two cups of tea,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg explained to the chairman that he was offering his product to Merrill Lynch to use until they get their internal product going. They could cancel his product after they built their own.

“He said, ‘That’s a great deal. We’ll do that.’ He walked out. True story. Nobody had any idea of how to say, ‘No.'”

Today, the Bloomberg Terminal is one of the most widely-used tools among financial services professionals.

10,000 Small Businesses is a program that aims to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create jobs by providing access to education, capital, and technical assistance. More than 2,200 small business owners attended the summit.

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.