182: Become a Serendipity Magnet with Noah Graff

Noah Graff is a Machinery Dealer, Vice President, and Treasure Hunter at Graff-Pinkert & Co, a family-owned, 75-year-old firm dedicated to selling great machine tools to the turned parts industry. We discuss why luck is all about connecting the dots, how to become a serendipity magnet, and why weird deals make the most money.

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Become a Serendipity Magnet with Noah Graff

Our guest is Noah Graff, who helps run the Graff Pinkert & Co. machine trading business. And he’s also the host of this Swarfcast podcast. Noah, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s so interesting to be on another podcast. I’m still getting used to it.

Right, it’s different.

Different kind of energy.

The nice thing about being a guest is you just talk and you just get asked questions and the preparation is a lot less than when you’re a host.

That’s true, maybe, but then you don’t get to edit all your screw-ups.

Well, okay, I mean there’s always the dirty laundry somewhere, right? There’s always dirty laundry. So let’s talk about your journey. How do you get into the family business and how do you get into being, as you call it, a treasure hunter in your machinery business and also how you got to host the Swarfcast podcast, which is actually very well edited. I watched a couple of episodes, and I’m kind of jealous of those video edits that you have there.

Well, listen, I got an awesome video editor in Argentina, and he’s really good. I’ll send him to you over to him. So, I am Noah Graff, and I work in a family business called Graff Pinkert. We buy and sell machine tools. For people who don’t know what machine tools are, every machine has to have another machine that makes all the parts that go into that machine, whether it’s a car or an airplane or a syringe. I got into this business through nepotism because it is a family business.

I was, I majored in film in college and my father, he had also started, it used to be a print magazine and then it became a blog called Today’s Machining World. And he lured me in by saying, oh, you know, you could make videos for this. And I started writing articles and getting into a lot of different things. And so I was an editor doing that. And then about 2012 came, and we decided to take the whole thing online. And I decided to go into the family business that was started by my grandfather 80 years ago.

Which is buying a certain kind of machine tool. We go all over the world. I know so many interesting, crazy people from all over the place, finding these machines and buying and selling them. And I started calling myself a treasure hunter because back, a while back when I was starting the business, I was still figuring things out and I was seeing this analyst actually and I was in the middle of making a movie at the time. It was a documentary about all the locations of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in Chicago and I was having to go and search around the city, finding these different places that go into the movie and my psychologist, he says, oh, you know, you’re a treasure hunter.

And that’s what you do for your work. And you know, look, I know you are a coach for people in businesses, and it seems like a lot of what you do is just getting the mental framework together to approach business in a different way. And rather than saying, you know, I buy gross old machines and fix them up and sell them to somebody else, it’s more romantic to say, this is treasure. This is, you don’t know where you’re gonna find it, and you’re not gonna, and you don’t know how you’re gonna find it, and.

So, I might borrow this idea, because actually, I see myself as helping other people to hunt treasures with their businesses. Absolutely. And the treasures are those levers that they can pull on to grow their business faster. So those are the treasure that my clients are hunting and I’m kind of their share part of the treasure hunt. So let’s talk about, it’s a great segment to talk about how you do your treasure hunting because the framework that we talked about before the show, which I thought was fascinating, we recorded 180 episodes and nothing like that ever came up, but we called the Serendipity Strategies Framework. You actually came up with five different strategies to create and to seek out and to manufacture serendipity. So why don’t you share it with our listeners?

I will. First of all, I didn’t make this stuff up. I’ve sort of made it my own, but I read about it in this amazing book. It’s by a guy named Christian Bush. It’s called The Serendipity Mindset. And I interviewed him for my podcast, and that was something really life-changing. Before that, we would talk about the word serendipity in our business because often it was just, you feel like you stumble upon treasure.

You’re talking to one person and then they say something about a machine that is somewhere else and you search your memory banks and you go, oh my God, I’ve made this connection and it’s this magical thing. Because often these machines we sell, you know, okay, so these, just see picture, these are big machines that go into factories. They may be eight feet tall, 10 feet long. I mean, these are big things. But sometimes there’s like a few in the world of this exact machine we’re looking for. So it’s gonna take a little quote-unquote luck sometimes to find the machine.

So we were already using serendipity and even using that word, but then when I listened to this guy’s book and when I interviewed him, it kind of broke it down a little bit more of how this works and how you can even, and we were doing it sort of organically, but how it can be more harnessed to help you in life and in your business. So this guy, he comes from the framework of, hey, you ever know those people that they just seem lucky, you know, oh, they’re in some job, and how the heck did they get there? They got a huge break, they’re lucky, or they got some new product together. But it just seems like this person, they’re always falling into stuff.

There is this definition of luck that, I think it’s preparation, when preparation meets opportunity is where luck meets.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Click To Tweet

Yes, exactly. So he’s got several things that I’ve sort of taken them and made them my own and figured out how to use them in our business. So one thing, and when you hear these, you’ll go, oh, Eureka, yeah, that makes sense. There’s something called serendipity bombs. And this is just where you’re looking for something, you’re wanting something, and you just throw out a whole bunch of, it’s like bombs in football. So say you’re looking for a job, and you know that you’re interested, say, in making films or something. So you’d go and you’d find, say, six people who either might be able to train you or maybe able to give you a job or something, and you write to them and call all of them, even though maybe they’re really long shots. But if you don’t try, you’re never gonna get this luck of finding this one person.

Serendipity bombs are where you're looking for something, you throw out a whole bunch of bombs, and if you don't try, you're never gonna get the luck of finding that one person. Click To Tweet

Well, no, I have to chime in here. So, I did something similar, but not with six, but actually 300. 

Yeah, well, obviously, it’s even better.

Yeah, so in the early 90s, I wanted to get a job with one of the major accounting firms. I was still living behind the Iron Curtain, so to say.

Where are you from, by the way? I’m from Hungary.

Oh, from Hungary, okay. And I wrote to 300 accountants from all around the world in all the English-speaking countries, and I got two responses.


One of them was an interview, and they hired me, and they gave me a job for three years, like a training in London with KPMG. So that was my seventh deputy bomb.

Exactly. So were you lucky? I mean, I guess, but you were only lucky because you made your own luck in that case. Okay, so you’ll think to yourself, okay, that’s obvious, you’re sort of lucky by that. Then there’s some other clever things. One of those things, it kind of blew my mind. He calls it serendipity hooks. So we’re always meeting people. I mean, you’re not always meeting people, but one important aspect of finding luck is being around, being social, meeting people, networking.

So, say you’re at a conference and somebody asks you what you do. You don’t just say, like, if somebody would ask me, what do I do, I’d say, oh, I’m a used machine tool dealer. First of all, they probably don’t even know what a used machine tool dealer is, and they’ll just go, huh, you know? But what I might say instead of that is, well, I’m a used machinery dealer, and I actually have a podcast about manufacturing and the people that are in the business, and I’m also, I’ve always been really into salsa dancing, and I don’t have time for anything because I just had a one-year-old son.

I have a one-year-old son right now. So all of a sudden, you have four things to talk about and you never know what’s gonna strike a chord. Before I had a child, I would always think to myself, ugh, nobody wants to talk about that. Turns out that’s the number one thing where you’ll connect with people. People love to talk about their kids. So that’s definitely, or people don’t know what a machinery dealer is, but then they want it, but they like podcasts, and my podcast, it’s pretty eclectic, it’s a lot of business owners, something like your podcast, and maybe they know something about manufacturing, or maybe they’re just curious about that.

So that’s one thing, and you know, like a practical use, for instance, say you’re in sales, like somebody sends me an email about a machine they see on our website. There’s a machine called a star, okay? And so I have this star, and I’m gonna call them up. Before I call them up, I look on their website and see what other machines do they have. Because it would be great if I had other things to talk about when I call them. So I look and they have some Acmes and some Wickmans, these are other machines we sell. And so now I’m prepared for the call.

And then maybe I’ll go on LinkedIn and look who this person is too. Maybe are they the manager, are they the person in the shop? So then I go and I call them, we talk about the machine they inquired about, and sometimes that machine, they weren’t even interested in that machine. They just were sort of curious about it. And then I say, well, I see on your website you have a whole bunch of Acmes. We have a whole bunch, we just got in. And all of a sudden, you’re talking about something that you could make a lot more money on, because often, I’m sure you’ve done some sales calls, you ever call people and then you say, hey, are you looking for something?

Are you looking for something to buy? Do you have anything to sell? And they usually go, nah, we’re fine. But if you have something interesting that you know that might strike a chord with them and you’re prepared for it, all of a sudden, boom, now you got a conversation and something could get done. So that’s a key thing, that’s one of the most important.

So that’s a good hook, that’s a good Cinebee hook, so you can throw out a couple of hooks, so to say, and let’s see which one bites, whether it’s the kids, whether it’s your job, or whether it’s your salsa dancing. And the bombs is basically just carpet bombing and going, playing the numbers games. And what about the next one? And then we have three more. You had this.

There’s connecting the dots, which is really interesting. So the more people you know, the more chances you have for things to happen. And you know, often these things, they end up combining. One example the other day, so this guy calls me from, he’s in Oklahoma, and he calls me, he makes guns. And he is looking for this machine, it’s called a Tsugami. That’s it. He calls me about this 20 millimeter Tsugami that we had on our site. Turns out, he didn’t even want a 20 millimeter Tsugami.

He wanted a 32 millimeter Tsugami. And of course, I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t actually talked to him, you know? And then I’m thinking to myself, I don’t have this machine, the one that he just asked about. But my friend Randy in California, he did have this machine. I just knew about it, because the other day he was talking to me about this machine, asking if he should get rid of it. And sure enough, call Randy, and he still has the machine, and gives me a really nice discount. I call the guy back, we make a deal.

Now, most deals aren’t that easy, but that’s like a really good example of using all these people in your network. If you didn’t know these people, if you didn’t connect them, like one of my favorite serendipity stories, so, okay, I’m selling this machine that’s in Germany to a guy that’s in Brazil, okay? This dealer named Wolfgang, he hooks me up with this machine, it’s called an Index MS42.

So this is, if you bought one of these machines new, it’d be like $2 million. If you’re buying one from 1999, it was like $200,000. But this guy already had this one model, so he wanted this model. But there’s only a few of them in the world floating around. There’s probably 50 of them in the world. So this guy, Rogerio, in Brazil, he goes and he meets me in Stuttgart. We drive three hours to see this machine. He likes the machine.

And then he says, look, I have to go back to my boss. Can you give me a hold on this machine for a couple days? Tell the guy, oh, can we, and I tell Rogerio, look, he said we can have a hold, but there really are no holds in this business. So you know, right? He goes home, and next day, I call the German guy. I said, do you have the machine still? And he’s, no, we sold it. And I was like, you were supposed to hold it for me. So I’m just lying in bed in Sukkar, and what we usually do is, if I was to go to Europe, we’ll leave like two weeks there or a week there of extra time, because you never know.

Serendipity always seems to happen when you’re traveling and you’re in weird places. So I’m lying in bed and I have this guy in Spain named Javier and I’m just like, alright, screw it. I made a serendipity bomb, I called him on the phone and he says, I said, do you have anything for sale? He says, oh, I actually have this MS-42 for sale from 1999. And I was like, oh my God, alright, I’m getting on the plane, I’m going to Barcelona, which is of course, I mean, no offense to the stick guy, but it’s way better.

Serendipity always seems to happen when you're traveling and you're in weird places. Click To Tweet

So I go to Barcelona, I check out the machines, I call, they’re good. He actually had two for sale. I call up Ruggiero, I said, I’m in Barcelona, you gotta come to Barcelona. He’s, okay, but it’s gonna take me a couple weeks. So I’m like, alright, Javier, hold the machine for me. Holds it for me. I go home, we make a date to go up there. Turned out my wife had just lost her job like the week before, and she’s not feeling very good about it, but of course, she doesn’t have anything to do.

So I’m like, how about we go to Europe and go look at this machine, and then we’ll just go around and travel and look at this machine and we’ll make this deal here. So he came and met us over there, Rogerio met us over there, sold him two machines, made way more money than I was gonna make the first time. And then we’re traveling around and this guy calls while we’re in Europe saying, I’m looking for this other machine, totally weird machine. I knew this guy in Italy, this dealer in Italy, who had this machine, it’s called a Schitta machine, but it was like from the 1980s. And I was like, hey man, I know of this machine. This guy was in Belgium. Flies from Belgium, I’m like, let’s go to Italy.

We go to Italy for a day. We end up selling the machine, making a little bit of scratch. All of a sudden, we call this like our first honeymoon. We hadn’t gotten married yet. Everybody said, oh, well, you didn’t ask her to marry you on this trip? It was like the greatest trip. So this was like, I had so many little dots here. I had Wolfgang, who I had met online, and then that didn’t work, so then I called my other dot here, and then I ended up coming back and everything just connected and converged, and it was like the universe converged. But that came from having a network, and it came from thinking about it. Like, who do I know? Who do I know in Europe while I’m here? Who could help me? So that, was I lucky? I guess.

No, that’s the business. So I was in a very similar business to you in my prior life. I was running an investment banking firm and we were helping business owners to sell their business. And often, the weirdest businesses were the best one to sell.


Because no one, there were no obvious buyer for it, and if you could find one or manufacture one, so sometimes they put together an investor and a manager. We had this automotive business, and I knew about this guy who was a former CEO of a public company, and he retired, and he was bored at home, and I called him up, and he was so excited to get back into the game and he basically fronted the game.

It’s the same with machines. The weird ones are the ones that you make the most money on, the ones that everybody knows about. And I work with a guy named Rex, and he was kind of taking me under his wing when I was starting on, and he was like, the dirty machines are the ones you make the most money on. The dirty machines and the weird machines.

Oh, I get it. So, our time is running short, and I still want us to cover the last two parts of this framework, at the Serendipity Journal and the Serendipity Magnet Affirmation. So, what is the Serendipity Journal about?

Okay, so, you know, to have my serendipity mindset, every night I have a diary where I write down one serendipitous thing, or maybe more, one serendipitous thing that happened to me that day, and I like rack my brain sometimes. Oh, I met so-and-so, and he had a machine that the other person had. Or we made this big mistake. We bought this machine, and we totally shouldn’t have, and now we’re gonna lose money on it, but I’m gonna learn from this mistake.

And then I categorize them, so I’ll be like, this was something bad that turned out to be good, or this was maybe, like yesterday, I was preparing to be on your show, so I was looking through podcasts to listen to from yours, and I found one about getting a virtual assistant. I was going to listen to it this morning, but then I had a baby that wouldn’t be quiet in the car, so I couldn’t listen to it. But I’m going to listen to it on the way home.

And I have a virtual assistant right now, and no offense to him, but he’s just kind of so-so, and I’d really like to learn about it. So that’d be another thing, like, just, I had my eyes open for a new podcast. Sometimes I might just choose a random podcast, type in something, and then something will come up.

So these are all the different things, and I’ll keep a journal, and then the last thing you put in the journal, say you go through the day, and it’s 10 o’clock at night, and you’re trying to write about something serendipity, and you can’t figure out what the heck you found, you can, and this is recommended by the guy who wrote the book, you think of something that you should have done, or could have done, to find the serendipity. Oh, I could have called somebody on the phone. Oh, I could have tried something random and got out of my paradigm. And then you learn and then you can do it.

So, you’re training your mind to look for it and to attract it. It’s a little bit like gratitude, it’s your evening gratitude when you are looking for things that you can be grateful for and just by creating this awareness, you are becoming more grateful and therefore you attract more things like that, that you can be grateful.

That is the hope. I do gratitude in the morning and I hope it does make you feel better.

Okay, so the last one, Serendipity Magnet. This is maybe a good segue.

It’s a perfect segue. It’s a perfect segue because so in the morning I have some rituals. First I do a gratitude list and then I have some affirmations. And one of my affirmations is, I am a serendipity magnet. I create, I see, and I seize opportunities everywhere. So I say that over and over again to myself in the morning. And I think, in the morning I have various affirmations about the various gifts that I have. I’m a good connector with people, I’m a generous person, things that I want to be. And that goes along with it, and does it work? I hope so, maybe some days. If anything else, if nothing else, it makes you feel confident in yourself and get ready to go and rock and roll for that day.

Well, you’ve definitely been very generous with your framework, I think many of the listeners will love this. This is out of the ordinary for us. It’s a very left brain, I think you would call it, right? It’s a left brain type of framework. And I love it. 

Oh, thank you. Well, you ask great questions. Great interview.

Thank you. I try to be not a sensitivity magnet, but a good guest magnet. That’s my affirmation. So if the listeners would like to know more about how to do this, or maybe they have a machine that they are looking to sell, or maybe they’re looking for a particular machine, or all of the above, where should they go and how should they find you?

Thank you, yeah. So if you’re looking for a machine tool, buy or sell, my company is graffpinkert.com, G-R-A-F-F-P-I-N-K-E-R-T. And if you want to check out my podcast, it’s called Swarfcast. It has something to do with our industry, but it’s S-W-A-R-F as in swarf, and then C-A-S-T, Swarfcast. And yeah, I hope you check it out. This great host over here, he has actually checked it out already, which is really awesome. I’m very complimented by that. So, I highly recommend it, and I appreciate you for your time.

Absolutely, it’s been fun, a lot of fun talking to you, and the Swarfcast is a really cool podcast. Check it out. I’m a follower now. Thank you. And also check us out on YouTube. So we are growing our YouTube channel, and there’s lots of shorts now. So we’re creating shorts of older episodes. If you just want the very essence of the episode, the framework from the episode, get a feel for the guest, just go and check out some of our shorts there. So, thank you, Noah, for joining me and have a great day. So thank you, Noah, for joining me and have a great day.

Thank you so much.


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