Last weekend I participated in two investing panels for my friend’s global online fashion conference. Anina is the pretty girl next to me in the picture atop this page. My second panel was the final event of the conference, so Anina and I stayed on the line to talk a bit afterward. She had been up for 72 continuous hours. Oddly, what we discussed were N-95 respirator masks, which are in such short supply thanks to COVID-19.

Anina lives in Beijing and China is starting to get back to work as the country slowly backs-off from its draconian coronavirus shut-down. Some businesses are retooling to address global coronavirus needs and one of those retooled factories is owned by a friend of Anina’s. His garment factory is now making fully certified N-95 respirators with no clear distribution plan. So the factory owner asked Anina for help and she asked me.

Late on a Sunday night with the tech world in shut-down, how long would it take for me to find someone looking for up to five million N-95 masks?

It took 10 minutes.

I reached out to CEO Marc Benioff and to Mark Cuban from the Dallas Mavericks and Shark Tank. I figured that the guy behind the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland would have the right healthcare connections and Cuban — heck — he knows everyone.

Within minutes both men replied. UCSF had already found enough N-95 masks, so Mark Cuban put me in touch with ProjectN95, a just-created national clearinghouse for urgently needed medical equipment. A few minutes more and Anina was working to qualify her friend’s factory for

It’s important to realize what a miracle we accomplished. Normally there are lots of middlemen in Chinese distribution, but in this case, there were none, which meant maximal speed and minimal price. The goods were US FDA certified, too, and the certification could be verified. Anina and her friends actually went to the factory to see the masks produced and to accompany them all the way to the point where they left China. This is important because many goods are counterfeit and many are hijacked or stolen.

We are tech people attempting to function during a pandemic, but what really counted here were personal relationships. Anina knows and trusts the factory owner. Anina and I have known each other for 15 years and I’ve known Marc Benioff and Mark Cuban even longer. We spend billions as a culture trying to build digital versions of such webs of trust, but sometimes it is better to do it the old fashion way.

The first N-95 shipment has departed. Thank you,