Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings

Posted on Aug 15, 2011 | 86 comments


50 coffee meetings. It should stick in your head as a metaphor for networking. For getting outside of your comfort zone. For starting relationships today that won’t pay off for a year. It’s the entrepreneur’s equivalent of “10,000 hours.”

Anybody who has spent any time with me in person will be tired of this advice because I give it so frequently. It is a piece of actionable advice that if you put into practice starting next week will start paying dividends in the near future. There’s a direct correlation to your future success.

5 / week = 250 / year. Imagine the human progress you could make with 250 short, relationship-focused meetings.

Here’s why it’s critical:

1. Recruiting. Are you looking for great engineers? Talented brand sales people? A smart young marketing exec? If you wait until you need to fill somebody in a roll you’re losing valuable time as an entrepreneur. You should always have a steady stream of “friend of the firm” hanging around your company. You invite them to cocktail parties. You send them update emails. You don’t have budget for them – not yet. But when you do, you’re ready to go.

You don’t have time in your day to always be interviewing. But here’s the oxymoron – you need to ABR (always be recruiting). How do you make that happen? 50 coffee meetings. If you want to read more about hiring at a startup check out: 1. Attitude over Aptitude and also 2. Hire Fast, Fire Fast.

2. Job Hunting. You’re a candidate. You’re thinking about your next big gig. You want the primo role. Hot company. Senior title. Lots of responsibility. The moment a big job is advertised you’re fawked. Why? Cuz there are 20 people who have the exact qualifications as the job spec will suggest. But they don’t have your hustle, your energy. You won’t land the big jobs unless you’re in there shaping the discussion about what the company needs, convincing them that they need you before they’re even ready to hire.

This takes 50 coffee meetings. You know the drill – “informational interview.” Life is an informational interview. Everything you do applies to this lesson. Yet too many people never do it. They sit and wait for job specs to be posted on job boards. Or whatever the equivalent metaphor is for any other parts of their business.

We take action when we need results. We wait until things are urgent & important. That’s not effective.

And one thing is certain – you can’t look for a job remotely. It doesn’t work precisely because it violates the 50 coffee meeting rule.

3. Relations with journalists to drive better coverage of your business long term? 50 coffee meetings. Help them write other stories. One day they’ll write yours.

4. Raising money from angels and VCs some day? 50 coffee meetings. Turn dots into lines. Don’t listen to people who advise you otherwise. They’re wrong.

5. Understanding customer requirement? 50 coffee meetings. “Get out of the office” says Steve Blank.

6. Are You a VC? Get out of your offices and go have coffee meetings. Preferably at startup HQs. Why do they always need to come to you? Increase your deal flow. 50 coffee meetings. Office hours. JFDI.

I know I’m getting repetitive. It is with great intent. Whatever amount you’re getting out and talking with prospects, customers, employees, recruits, competitors, press, investors, potential investors … it’s never enough. (unless you’re a conference ho … then it’s too much ;-))

For almost everybody else I work with I know that a little more dedication to coffee meetings would have a positive impact. Your biz dev discussion that goes nowhere today will plants seeds in somebody’s mind 18 months from now.

Yet most of us resist the coffee meetings seeing them as a distraction from: shipping our release, refining our business plan, working on our new website, etc. You have to do both. Wake up early. Turn coffee into late-night drinks. Never eat lunch alone.

Go on. Get our of your fraking office and make it happen.

Image courtesy of Fotolia.

  • Jacob

    I completely agree. I say 75.

    Jacob Evans

    PPM.net, CEO

  • http://keithbnowak.com/ Keith B. Nowak

    Meeting people before you need their help is one of the biggest lessons I took away from my first company. I figured I’d call up investors, journalists, potential hires, etc. only when there was something immediate to discuss. It’s the completely the wrong approach. Building relationships – real relationships, not just superficial ones based on selfish motives – is the only way to ultimately get to the end goal of getting people to help you. I’ve applied this approach in every aspect of my personal and professional life since leaning the lesson the hard way.

    Informational meetings are also the most important thing the “business” guy can do early on in a startup. In these early days the engineers are the most valuable people on the team by a longshot and while the business folks can help with product, their biggest contributions will come by getting out of the office to build relationships that may or may not be useful later on. The key is you don’t necessarily know which will pay off. I’ve been surprised many times when people I thought would come through flaked out totally and people I never expected to help out provided to most help.

    On top of all that, I think it’s incredibly fun to meet new people and really listen to and learn from them. Taking informational meetings and just talking about yourself is not worth the time. Take many meetings and listen much more than you talk. It will pay off in ways you cannot currently predict. At least that’s my experience.  

  • http://www.sachinrekhi.com/ Sachin Rekhi

    LOVE this. No one said networking wasn’t without work and the analogy to 10K hours is spot on. It’s those who take this seriously that reap the biggest rewards. Many folks talk about serendipitous ways their network ends up being valuable to them. But believe me, it’s not as serendipitous as you think. It takes real work constantly grooming your network.

    The hard part is prioritizing networking like this against all the other priorities in a startup. My advice, like Mark said, is take a page from Keith Ferrazzi’s book and ‘never eat alone’. I try to do a lot of my networking over lunch, because hey, you gotta eat anyway, so it feels like less of a distraction from everything else.

    I also use ConnectedHQ.com to track my progress. For example, check out this screenshot of my Interaction Summary, which shows every week how many new people I added to my network, met in person, or e-mailed. All tracked automatically without any data entry on my part: http://connectedhq.s3.amazonaws.com/contacts/images/screenshots/interaction_summary.png

  • http://johnbpetersen.tumblr.com John Petersen

    Two things:

    1 – Looking into the future, I can see myself talking to students interested in becoming entrepreneurs and working on startups and saying – “Go and read this post about 50 coffee meetings”

    2 – I will subtly reference this post when asking to meet w/ people from now on – “Let me help you knock out 1 of your 50 coffee meetings :)

  • http://twitter.com/PointComDotCom PointCom

    Grabbing coffee, taking someone out to lunch (professionally speaking, of course) is definitely one of the best ways to use your time. Great post!

  • http://www.atelierpartners.com Lili Balfour

    I dislike networking. I’ve always subscribed to the view that networking
    is just one letter away from not working. So, my new year’s resolution
    this year was to network more. At first it seemed like a pain to go out
    of my way to meet with people, instead of conducting effortless phone
    calls. Once I saw the results, the pain lessened.

    Of the people I’ve met with this year, 50% have made an immediate and
    profound impact on the way I run my company (and my life).   Looking
    back, I know I would not have been able to extract that same knowledge
    over the phone. Meeting in person opens people in a way a phone meeting
    can’t.

    I agree conferences can be a time drain. However, done right conferences
    can be a valuable resource. I’ve gotten into the habit of studying
    attendee / speaker lists and setting up meetings a week prior to the
    event.  I do my “coffee meetings” while I’m there. I set a 20 min limit
    on each intro meeting. If it’s a multi-day conference, follow up
    meetings are a breeze.

  • http://twitter.com/MeetingWave MeetingWave

    Agreed.  It’s why we built http://www.meetingwave.com – get out there and meet new people.

  • http://twitter.com/socialcap Social Capital Inc.

    Good advice–though my only caveat is to be sure you’ve built in enough time to properly prep for & follow-up these meetings.

  • Anonymous

    Will JFDI right away! Great advice. thanks.

  • http://www.aboutonlinedegrees.org study online masters degrees

    Nice Article.

  • Kenselt

    cool idea, I go to my Business Over Breakfast Club every other week and have coffee with 15 people at time and get caught up with others outside of that. I am also be big beliver in lunch meetings and other breakfast meetings. One-on-One meetings are great way to meet lots of people.  Chat Chat Chat thats what I say

  • Steve Shelby

    It’s tough to balance.  When I first started the company four years ago, I would meet with anyone that would invite me, and wasted a lot of time with tier 1 salespeople.  

  • http://www.francis-moran.com Francis Moran

    The only metric I track for my own business development activities is something I call “conversations started.” I define this as any sort of conversation with a previously unknown prospect or influencer in my marketplace. My marketplace is not local, so not many of them are coffee meetings but I think we’re on the same page here. I shoot for 10 a month, and I know that if I hit that target, all will be well.

  • http://twitter.com/wtruffle Whitetruffle

    Absolutely! It can be really difficult to move from the mindset of meeting a need when it becomes urgent to making the time for those 50 coffee meetings. But once it’s done, and you make it a priority to build relationships, finding the people you need when the need arises becomes much easier.

  • http://www.demeterinteractive.com Jesse Bouman

    Great advice Mark.  You free for coffee next week? 

  • http://dissertationtoday.com/writing/uncategorized/the-dissertation-writing-process dissertation writing

    liked it! thanks a lot for sharing!!

  • http://maxua.com Max Ischenko

    About a month ago I decided on a “two customer meetings per week” rule and it could not be better. Great feedback and the energy I get talking to customers is fueling me the whole week. 

    One insight: these meeting often result in completely unexpected things being discussed and done. So even when you can’t “justify” spending all this time on “random” meetings it turns out more useful than expected. Much more useful.

  • http://twitter.com/thp1111 Tony Pappas

    Great article, especially the last 2 paragraphs.  Suggestions for people who are introverted – or for whom initiating social interaction doesn’t come easily?

  • http://technbiz.blogspot.com paramendra

    Sound advice, pithily put. 

  • http://eelsecreto.com El Secreto

    Can really see the difference between those who talk about being entrepreneurs and those who are working on it… Thanks for sharing you experience.

  • http://www.josephwesley.com Joseph Wesley Putnam

    Hi Mark,
    Any chance we could grab coffee? I live in Anaheim and could meet you anywhere in LA. I’d love to do so whenever you have the time. :)Joseph Putnam

  • http://www.vegasstartups.com John

    Great stuff Mark.  Reminds me of something we’re doing in Las Vegas called the @VegasJelly:disqus 
     http://wiki.workatjelly.com/w/page/38951064/Las-Vegas-Jelly  It’s casual co-working for tech entrepreneurs, but I’d say I probably average what amounts to 5 “coffee meetings” each time I attend.  Like you said, it’s building the relationships now that will pay off in a year.
    We’d certainly welcome you to attend next time your in Las Vegas.  Lots of interesting tech activity happening in Las Vegas and we’re just up the I-15 street from you.

  • Suzmcnamee

    So everyone is uncomfortable with networking at first? I guess that will help easing my fears knowing that everyone gets a little nervous doing this stuff

  • nevermind

    Okay, if you’re going to be so smug, tell us HOW to set up these “50 coffee meetings”.

  • http://fourthangle.com Nicklaus

    Clearly, this man is a shill for Starbucks.
    Or a crazy rich genius.
    Possibly both?

  • http://www.aboutventurecapital.com Nate

    Great idea!  The network effect.

  • http://openviewpartners.com/ Brian Zimmerman

    Couldn’t agree more.  The face to face interaction has been lost in this social media frenzy.  Has anyone ever built a worthy business relationship without face time?  I havent.

    B

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    You make an excellent point Ben.

    Sent from my Verizon BlackBerry via BES on XO hosted Outlook.

  • http://twitter.com/AndySack Andy Sack

    Hey Mark, yet again another great post. I have my coffee meetings lined up every week. It is a great way to stay connected and definitely helps with the recruiting and job hunting. Let’s get coffee soon! 

  • http://twitter.com/ManiBodhi Toby Ruckert

    Hehe, nice piece. I often work from cafes and use them all over the world for meeting and made wonderful experiences and connections that way. I’d love to have a coffee meeting with you when I’m in the US in September, http://linkedin.com/in/tobyruckert

  • Abhi

    This may be a stupid question. I completely get (and agree with) the idea of getting “out there” as much as possible. But does the 50 coffees rule mean having 50 meetings with the same person before you see the relationship “pay off”? Surely most people will see it as a waste of their time if you try to meet them 50 times?

  • http://www.omnea.com Alex Murphy

    Mark, you have written some great posts here, I think this may be the best.  Bill Gates said at one point people over estimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what can be done in ten.  This is the same concept but with a focus on the micro.  The world can be changed with just one key meeting a day, one key accomplishment, just one thing every day!

    With taking 100 days off a year, having 1 meeting a day and 1 major item per day.  In 10 years you will have accomplished 2,500 critical things and met with 2,500 people.  That is really killing it.

    Awesome!

    (conference ho – too funny)

  • http://jelpern.blogspot.com Jordan Elpern-Waxman

    I find that an average of 2 “coffees” a day (in my case mostly lunches and drinks) is the right mix b/w meeting folks and getting work done.  The exact number varies w/ workload but I try to keep it around this number.

  • Anonymous

    The concept is excellent, but can be difficult to put into practice.  To put it in concrete terms for my business, when things are going well and the placement orders are flowing, it’s easier to do. When times are hard, I have to squeeze out every ounce of efficiency possible in each day.

    Coffee meetings are awesome–forward looking, strategic, and all. But they can’t be described as “efficient” tactically. The time of the meeting itself might be minor, but the total time spent can really put a cramp in the many other items that are more revenue NOW focused.

    That said…let’s take a coffee meeting. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonbosox Jason Wu

    Great!!

  • http://www.bankaim.com Bank Aim

    Very good point about journalist – One day they’ll write yours (story).