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.

  • http://readwriteweb.com Marshall Kirkpatrick

    I like it.  I also like the advice to help us journalists write other peoples’ stories ;)

  • http://www.koozai.com Koozai Mike

    Great idea, especially for those who live in the heart of a big city who could do this easily every day for lunch.  There’s also the prospect of new clients, and knowledge sharing across the industry.

  • http://twitter.com/gstrompolos George Strompolos

    Do them all back to back for one hell of a caffeine buzz ;)

  • http://www.brabyn.com Ben Brabyn

    Thanks for this post Mark! Since selling my first business last year I’ve been averaging about 7 meetings per week across a wide spectrum of potential recruits, employers, investors, subject experts and promotional gurus. It’s generating plenty of opportunity plus a great pipeline of people I look forward to working with when the time is right. It has also been the most stimulating year of my life. Your post confirms my belief that it’s a great use of time!

  • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

    I haven’t been doing 5/ week, but even with 1 of these coffees per week, have been able to reach out to enough people in Seattle to notice how it’s changing my thoughts as well as the community’s perception of me. I should start investing more time in networking, thank you for the reminder! Definitely time well spent.

  • http://www.moderninsider.com Ted Sindzinski

    #5 should be one of those lessons pinned to the wall of every company’s best conference room. Can’t count the number of meetings I’ve spent discussing “insights” from “engaging” with customers to blank stares only to realize we were all out of touch… It’s not just day one either. Nice reminded of that fact as I hit the other side of the table myself.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. I’ve been doing that for years. I love journalism so always get a kick out of it.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I do nearly every day!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    1 / week is still 50 / year, which is more than most!

  • marcusellison

    Hi Mark, great post.

    What are your opinions of entrepreneurs holding regular, announced open office hours? What about investors?

  • Mat Tyndall

    I’m only averaging 1 coffee meeting per week, guess I’m slacking. However, if we add beers than it’s 2.

    I’ll be visiting SF next week, 5 coffees is now my goal for the trip.

  • http://resumecvservice.com/ resume writing service

    nice)))) thnks for sharing!

  • http://joeyevoli.com Joe Yevoli

    Great post.  Definitely been trying to do this.  Have had at least two meetings lined up everyday for the past 2 weeks, and have the same going forward.

  • joanna

    It gives u thicker skin too when not everyone wants to have coffee w u. I always get ‘can we do this over this phone’ like it’s a chore or straight versions of no. Sigh. Tough skin!!

  • http://twitter.com/arajanathan Andrew J Rajanathan

    Its very easy to meet new people esp those of us working in a major city

    1) Talking to people at the gym
    2) industry events happen all the time, I’m inundated with events on a weekly basis, can’t go to all of them but even if you went to 1-2 per week and met 1-2 people thats alot over one year as Mark has pointed out
    3) as someone who worked as a journo at the bbc/financial times during university everything journalists is outside the building. the bulk of a journalists day is always spent outside the newsroom b/c the story is never at their desk
    4) asking for referral

    again, always try make suggestions and figure out what journalists are looking for. think 6 degrees of separation, i’m fairly sure most people could find a way to be useful to a journalist. and if you can’t well at least you’ve acquired a new drinking buddy !

  • Anonymous

    Great advice. I have worked from my home for 10+ years.  I try to have a meeting once/week with someone new or an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. I also put out the word that I’ll help any company find the right person at Oracle to pitch their product/service – that helps find me lots of new contacts.

    -XC

  • http://blog.chargebee.com Krish

    I just started doing 2 per week and thought may be I am beginning to over do it. I stand corrected Sir! :-)

  • http://BoxFreeIT.com.au Sholto Macpherson

    Great article, Mark. I made the effort to attend a conference the other day and met customers (readers) who are turning out to be crucial to development, and support. I thought it was just a lucky break but now I understand that putting yourself out there creates those breaks. Thanks again.

  • http://twitter.com/davidpeto davidpeto

    Spot on with this Mark. I spend more time in Starbucks than in the office if I can. The best part is finishing one “meeting” and then bumping into someone you know on the street. Bonus meeting! (Plus a serious addition to an ever increasing coffee addiction when you end up heading back into Starbucks)

  • Anonymous

    I love this post – particularly as someone living in the London, who came here originally as a real outsider (from Botswana). In the UK – even more so, in my experience, than the US – the length of a relationship is a crucial factor in getting things done. When we recently raised an angel round for OneLeap, the UK angels who invested were all people with whom we had 20+ coffee relationships. Some of our US angels, on the other hand, were just a double macchiato or two.

    Coffees, I find, also often present unexpected opportunities for you to help out the people you might ultimately want to ask for a job or investment – making it easier, still, to get stuff done fast when it really counts.

  • http://www.davidblerner.com davidblerner

    great advice as usual… you should also get Schultz on the line and tell him Starbucks should sponsor this post… this will no doubt move the stock price :)

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Hurry and film the obvious commercial

  • http://pivotpointsolutions.net/ andy_mcf

    Best coffee meetings are those where we seek ways to help, rather than be helped… let the good karma flow!

  • http://www.danielsemmens.com Daniel Semmens

    Great idea! Reminds me of post in my Twitter feed yesterday made by @Alexia “Social-Local-Mobile platform that helps you figure out what’s going around you. It’s called LOOKING UP FROM YOUR PHONE.” Rapid and far-reaching communication online is great, but there’s also real value in face-to-face interaction.

  • http://twitter.com/GoodCoffeeCode Chris Arnold

    Stimulating post, as always, Mark. Most people I know frown on ‘latte’ meetings, preferring to have specific agendas. “I might say no, but ask me a straight question”. I worry that 50 coffees might just come across as ‘shooting the breeze’? 

  • http://www.davidblerner.com davidblerner

    50 coffees X 50 journos x 50 VC’s x 50 angels x 1,000 readers (who actually do it)… it adds up…. but wait- I bet Mark will be the first to say very few people will take this advice to heart and actually do it… 

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeppl Pete Meehan

    Mark, and friends on this list, just wondering if we could help facilitate this idea a few steps further…

    Next month we roll out the Cafeppl (“Cafe People”) site, first in NYC and then SF. Limited at first before it spreads.

    The idea? Turning strangers into friends.

    It’s about socializing in coffee shops via Cafespots. It all happens in the spirit of “connecting over coffee”. Example: If you’re in a Starbucks and want to reach out to someone interesting nearby having a coffee, say an investor, entrepreneur or designer, you can.

    For users in a Cafespot, there are 4 “declared” state-of-minds so others can see what’s consuming your brain-cycles. WORK is one realm that fits here in this discussion, the others are LIFE, LOVE & PLAY. In a sense they are ice-breakers too.

    So as I look at your great suggestion for entrepreneurs to spend more time doing coffee meet-ups I’m thinking… this could be something that helps people who want to max out there coffee shop opportunities (book ahead, plan ahead) and it gives our new site some early following too. No harm in that.

    Thoughts? Thanks!

    Pre-release info:
    http://www.cafeppl.com

  • http://twitter.com/dimitri_gnidash Dimitri Gnidash

    Well-put! It is sometimes hard to quantify the value we get from the relationships, but you can’t be successful just staying comfortable in your own little box.

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Ha… this does the quantum leap from two guys shaking hands re money at Starbucks over to me in Cape Girardeau having coffee with 50 + 50 + 50 in 50 locations simultaneously. 

    So if we get a designated time agreeable to all time zones with BCI understanding Natural Language, we can all do coffee from the deck and not wake up the wife…. hmmmm 

  • http://mattreport.com Matt Medeiros

    I do about 50 coffee meetings a week. Probably because I primarily work out of coffee shops ;)

  • Marilyn Byrd

    It’s a little like going to the gym or for a run ….. I may not be in the mood, but I always feel better once I’m there and feel GREAT afterwards! 

  • http://www.salespider.com Terry Ratchet

    “Get out of the office more”  sounds good to me!

  • Anonymous

    The amazing thing about entrepreneurs is they genuinely seem to want to help each other (as long as you’re not going after the same customers). An addition to this idea is seeking out mentors and other thought leaders to help you with your business. For the price of buying their coffee, you can get some amazing ideas. Thanks Mark, really enjoy your articles.

  • http://twitter.com/StevenMilstein Steven Milstein

    As a techie startup, not every challenge can be resolved writing code – like Customer Development (Steve Blank).  Instinctively, going out for coffee seems to align more with Lean’s definition of Waste (“Any human activity that absorbs resources but creates no value”, Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System.) But nothing can be further from the truth. Providing you’re not going out for coffee to listen to yourself pitch, or, drink your own Kool-aid, getting out offers  huge opportunities to save precious time & resources.

    Recently, I started attending a weekly business networking breakfast of 10-15 regulars where we all take turns presenting what we do (Elevator Pitch) & the ideal contact we’d like to make. And while I’m the only Techie Startup, everyone else in the room is pretty much a Startup, whether they’re a Small Medium sized Business (SMB), or, an agent for a larger organization.  Personally, I love presenting/pitching, so I look forward to every meeting where I could tweak & tune my Pitch, hoping it aligns better with the audience’s needs. It’s a lot cheaper to change a 60-second Pitch than to keep cranking out scalable code that customers will may never execute. 

    For those who shy away from presenting, there’s no better place & forgiving audience to practice in front of, week after week.  (Steve Jobs doesn’t wing it.) Going for coffee is not a Waste – it’s a opportunity. Blowing a face-to-face potential stakeholder (employee, business partner, customer) meeting, now that’s a Waste.

    Thanks Mark for drawing those thoughts out of me. I feel a blog post coming on :-)

  • http://twitter.com/StevenMilstein Steven Milstein

    As a techie startup, not every challenge can be resolved writing code – like Customer Development (Steve Blank).  Instinctively, going out for coffee seems to align more with Lean’s definition of Waste (“Any human activity that absorbs resources but creates no value”, Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System.) But nothing can be further from the truth. Providing you’re not going out for coffee to listen to yourself pitch, or, drink your own Kool-aid, getting out offers  huge opportunities to save precious time & resources.

    Recently, I started attending a weekly business networking breakfast of 10-15 regulars where we all take turns presenting what we do (Elevator Pitch) & the ideal contact we’d like to make. And while I’m the only Techie Startup, everyone else in the room is pretty much a Startup, whether they’re a Small Medium sized Business (SMB), or, an agent for a larger organization.  Personally, I love presenting/pitching, so I look forward to every meeting where I could tweak & tune my Pitch, hoping it aligns better with the audience’s needs. It’s a lot cheaper to change a 60-second Pitch than to keep cranking out scalable code that customers will may never execute. 

    For those who shy away from presenting, there’s no better place & forgiving audience to practice in front of, week after week.  (Steve Jobs doesn’t wing it.) Going for coffee is not a Waste – it’s a opportunity. Blowing a face-to-face potential stakeholder (employee, business partner, customer) meeting, now that’s a Waste.

    Thanks Mark for drawing those thoughts out of me. I feel a blog post coming on :-)

  • Andy Wilson

    I totally agree that getting out and building a rich professional business network is absolutely vital to long term success .  As you suggest this needs to be a explicit priority so you can make time in your schedules.  However just as important is triaging these meetings after the fact and figuring out which of these new relationships have the highest potential and then continuing to pursue them with the right level of follow-up.  I realized there was no great way of doing this (tried excel, evernote, salesforce, etc but none did the trick) so went about creating graphight (www.graphight.com).  If you or others find this to be a challenge you should feel free to try our early public beta product . . . and let me know what you think.

  • Ryan Goins

    52cups.com is a great example of the power of this. 

  • Ryan Goins

    That should be www.52cups.tumblr.com

  • Andrew Maguire

    Great article Mark!

    Would love to see a follow up post on how to think strategically about agenda and framing the conversation in each of those meeting buckets!

  • http://wearenytech.com/64-mark-birch-investor-entrepreneur-trader Mark Birch

    Totally agree!  Kind of similar to what I would tell my sales staff…if I see you in the office, there is something wrong.  Then I expanded this to product management and marketing.  Eventually I told everyone that they needed to have “out of the office” time meeting clients, peers, partners, etc.  I believe firmly that you begin to lose perspective when locked into one thing and one environment for too long.  You also lose the benefits of serendipity which has the potential to add so much to growing knowledge, experience, connections and opportunities.

    As an aside, I wrote a post awhile back about what you referenced as the “entrepreneur’s equivalent of 10,000 hours called “10,000 Hours and Entrepreneurship” http://squ.co/oWRi5G and it would be awesome to get your thoughts.

  • http://wearenytech.com/64-mark-birch-investor-entrepreneur-trader Mark Birch

    One last point, I have been using Ohours (http://ohours.org) as an easy way to schedule open times in my week just to meet with people that I do not know.  I highly recommend the service!

  • Marc

    FYI Your link for fotolia is going to squatter site…

  • http://twitter.com/berolz Michael Berolzheimer

    Other than not being in a big city (poor excuse.  Use Skype!), why don’t people do more of this?

    For me, I find that I sometimes slow down the pace of coffee meetings (other than getting kicked out of at least one SF coffee shop for excessive time spent at a seat) because I fall behind on organizing the flow of information provided during the meeting.    As a fellow investor, Mark, I’m curious what systems you use to input and digest that information.

    My own methodology:
     1.  Write down as many personal facts about the individual as possible in a ‘contact’.
     2.  Write THREE opinions / takeaways from the meeting, date those opinions, and input them into Basecamp, GTD, notes, etc.

    Thanks for sharing!

     - Michael Berolzheimer
     @berolz:twitter

  • http://twitter.com/SyedShuttari Syed Shuttari

    yup never eat alone or never drink[coffee] alone, exactly the book written by Keith Ferrazzi.
    I feel social meals/drinks is the trend for the future esp now that we are getting drowned in masses of social networking sites equating to tons of hours online. One question for your Mark why do you prefer coffee instead of lunch? since most of the people are going for lunch anyway and which has a standard time whereas coffee is pretty nonstandard time so need lot of scheduling back and forth in terms of time..whereas when someone asks me for lunch i know it will be mostly between 12-1.
    I asked survey at my site http://www.letslunch.com and less than 5% people gave the same time for coffee..some of them want coffee meetings in the morning some in the late afternoon and surprisingly some in early evening!

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

    This usefully again reminds me of 2 critically important things about how to build business:
    1) From my earliest exposure to being in business way back when, and in, the UK learning about effective Sales and Marketing strategies => “Get out and press the flesh” – meaning, of course, the equivalent of accomplishing 50 coffee meetings or continuous face-to-face networking.
    Because:
    2) People buy from those they trust and they trust those they know: Goes back to the old adage that “It’s not WHAT you know but WHO you know that makes a difference”

    Mark, you never fail to impress in coming up with yet more directly useful stuff, succinctly, clearly expressed in your blogging. What makes your blogging ever more useful is that you also walk the talk thus setting the perfect example for anyone looking for mentorship and sanguine guidance about being an entrepreneur.

  • Anonymous

    Great point Mark. As a former sales guy, I tend to think of things in terms of conversions and what that means for the top of the funnel. I was interning at a VC firm in Silicon Valley and one of my partners once mentioned to me that there’s a 2% chance of going from a qualified meeting to an actual investment. 

    I think for him, his point was that it’s incredibly hard to make an investment. For me, that meant that I needed to meet 50 companies before the end of the internship.

  • http://www.whitetruffle.com alexdeve

    I’m a huge believer of the notion of ABR. It’s so critical for the entrepreneur. I’ve also witnessed that the most successful career moves are the ones folks make after they’ve spent many months/years building relationships. Like ABLFAJ. 

  • http://www.24pagebooks.com MartinEdic

    The only thing I would add is do your homework and have a goal that is mutually beneficial- sharing of information, connections, ideas, war stories, needs and wants. Think about this before you go. I have had coffee meetings with ‘networkers’ who define themselves by how many meetings they do. I now ask point blank why we’re meeting if they don’t get to it themselves. And I’ve received uncomprehending looks and vague answers. Networking is about sharing value, the gift economy so to speak. 
    You have to bring it to get it.

  • http://www.yibish.com Michael Gnanakone

    When asking a VC to coffee, should you tell them, 

    “Let’s go for coffee”

    or

    “Let’s go to coffee I want to ask you XYZ”

    Because I remember you saying you hate being asked out for coffee when you don’t know what they want from you.  

  • http://twitter.com/aaBowlin Austin Bowlin

    This is great advice. It’s also important to note that you are never too young to take this mentality and get out there to meet people. Many individuals are willing to get together for coffee to share what it is they do, have done, and advise you on how to tackle your future goals/desires – especially if you are young. These meetings and potential relationships can be invaluable down the road.