How Coffee Meetings Power Silicon Valley

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Diego Sevilla Ruiz via Compfight

I just had a coffee meeting with a friend in San Francisco today.

Well, he’s not quite a friend, more like a guy I find smart and interesting, who I’d like to stay connected to. We first met when he was working at Twitter and applied to work at Ridejoy. While we mutually decided it wasn’t a good fit, he’s since left Twitter and started freelancing at some cool companies.

In our meeting we talked about how Ridejoy was doing, the value of teaching a Skillshare class, the power of long form writing and the mechanics of freelancing as a marketing/social media person. We finished the meeting without any particular takeaways, but I’m certain that deepening our relationship will pay off greatly in the long term (many times the value of $6 + 1 hour + 3 weeks of scheduling)

I have these kinds of coffee meetings 5-10 times a month and I think it’s one of the magical things about Silicon Valley.

These meetings are an opportunity to meet new people, build existing relationships, get advice, learn insider news/gossip, recruit new members and more. While blogs, forums, social media, phone calls / Skype and meetups can also achieve these things, they are not a replacement for the in-person, one-on-one, casual coffee meeting.

It’s one of the big reasons why startups should really consider moving to Silicon Valley – many of the smartest/ most influential people are here, and you’re going to build the strongest and most worthwhile relationships with them if you can connect in person.

Preferably over coffee.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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    •  @Stammy When you start getting a higher profile (like Stammy has) it becomes necessary to start turning down coffee requests and raise the bar for who you choose to meet with. (I include drinks with you and Akshay the other night as an example of these types of meetings)
       
      There’s a lot of stuff that needs to get done in a startup that is “hands-to-keyboard” but if there isn’t someone in your company getting out into the world and building those relationships, you are losing out.

      •  @jasonshen It’s interesting to see how peoples’ willingness to “grab coffee” varies depending on the social status of each party.  Value of time and value of relationships.

    •  @Stammy This is why I always either do them early in the morning (coffee) or right after work (beers). For me it’s a great way to get start/end the day and it gets me off the computer for a couple hours for some good good, old fashioned human-to-human interaction. 
       
      I totally agree though, you need to be careful with who you have coffee and how ofter you’re doing it — it could end up sucking up a lot of your time without a whole lot of payoff if you’re saying yes to everything that shows up in your inbox. 
       
      Jason — one other think I would say is that the meeting over coffee isn’t just for the tech scene, there just happens to be really awesome people around SF who we have that type of access to. People have been meeting over coffee forever, but Howard Schultz really took it to the next level with his vision of the “third place”. 
       
      “A year later, in 1983, Howard traveled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States. A place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home.” 
       
      More here: http://www.starbucks.com/about-us/our-heritage. 
       
      Love the post thought and I totally agree you on the magic of a good meeting over coffee — I’ve had two this week already and I have another planned for Friday morning. There’s no better way to start the day if you ask me. 
       
       

      • I agree with this – meeting in person is fundamentally different. It’s nice just to get to know people – eventually you’ll be able to help one another out, or maybe not, but the relationships will definitely help shape you in a positive way.
         
        Only part I disagree with is the coffee – fine as coffee meetings are, I definitely prefer over drinks :)

  1. “I’m certain that deepening our relationship will pay off greatly in the long term (many times the value of $6 + 1 hour + 3 weeks of scheduling)”
     
    Reading that gave me the creeps. 
     
    Did you actually just calculate a dollar amount against the value of a human relationship? What are you optimizing for? What could be more valuable than enjoying your life this planet with good and interesting people? 

    •  @VanToai As a startup founder, I have to constantly be evaluating my time. I have financial and social obligations to my investors, cofounders and employees to add as much value as possible to the company – that’s what I’m optimizing for.
       
      I totally agree that developing close relationships with good people is one of the most important things to do in life, but in regards to running my business, networking needs to be weighed against other opportunities (talk to users, work on projects, learn new skills, exercise, sleep, etc)

      •  @jasonshenI can sympathize with your duties and obligations to your shareholders in business. That’s legitimate and there’s no arguing with that point.
         
        But as your post made it seem, this wasn’t business. It was a friendly coffee. You can see where I’m going with this, right? I challenge the idea that human relationships should be optimized against a dollar calculation.
         
        One of the most popular TED Talks in their archive is “The Surprising Science of Happiness” by Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert. A quote from a NYTimes interview [1] of his really serves it up best: 
         
        “We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.
         
        We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy — money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do “wise shopping” for happiness.”
         
        Jason, I respect entrepreneurial hustle. Do what you must. Just be wary the busy trap [2], and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. 
         
        [1] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/science/22conv.html?pagewanted=all
        [2] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

  2. So startups should move to the valley to.. go for coffee? As far as coffee culture goes, I’m sure we have that down here in Europe ;) Zagreb, Vienna, Rome etc. *sips*Now who you go for coffee with, that’s another problem all together :) 

    •  @ivanbrezakbrkan See my last paragraph: It’s one of the big reasons why startups should really consider moving to Silicon Valley – many of the smartest/ most influential people are here, and you’re going to build the strongest and most worthwhile relationships with them if you can connect in person.

  3. This post is the major, core difference between SF and other startup hubs.  People are just down to meet up and grab coffee.  They make a point to make themselves accessible.  Good things.

  4. @spacklr i do a 15-20 a month here. Barely did a few in Seattle. The density of people here is through the roof.

  5. Great article Jason. I do have one question. How do you get coffee meetings with high profile people if you have almost no value to contribute. I’m sure it’s easy for you, since you are a cofounder of a cool startup and a YC alum. What about the aspiring entrepreneurs without no prior network/skills/knowledge? How would you go about hustling if you were in that situation. (maybe make a couple sales call for them, like in the guy in your “How a Business Guy Earned the Opportunity to Co-Found a Tech Startup” article?)
    Any advice would be helpful. Thanks!

    •  @HenryWong Great question – this is all relative. Maybe I can get coffee meetings with some people in tech now because of Ridejoy and YC, but I certainly am not hanging out with Bill Gates or Richard Branson, for instance. It’s a progression.
       
      Focus on being a person of value, respectful and to the point. Ask for a 15 min call about one very specific issue, and grow the relationship for there. Be persistent and willing to reschedule for weeks/months before you get the first connection.

  6. This why it is very important to maintain a welcoming coffee station when meeting with prospective new clients.

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