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Let’s Make This Quick

September 15, 2011

Brad Svrluga

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Suster wrote a post on the importance for entrepreneurs of doing A LOT of coffee meetings. One per day, at least, he says, in the interest of nurturing more relationships that might help with recruiting, PR, sales leads, financing, etc. He even goes so far as to say:

Whatever amount you’re getting out and talking with prospects, customers, employees, recruits, competitors, press, investors, potential investors … it’s never enough.

I take his point, and I’m a big follower of his philosophy of never eating lunch alone. As I wrote several months back, I think that electronic communications – especially email – have led American business culture, or at least our corner of it, to do far too little real talking. Good old-fashioned dialogue, I’m quite certain, is still more often than not the best way to resolve tough issues.

But I’d like to propose an important corollary to my plea for conversation and Suster’s Coffee Meeting Manifesto, and that is the importance of keeping those meetings short. In my world, it seems, there is an unwritten assumption that face-to-face meetings should last an hour. That assumption, followed consistently, becomes a colossal waste of time and a barrier to having these all-important conversations.

I’m not sure where this came from, but it’s real, and it’s a problem. In the name of increasing American productivity, people, we must free ourselves of this trap.

I had a meeting the other day with a guy I very much needed to talk to, as we had a somewhat sticky issue we were working through. It was one of those discussions that was clearly going to be more productively handled in person. And so we found a convenient time to get together – to “get coffee,” as all these meetings are now framed.

(ASIDE: There’s some interesting psychology to the whole coffee thing,. . .apparently we are not able to simply get together with people to talk anymore, or to call these things meetings. In our obsessive, multi-tasking world, we have to be doing something else, too. Thank you, Howard Schultz, for supplying us that something else.)

Anyway, I sat down with this guy, we did the standard 3 minutes of catching up, and then cut to the chase. Twelve minutes later we had the answer to the issue in question. We spent a couple more minutes chatting and then, twenty-one minutes after we sat down, we shook hands and left.

It was a model exchange. As expected, doing the meeting face-to-face was a key to its success. We were able to really read each other and understand quickly where we were coming from. We got to the heart of the matter super-efficiently. And then, rather than go through the motions of some misplaced obligation to waste 39, or even 9, more minutes of each other’s time, we gave ourselves permission to close it out.

I think a big part of the reason that people don’t talk as much is that they feel like meetings and real conversations take too long. And very often they do. But that’s not the medium’s fault. It’s about the behavior.

So I’m hereby publicly declaring something that has become my default: any in-person meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, unless there’s a really good reason otherwise. And my goal is to end them early so I can squeeze in a few minutes of calls, emails, or just plain thought, before my next 30 minute slot. For phone calls, the default is 15 minutes.

I encourage you to do the same, and predict that if you do, you will:

  • Feel liberated to do more meetings, which will result in more connections that lead to great hires, customer leads, or other business opportunities.
  • Resolve your stickiest situations more quickly and productively.
  • End up with more time for your “real work.”

Sounds like a winning proposition to me.

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2 Comments

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  1. October 5, 2011

    So how might one make schedule a long-distance coffee meeting? I love this idea and try to work my connections in my city, but what if I want to branch out to bigger fish, bigger cities, bigger contacts outside of my zip code?

    • October 6, 2011

      That’s a tricky one. But like coffees in your own city, I think they need to be arranged by a mutually trusted intermediary. The way i see it, any entrepreneur these days must be able to crack into markets around the world. and to do that, you need to make relationships happen to get you there. LinkedIn gets you started. . .just takes some grit and follow-through to get you there.

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