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Opinion Editorials

Why “let’s do coffee” is an insulting request

(Business Editorial) You’ve been told by the gurus that you should be sending out mass “let’s do coffee” email requests to influencers, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve been misled.

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let's do coffee

let's do coffee

“Let’s do coffee”

So you’ve been told by Jim that Sally (who is a stranger to you) is really connected and it would be beneficial to know her, so you reach out to Sally who points you in Jeff’s position, and you email Jeff casually suggesting that the two of you do coffee.

The request is seemingly innocuous, in fact, you’ve probably been to a dozen seminars where gurus tell you to grab coffee with as many people as possible. You’ve been told that it’s the golden ticket to advance your business.

Wrong.

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What the gurus advised you is true – getting coffee with an “influencer” can certainly advance your career. Your career. Yours. Your career. What a one-sided concept.

So offer to buy the coffee, right?

Let’s say you’re trying to be generous instead of selfish, so you offer to buy your new contact whatever coffee drink they want. That makes up for the lopsided relationship before it is ever even initiated, right?

Wrong.

My husband and I get these emails all the time, and we’re fortunate enough to host a monthly networking event that we can funnel people into instead of falling into the “let’s do coffee” trap on a daily basis, but most people aren’t that lucky.

Most people are faced with a choice, a choice you’re forcing them to make. Do they politely decline and crush your dreams of coffee talk, do they accept based on a pre-determined set of criteria, or do they blindly accept all invitations? And how many invitations do you think they get in a week? The more influential the person is, the more “let’s do coffee” emails they get and are forced to sound rude for rejecting people.

What’s the solution?

Consider this – each time you ask someone to coffee, they not only have to spend the time crafting a response, but they must take the time to look at their schedule and offer you times, then do the email dance of “where do we meet?” and usually, it’s in the middle out of politeness. Then, when coffee day arrives, you’re asking them to stop their work day, get in their car, drive to the mid-point, chat with you about your needs, drive back to work, and one to three hours later, you’re asking them to try to find their focus at work again.

What a huge investment. For what? The chance to be your stepping stone?

There is a solution. Instead of making influencers the bad guy and insulting their value by putting them into a win-lose proposition, invite them to a networking event. Better yet, find out via their social networks what events they already attend and reach out to see if they’d be willing to connect there.

Meeting influencers where they gather is not only a more considerate way to connect, but you may actually win favor by mentioning you aren’t looking to impose on their day, rather connect to see if there is any commonalities between you, given how many people have recommended that you two connect.

From now on, thou shalt not send out endless “let’s do coffee” invites. You make people feel like the bad guy because they have a legitimate job to tend to, and meeting them where they gather is a much more considerate (and potentially memorable) move.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ricci Neer

    June 24, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Agreed!

  2. Tinu

    June 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    My policy is, if there’s even the smallest chance that I will one day want a favor, I do at least two favors first. A favor can be as small as a retweet or as big as buying a round of drinks after a networking event.

    And I do it for the pleasure of it with people I like. That way if it turns out to yield nothing professionally, I file it under friendship.

    I also reject all requests from strangers and just let them know, it’s not personal, it’s my policy. I book appointments with clients a week in advance and I can’t afford to make them wait or reschedule the people who are paying me just because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

    If they think it’s rude that’s their problem. If you want my attention, provide value first.

  3. bobledrew

    June 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I’m happy to meet up with people for coffee (especially when they buy) for a couple of reasons.

    When I was fresh out of university, I was in a bit of a state of limbo. 21, ditched a plan to go to grad school, living in a community with a 25% unemployment rate. I literally walked into our local CBC radio station (like the BBC, but Canadian) and said “I’d like to learn how to do radio. Can someone help me?” Someone did, and that changed everything.

    Since then, I have felt a moral obligation to respond when someone reaches out. I like the idea that I could be a stepping stone for someone, or maybe more accurately, to link my hands and maybe give them a boost over a wall.

    I also believe that the law of averages suggests that when I do that enough, someone will do the same for me.

    That being said, there’s a line, and here’s when I draw that line — if I feel like I’m being “pumped” for knowledge or skills that I should be rightfully paid for, I find a way to say no thanks. At one point, someone essentially suggested to me that I could meet up with them every week and teach them about social media in exchange for them buying. That was a no. Also, while I am happy to pursue a long sales funnel, I am not going to have endless dithering coffees with people who just can’t pull the trigger. At some point, if there’s work to be done, you have to s**t or get off the pot.

    I think the insult in the request for a coffee is this: if someone asks me for a coffee, they’re imposing themselves on me. If you follow up that imposition with: being late, taking way longer than promised, a noshow, a blatant and unanticipated sales pitch… that’s insulting.

    On the other hand, if you contact me and ask for 30 minutes to talk about what’s happening in the city re: social media jobs, show up on time, take 30 minutes, and pay for my coffee, you have respected me and my time.

    • Dennis "DenVan" VanStaalduinen

      June 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Hey Bob, you are an awesome influencer and I totally agree with everything you said here, but let’s not grab coffee. Your time is too valuable. Beer is better.

  4. David Holmes

    June 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I’ve never turned down a request like this and have always gotten something out of such meetings; from a renewed energy to different perspectives or valuable intelligence.

    When I started doing some new things and needed to request a few meetings of my own, I was astonished that the rest of the world doesn’t see things the way I do.

  5. jmacofearth

    June 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Great point. I found myself at a coffee ‘date’ a few weeks ago with a friend of a friend who was sure to have a business deal in the works and could use my expertise. I took the coffee date, but had bought my own beverage long before the gentleman arrived.

    He picked my brain for an hour. I explained how we could work together. And Poof he’s gone and my afternoon had a 2 hour bill-less hole in it.

    Okay, next time, I’m gonna MAKE him send me the “pitch” or idea first, IF I want to invest the time in a business prospect.

    Love the post. Thanks.

  6. Hank Miller

    June 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Amen. I don’t do coffee or lunch or dinner….or golf…..

    Best case, email me what you want to discuss I’ll review it and email you back. Failing that, YOU come to my office (bring coffee) and pitch me.

    There’s not a coffee around worth the lost hours “meeting” for this.

  7. It Will Never Be Right

    June 25, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Perhaps this is a trend below the 50-ish group of professionals. The offer to “do coffee,” much less that type of jargon, is not part of my profession. I’m a sole proprietor, a consultant in a specialized area of software expertise, and people are usually asking me to come to them. But not for coffee. Too time consuming, and simply not interested.

  8. LiveFromATX

    June 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    There’s obviously a line at which these requests may become too numerous and imposing, but I am against painting them all with the same brush as disrespectful and selfish across the board. Whatever happened to “influencers” using their influence for good, to give younger professionals a bit of advice or mentorship? Or someone established in a specific industry giving some pointers to someone trying to switch careers? I’ve received some of these requests, and I’ve always responded – yes or no – depending on the situation and how I was approached, and I’ve also sent out some of these requests, and have been greatly disappointed when they was simply ignored. Why not handle each one on a case by case basis? The attitude suggested by the author of this piece is reminiscent of Kelly Blazek’s now-infamous LinkedIn diss of an advice seeker, because she was too high and mighty to bother with little plebes.

  9. Scott Langmack

    June 28, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Yikes, the article approaches getting coffee in a way that strips humans of humanity. Instead, define coffee in three different contexts – someone you know, someone you can get a quality introduction to, and someone you don’t know. If you know them, the coffee request is fine. Humans are social animals, tens of thousands of years of community-based instincts is why successful people want to help others they know, and they are flattered when asked. The issue is if you don’t know someone, asking for time/coffee is intrusive. I coach people to have their mutual connection ask their friend to meet, so the favor is split between the asker and the coffee meeting requestor. People have a natural sense of their social capital with others, and wont agree to make the intro if there is not a perceived benefit for both parties in the meeting. Remember that senuir executives are primarily human brokers, they spend the vast majority of their time finding, training, placing, firing, and referring people. When you want to move your career ahead, meet with human brokers who know you or have a strong social connection to you. As far as “blind” requests for coffee, skip it – there is no social contract for the person to accept the meeting or help you if they do.

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Opinion Editorials

Ban cryptocurrency posts on Medium? How far is too far?

(EDITORIAL) With Facebook nixing all cryptocurrency ads, others ponder where else the hoaxes should be policed. But at some point, this all becomes censorship…

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I’ll be frank. I don’t understand the cryptocurrency industry, but I do understand content.

Ed Dunn believes that Medium should ban stories about cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings.

Facebook has just banned all ads about these things, whether the advertiser is a legal business or not. Some are calling this censorship, but I think it deserves a bigger discussion. Advertising is a much different animal than providing content on Medium.

What is Medium?

Medium is a private company that offers social journalism (read: it’s a blog platform). Amateurs and professionals are allowed to post on the platform, provided the content is within the terms and conditions.

Here are two pieces of the terms that I find relevant to this discussion:

(1) You’re responsible for the content you post. This means you assume all risks related to it, including someone else’s reliance on its accuracy, or claims relating to intellectual property or other legal rights.

(2) We can remove any content you post for any reason.

Medium makes it quite clear that they can and will censor your posts.

Generally, when I think of censorship, it relates to the government banning speech or public communication under the First Amendment. When the government attempts to suppress speech or communication, it is clearly against the law. This distinction is important in any discussion about censorship.

Medium is a private company, (as is Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Medium clearly has the right to remove any content, because that’s what the writer signed up for when they posted a piece. The question isn’t whether they can remove articles on cryptocurrency, but whether they should.

I firmly believe that platforms like Medium should have guidelines in place to prevent unethical hucksters from profiting. But on the other hand, how would that be practical? Who determines what is hype and what is mis-information? How does an algorithm account for an honest opinion versus someone who is using click bait to draw traffic?

If Medium bans all discussion on cryptocurrency, it effectively shuts down genuine writers who are working to understand and explain the market. The conversation shouldn’t be shut down, but there could be some kind of action taken to help the general public know what is legitimate and what isn’t (like a flagging mechanism other platforms already utilize).

This debate isn’t about a private company and how it deals with free speech. The conversation needs to start with how people can find authentic information in a world where anyone can say anything and have it shared in just a few seconds. It’s the loudest voices that get heard in platforms like Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, not the most reliable. In a Utopian world, that is how we would collectively enact change.

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Opinion Editorials

Sexist Doritos for ladies won’t hit shelves, PepsiCo’s response is baffling

(EDITORIAL) Doritos hinted at lady-friendly chips, the internet lost their minds, and we want to talk about the recent history for context (and their odd response to the whole thing).

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If you’re not convinced that we live in a sexist society, take a look at some of the products that are totally unnecessarily marketed towards women and girls. Although still reinforcing an arbitrary gender binary, companies can be somewhat forgiven for aiming their marketing of sex-specific products, like tampons, towards women. (Not that tampon ads are unproblematic, and not that women are the only people managing menstrual blood — but that’s another article.)

It’s when they start pumping out pink versions of products that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s between your legs that our society’s totally whack notions of femininity are revealed. Take for example, hand tools. Even if you’re banking on the notion that women are, generally speaking, smaller than men, the usefulness of a teeny-tiny, pink-handled hammer for whacking anything larger than a thumbtack is questionable. And don’t get me started on Bic’s Pens for Her. As a literate, college-educated woman, I’ve always had such a hard time using pens to write, until now! – said no one, ever.

Here’s the latest: some genius bros at PepsiCo are getting ready to launch a “lady-friendly” chip. According to their “research,” a quieter, less messy chip is more appropriate for the fairer sex. Global chief executive Indra Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio, “Although women would love to crunch loudly, lick their fingers and pour crumbs from the bag into their mouths afterwards, they prefer not to do this in public.”

Lady-Doritos will be less crunchy (‘cause everyone wants a soggier chip, am I right?) and will come in a smaller, handbag-sized package. No word yet whether or not women will get a discount for the reduced volume, or whether we’ll still pay the same price as our male counterparts with their giant man-bags of extra crunchy chips.

In the midst of a massive, cross-industry callout of sexual misconduct towards women, women fighting for equal pay, a conservative political backlash against reproductive rights, these bogusly gendered not-so-crunchy snacks are hardly the most misogynistic thing happening in America right now.

Nonetheless, it’s important to point out that products like this are a result of, and contribute towards perpetuating, the same gender stereotypes that underlie these more serious problems.

When we make diminutive tools for women we are telling them: you are smaller, your work is smaller, and you can’t or don’t need to do the same kinds of work as men.

When we make “pens for her” we are telling women: you are not competent like a man, you need a special tool to do the most basic of tasks. And when we make foods for women that are “skinny,” “guilt-free,” or less-crunchy we are telling women: you should be ashamed to eat, because the thinness of your body and the daintiness of your manners is what’s important about you.

Nooyi’s comments are especially problematic, juxtaposing how women would like to behave with what kind of behavior is appropriate in public.

The idea that certain female behaviors are not appropriate in the public sphere has a long history of justifying sexist ideas and even laws. Women have had a long, hard fight to be able to participate equally in the public sphere, whether it be working, getting an education, or voting. Apparently women have to defy their designated role just to enjoy a crunchy snack outside of their own home. (By the way, in true feminist fashion, Texas National Organization for Women is hosting a women’s public chip picnic at the state Capitol later this month.)

After the internet lost their minds over this, PepsiCo told ABC News, “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate. We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

They say these chips will never hit shelves, they were just pondering product lines – their scrambling to rewrite history is confusing at best.

It’s enough to make a girl want to eat her feelings.

I could really go for a crunchy snack right about now. And I fully intend to lick all of the crumbs off of my fingertips – if I can find a brand that isn’t owned by PepsiCo.

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Opinion Editorials

Still no growth in the volume of VC-backed female entrepreneurs

(EDITORIAL) Although there is much ado about improving diversity in tech, the funding world may be all hat, no cattle, especially when it comes to female entrepreneurs.

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When we look back at 2017, we may very well end up describing it as a watershed year for women in the workplace. Despite years of progress, women still have to put up with pay gaps, misogynist cultures, and sexually coercive environments to make a living. Even female entrepreneurs that are in charge.

But over the past year, more women than ever before are calling out these unfair practices. The #MeToo phenomenon has put a bright spotlight on the pervasive problem of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and Silicon Valley is finally being forced to reckon with its woman-hating frat bro culture.

Despite generous media attention to these efforts towards gender equality, it remains to be seen whether or not these conversations will create real change.

Zooming in our lens to startups and entrepreneurship, a stubborn plateau of investment in women-founded businesses indicates that all of the hullabaloo about sexism is nothing more than hand-wringing, leading, so far, to little real change.

TechCrunch has been tracking over 50,000 global companies to assess how women are doing when it comes to investment in startups. Of the 54,702 companies who received initial funding between 2009 and 2017 only 16 percent had at least one female founder.

Although this number nearly doubled between 2009, at 9 percent, and 2012, at 17 percent, this percentage has stabilized in the past five years, hovering between 16 and 17 percent.

Companies founded exclusively by men continue to raise about 85 percent of seed money, with mixed-gender teams taking around 11 to 13 percent, and companies founded exclusively by a woman or women receiving only 4 to 6 percent of seed funds. Women-owned companies have also received only 3 percent of total venture investment dollars since 2012. In the early-stage venture phase, women-founded companies who have received venture investments only receive $77 for every $100 that male-owned companies receive, echoing the gender pay gap across industries.

It’s time for the tech industry to put its money where its mouth is. All of this lip service to creating a more woman-friendly work environment is meaningless until women in leadership are supported with the same dollars as male founders and CEOs.

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