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Three Golden Rules to Get the Most Out of the 30 Minute Startup Cuppa

Photo credit: Chiara Pinna

How to bring something to the coffee table and why it’s important

I know I owe a great deal of the success of my startup journey so far to all those people who have agreed to meet me for a coffee and offer advice. I made a point of contacting every single person that was recommended to me and asking for their time. Not all of them agreed, but the vast majority did.

I have since read articles bemoaning the uprising of the culture of the cuppa. I hope that those people who don’t agree with a newbie taking up their time for a £3 beverage, even half an hour, will be those that simply declined my request. I also hope that those who did take me up on my offer, even if it was out of idle curiosity, got a little something out of it, too.

These are the three golden rules I followed to try and make the benefit of the cuppa a two-way street

I was aware that I was taking up people’s valuable time, and that some of them may only have been seeing me because a certain person they knew or owed one to had sent me. I didn’t want them to feel as though they had wasted their time, and I wanted to make the most out of the meeting for myself as well. So I came up with these three rules for preparing for every meeting:

  1. Do your research on the person you are meeting and understand their background and areas of expertise.
  2. Think of exactly what you want to ask them in relation to those areas, in order to get the most out of the interaction, and so that they feel especially valued as well.
  3. Think of one thing or connection from your own experience and expertise to share that they might find useful or interesting in relation to the work that they do.

I didn’t want them to go away and feel as though that time had been wasted, and neither did I.

Following these ensured that even if there were crickets and tumbleweeds during a thirty minute encounter that might have felt like a week, I had something to use to try and salvage both our time spent.

But I also wanted to ask each person some generic questions about this new entrepreneurial journey. I set out a list of what for me were the most universal and pressing questions:

  • I asked their views about how best to proceed from where I found myself at the end of that week. What should I do next?
  • What pitfalls should I be most tuned in to in order to avoid them?
  • Did they know anyone in the market segments I wanted to approach to get my first early adopters?
  • Did any markets or uses come to mind that I hadn’t thought of?

I got some amazing ideas and valuable insights from these conversations. I also got suggestions for other people to contact, and offers of introduction to them. You can bet I took up every offer and followed up with every person.

Many of these people I met early on in my journey I still see in my community. It’s a nice feeling to update them on how it is going and to let them know how much their 30 minutes of time meant and how it is still paying off. And I always restate my offer to do something for them, or for another newbie they may know who might benefit from hearing something about my experience.

Reaching out to people and asking for help is an essential ability if you are trying to build a startup. But for many of us, approaching strangers and asking for anything is a particular challenge, even with a warm introduction.

But then I remind myself that I do have something to offer. We all do. I know I have lots of experience and knowledge to share.

So I like to think these meetings are not just one way. For the sake of half an hour and a cup of coffee, if that person could spare the time in the first place, I hope they felt like they were doing something nice for someone, and contributing perhaps to a successful company of the future that might bring employment and economic activity to the area. But I also hope they simply enjoyed that time as well, and maybe heard a perspective that was new to them, or learned about an industry or practice from me that they had not considered before.

I would urge everyone to not hesitate to make that first contact or request. Then follow up every time. And be sure to give back.

I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the heart.

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