Why Networking Over Coffee Isn’t a Prerequisite for a Job in the Startup World
Two or three times a day, I get a note that is some iteration of the below:
My name is Connor Sullivan, and I wanted to reach out to see if I could pick your brain about Village Capital.
I’m really interested in entrepreneurship, and I’d be interested in transitioning into an investment role, too.
Are you free in the next week to catch up for a coffee?
On the one hand, I love these notes. I’m incredibly excited when people find value in what our startups do, or what we do, and want to join — our companies need all the great people they can get, and so does Village Capital.
On the other hand, these notes break my heart because given competing demands in my daily work, I can’t possibly do these conversations justice. And I’m not alone — nearly everyone I know in the startup world has too much to do, and not enough time, so “networking coffees” are almost always lowest priority.
I understand that when you’re trying to make your way, professionally, you want to meet all the people you can. Yet taking someone out to coffee is not a prerequisite for a job — or, for that matter, a sale, or a successful fundraise. Every interaction you have, professionally, should be an exchange of value. If people have time for coffee and advice — that’s great. But — usually they don’t.
If, however, you’re not getting responses to an email, I suggest you try the following formula of GVAP (hat tip to Matt Williamson, CEO of Windsor Circle, one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met).
The formula goes like this:
GOAL: What’s the goal of the meeting?
VALUE: What’s the value of the meeting to the other person? Not the value of the meeting to you, but to the other person.
AGENDA: What would you like to talk about?
PERMISSION TO PROCEED: Here, you ask the other person for permission to move forward — in the way that’s comfortable for them.
So, if I’m Connor, here’s how I should think about the email. Remember, the goal of the e-mail is two-sided. For Connor, he wants to explore job opportunities. For me, I want to know if he is a fit for the job.
I have read up on Village Capital and I noticed that you’re investing in startups in financial services, education, health, energy, and agriculture. I’m inspired by your work, and I’d like to get in touch to see if I could add value to your firm — or see if you have thoughts on where I might be able to add value in your industry.
GOAL: Note that Connor outlines the goal for both of us in the conversation.
I’ve been a consultant for McKinsey in regulated industries and while I don’t have investment experience yet, I did notice that you invest in health, education, financial services, energy, agriculture — all regulated industries. If you’re looking for someone with a great work ethic who understands how to help business navigate government regulation, I think I could add value.
VALUE: Note that Connor outlines the value of the conversation to me at Village Capital — not to himself. (It’s already implicit that the value to him is that he’s looking for a job.)
If you’re open to a conversation, I’d love your thoughts on a few things:
1. What are the biggest problems that you, and people like you, are facing that you’re looking for new team members to solve?
2. What kinds of roles would you be looking for in the startup world if you were me, based on my background (attached)
3. Is there any potential for me to work with Village Capital? If so, what’s the best way to proceed with a conversation?
4. Is there anyone else I should be speaking with?
AGENDA: Note that Connor outlines the agenda. He has specific requests that can be answered shorthand over email, if necessary; they also would set an agenda for an in-person meeting.
If you’d find value in the conversation, I’d love the opportunity to speak in person, over the phone, or simply go back and forth over email with my questions. If you’re swamped, totally understand; I hope we can connect another time. Let me know how you’d like to explore a relationship.
PERMISSION TO PROCEED: Note that Connor gives me a few different ways that we could proceed, recognizing that (a) of course he wants answers in his job search; (b) there are a few different ways that we can follow up; (c) he gives me an out in case I don’t have time.
I’m writing this blog in part because the G-V-A-P style for any email is something that applies anytime you’re asking someone for their time — whether it’s advice, sales, or fundraising.
I’m also writing this because I want to be able to be helpful to as many people as possible, and I plan to link this blog post to the “asking for coffee” emails I get in the future.
Finally, I’ll pledge that if you’re interested in working in the startup world, read this post, and you send a GVAP email back to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll definitely be able to respond and hopefully get you what you need.
Look forward to exploring a relationship!