Fifty coffee meetings. That number should stick in your head as a metaphor for networking. For getting outside of your comfort zone. For starting relationships today that won't pay off for a year. It's the entrepreneur's equivalent of "10,000 hours ."
Anybody who has spent any time with me in person will be tired of this advice because I give it so frequently. It is a piece of actionable advice that if you put into practice starting next week will start paying dividends in the near future. There's a direct correlation to your future success.
You can probably do even better than 50. 5/week=250/year. Imagine the human progress you could make with 250 short, relationship-focused meetings.
Here's why it's critical:
1. Recruiting. Are you looking for great engineers? Talented brand sales people? A smart young marketing exec? If you wait until you need to fill somebody in a roll you're losing valuable time as an entrepreneur. You should always have a steady stream of "friend of the firm" hanging around your company. You invite them to cocktail parties. You send them update emails. You don't have budget for them--not yet. But when you do, you're ready to go.
You don't have time in your day to always be interviewing. But you need to ABR (always be recruiting). How do you make that happen? 50 coffee meetings. If you want to read more about hiring at a startup check out: 1. Attitude over Aptitude and also 2. Hire Fast, Fire Fast .
2. Job Hunting. You're a candidate. You're thinking about your next big gig. You want the primo role. Hot company. Senior title. Lots of responsibility. The moment a big job is advertised you're fawked. Why? Because there are 20 people who have the exact qualifications as the job spec will suggest. But they don't have your hustle, your energy. You won't land the big jobs unless you're in there shaping the discussion about what the company needs, convincing them that they need you before they're even ready to hire.
This takes 50 coffee meetings. You know the drill--"informational interview." Life is an informational interview. Everything you do applies to this lesson. Yet too many people never do it. They sit and wait for job specs to be posted on job boards. Or whatever the equivalent metaphor is for any other parts of their business.
We take action when we need results. We wait until things are urgent & important . That's not effective.
And one thing is certain -- you can't look for a job remotely . It doesn't work precisely because it violates the 50 coffee-meeting rule.
3. Relations with journalists. Want to drive better coverage of your business long term? 50 coffee meetings . Help them write other stories. One day they'll write yours.
4. Raising money from angels and VCs. Turn dots into lines. Don't listen to people who advise you otherwise. They're wrong.
5. Understanding customer requirement. 50 coffee meetings . "Get out of the office" says Steve Blank.
6. Are You a VC? Get out of your offices and go have coffee meetings. Preferably at startup HQs. Why do they always need to come to you? Increase your deal flow. 50 coffee meetings. Office hours.
I know I'm getting repetitive. It is with great intent. Whatever amount you're getting out and talking with prospects, customers, employees, recruits, competitors, press, investors, potential investors … it's never enough.
For almost everybody else I work with I know that a little more dedication to coffee meetings would have a positive impact. Your biz dev discussion that goes nowhere today will plants seeds in somebody's mind 18 months from now.
Yet most of us resist the coffee meetings seeing them as a distraction from: shipping our release, refining our business plan, working on our new website, etc. You have to do both. Wake up early. Turn coffee into late-night drinks. Never eat lunch alone.
Go on. Get our of your office and make it happen.
Reprinted with permission from Both Sides of the Table 
Mark Suster is a 2x entrepreneur who has gone to the Dark Side of VC. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a General Partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies. Follow him at twitter.com/msuster .
[Image: Flickr user [Sir]Bali ]