Three cups of chai: Extending your network to grow your business – Part 1

Chris Hobbs giving presentation to audience.
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Recently I was honoured with an invitation to speak at the July Tech Vancouver event along some very impressive people. I was surprised that my ramblings were so well received.  In fact I have had 47 invitations for chai since that night (received #48 this morning) – That’s a high percentage for a crowd of 150 people.  It will take me two months to meet with this many people, so I figured I should share my talk here.

The year was 2010…

Josephine Wong, my twin brother David Hobbs, and I founded the mobile development firm Two Tall Totems (now officially TTT Studios). As it is still true today, our mission was to build dreams. Clients would come to us with a vision and we were tasked with realizing it in app form. We had some very talented developers and designers join our family and we were ready to build billion dollar applications.  My job at the time was to find clients, which I thought was going to be easy.  There wasn’t much competition in the mobile space then. We were going to make $$$!

Colourful mugs and kettles.
Sadly, finding clients proved to be a challenge. I discovered while most companies needed a website, this was not true for mobile apps.  Most companies didn’t really understand the benefits of mobile this early in the game. The frustrating part was that I was reading everywhere how app development was in high demand, but I couldn’t find clients.

I came up with the solution to expand our network

I would introduce myself to people who could direct me towards potential leads. I decided I would start calling and/or emailing local web development firms and see if their clients needed app work. At the time, I figured I would be successful as most companies didn’t offer mobile services yet.

2 cups of lattes.
I started contacting firms stating, “I would like to set up a meeting to discuss our services.”  I was shocked when many of the 20+ companies I contacted said they were too busy to meet or that they didn’t see a reason for it.  Many simply did not respond. This was proving to be an ineffective strategy.  I had to come up with a better plan to lower their defences.

I needed to retool the wording

I softened my approach to make it more palatable and attractive. I decided that I would no longer use the word ‘meeting’, it sounded too much like a sales call.  Instead I would say ‘coffee chat’. Coffee is a common and acceptable daily activity or break taken over a relatively short period (15-20 minutes), and usually takes place in the comforts of a cafe. This lowers defences as it is a safer environment, out of the view of co-workers wondering why we are speaking to each other. In a coffee shop, we are new friends enjoying conversation and a hot beverage together.

Cup of tea along with tea bags.

Next I had to rethink my hook

My mission wasn’t to sell to my chai companions directly; instead I was marketing our services. I view sales and marketing as two different things: Sales is all about closing the transaction for a product or service; meanwhile, marketing is delivering a story so clearly that my chai buddy can retell it in detail multiple times to many people.  This will be our network effect: let them sell for us.  I needed a good and memorable hook that fit with my coffee (chai) angle and extend my personal business network.

Coffee art.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t drink coffee; I like chai lattes. Hence the title “3 Cups of Chai”.

I challenged myself to meet at least 3 new people every week.  I figured it was a doable number and easy to remember so it would become part of my story.  With each e-mail and contact I made, I stated my goal was to have a cup of chai a week with at least 3 people I had never met and I would love you to be one of those people.  I promised it wasn’t a sales call, but an opportunity to talk “nerd”, show off a few cool apps, and offer some free tech advice if desired.

Who could say no to that?

‘No!’ had become a very high percentage ‘Yes’ and the marketing push had begun.


What would you prefer to take part in, a meeting or a coffee chat? Tweet us your response!

To learn how to wow those you’re meeting with, read part 2 of Three cups of chai.