There are many, varied, and well-known advantages to networking. But let's be honest: sometimes it can be a real pain in the a**.
There should be an app for that.
Turns out there is. It's called Coffee, and check this out: It's LinkedIn meets Tinder.
I'll give you a moment to collect yourself from getting your mind blown.
Yup, it's one of those ideas that once you hear about, you can't believe you hadn't yet. Why didn't I think of that? It launched in early July of this year, and has had several wins thus far:
- A startup hired an intern they matched with on Coffee
- Several students at NYU connected, and are now working on a startup together
- Another student met a freelance UI/UX Designer, with whom she's working to design her own app
- In the coolest meta-move that could possibly have happened, the Coffee team itself connected with an investor through the app
There are three distinct things that make it useful:
1. It makes networking not suckI usually think of networking as a chore. It's something I have to 'do,' whether seeking out a specific networking event or socializing at one. I always feel like a tool both asking and answering that dreaded question: "So, what do you do?"
As someone who writes about Millennials (and being one myself), I can also attest to the fact that I live on my phone. It's the first thing I check when I wake up and the last thing I check at night. So a networking app is baller -- I can 'network' on my time: while walking to the subway, in line at Starbucks, in an Uber on the way to a meeting, while I'm waiting for my lunch, while I'm watching Netflix, etc. I get to choose when to do it, and who to do it with (#twss). And talk about a dream app for introverts; they don't even have to leave their house.
Finally, the format is familiar. As of July 15, 2014, Tinder had 13 million users, 85 percent of whom are 18-34. I mean that app gets around. Whether you're on Tinder or have friends on it, you know how it works. And the only difference between Tinder and Coffee is that a Coffee date has a different, ahem, ending.
Seriously, though, the utility of something like Coffee is bringing networking into our lives in a way that actually works for us. Making new professional contacts and/or chatting in realtime with new LinkedIn connections while I wait for my Jamba Juice? #powermove
2. It forces you to get clear on your professional goals If there's one thing I'm always on my friends about professionally, it's to identify exactly what they're looking for professionally and what they have to offer. (I'm also on them about doing this for their personal lives, but that's a whole different article).
It's much easier to activate your network when you're specific. Consider which of these are more engaging:
- "Yeah, I'm looking for a job..." vs.
- "I went to school for graphic design and I'm looking for a fun, dynamic startup where I can be a killer designer and do UI stuff."
Something like Coffee forces you to do way more of the latter and way less of the former. You have a limited number of characters to describe what you're looking for, so there's no time to mess around. You've got to be clear on who you are and who you want to connect with professionally.
I like that like I like a really good cappuccino (get it? get it?).
3. It helps employers, too In addition to being useful to young professionals, things like Coffee are also useful for employers and others looking to connect with young professionals. As one M&A associate for PricewaterhouseCoopers said, "Coffee dismantles the geographic obstacle that too often exists with in-person networking, and cleverly lowers the level of social awkwardness often associated with reaching out randomly to an industry professional on LinkedIn. It's as efficient as it is intuitive, and as a result, a potential goldmine for recruiters." (my emphasis).
And check this out -- he actually helped someone from Coffee land an interview: "Soon after I set my personal tagline to read something like, "Management consultant in a growing M&A Advisory practice," and made a few swipes left and right, I was matched with a number of young, like-minded professionals. To my surprise, most were relatively forward, and began to chat with me about the industry, my background, and opportunities for employment at my firm. In the end, I was able to direct a very qualified candidate, to the appropriate hiring manager at my firm, after only a few days."
Our own team uses Coffee for a variety of purposes. We're OpiaTalk, a tech startup in the eCommerce space, and we help retailers make the most of their organic traffic. Our social commerce widget turns browsers into buyers, hyper-converting traffic and driving opted-in leads at 4-5x industry average. Our CEO, Tom, uses Coffee as a recruiting tool. It's an easy way to connect with those who are proactive enough to address him and see what we're up to. As Director of Communications, I personally use it to connect with other writers and reporters in the tech space, extending my network and also seeing how I can add value to others' professional goals. And, of course, like any high-powered startup, we're always happy to connect with investors, of which there are several on Coffee.
According to ABC News, 80 percent of jobs today are landed through networking. At any age, but especially when you're young, one of the most important things you can do is take control of your career. Whether you're still a student, current employed, or looking for a job, networking is one of the most important things (if not the most important) you can do to advance yourself professionally.
The only danger I see with Coffee is falling into the same trap as Tinder: forgetting about it and/or not following up with contacts. Just like in any other professional setting, if you say you're going to do something on a networking app (send along a resume, explore someone's product, email details about your company), you've got to follow through.
For those wise enough to do so, though, Coffee can be a powerful tool. In my opinion the smartest networkers will use it to transition to an in-person meeting, for which there is and will likely never be a substitute.
After that, who knows? The possibilities are as endless as the swirls in my -- you guessed it -- coffee.
Coffee is available in the app store as Coffeetheapp.