The Cup of Coffee Worth a Million Dollars

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

I once heard Scott Bedbury, former SVP of Marketing at Starbucks (and once Worldwide Advertising Director at Nike, so yeah knows his stuff) describe how the now iconic coffee company first honed in on their legendary marketing strategy by thinking about the place a cup of coffee has in our society. Not simply a cup of hot brown liquid, but as a centerpiece around which creativity, study, and debate blossomed. That realization gave birth to the comfy couch, fireplace-having coffee houses we enjoy today.

Whether it’s to give advice to a budding entrepreneur, get advice from a mentor, or connect with colleagues, on average I’m probably sitting down for a work-related coffee at least three or four times a week.

And every cup of coffee has the potential to be worth a million dollars.

Coffee is a Catalyst

I’m fortunate to have been involved in growing three companies, selling two, and helping a number of others innovate along the way. I’m not super-smart or better than the next person (trust me), I’ve simply recognized the single most instrumental factor to success is this: over the years, I’ve developed a network of great people who I can call on to help, and critically, to help me help others. And I’ve lived the effect that a network of good people can have on your business.

The truth is, to succeed in business you need passion, creativity, hustle, smarts and luck. You also need a broad network of people to help you navigate potential pitfalls, see big opportunities, and accelerate execution so you can do what’s required faster and better than the next person. Cultivating that network happens exponentially: when you add value and connect with a good mentor or give back to someone, it leads to the next valuable connection.

And great people lead to great outcomes.

In sports, champions know that there is always someone training to take your spot; the same is true of business leaders. From Bill Gates leaning on Warren Buffett to Sidney Crosby trusting in Mario Lemieux, everyone at the top of their game looks to surround themselves with people that can help them achieve or maintain that leadership position. And once you’re fortunate enough to achieve success, it’s hard to not enjoy paying it forward and being part of another’s achievements. 

Making Sure It’s a Valuable Cup

The most valuable thing any of us have is our time so let’s be honest; spending all your time meeting people for coffee wouldn’t be too productive (not to mention the sleep deprivation and jitters). The key is to ensure value is created at these meetings and always be respectful of the time you give and take. It’s not a bad thing to politely decline, it’s not worth your time or theirs whether the person sees it or not. When it’s hard to tell in advance, but the person comes referred from a good source then take the meeting since somewhere down the line good things happen when good people connect.

Unlike freshly roasted coffee beans, that value-creating cup you just enjoyed has an insanely long shelf life; in most cases the positive results won’t be realized for years. And that’s part of the magic in how this works. As one great connection leads to the next, the network itself gets more valuable and every new connection opens doors to new opportunity.

Create Value and Enjoy the Karma

Over every cup, I try to leave the other person happy that we met. If there’s anything my own history has taught me it’s that everyone from an aspiring entrepreneur to a Fortune 500 CEO has some project they’re unsure of, or has hit a snag in the road and a fresh perspective might help.

There is nothing more gratifying in business than to have had a hand in helping others along their path to success, and those leaders who offer their time and connections usually tend to receive back much more than they expected in return. I’m living this reality now with fantastic leaders giving their time to help our new company Penny move smarter and faster in the right direction.

When I first started chasing wild ideas I wasn’t a coffee drinker. It was about me and my team in our little office trying to change the world. It didn’t go so well because the wall I sat across from was fresh out of ideas. I’ve since grabbed more coffees than I can count, forging authentic connections with amazing people. A few of those cups ended up being worth millions, giving some well-deserving people financial freedom and happy lives, others sparked charitable causes that will help countless others, and some were just pleasant times with good people.

It turns out that those Starbucks geniuses were on to something. So go ahead and hit up your favorite coffee house for a cup of joe, tea, or whatever your beverage of choice may be. You just never know how valuable it could be.

Jaafer Haidar is a serial entrepreneur, current founder of Socialseekand advisor to innovative companies. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter for more and get in touch if he can help!

Why UFC and WME | IMG is a Match Made in Entertainment Heaven

ufcwmeIf you’re at all remotely interested in sports, entertainment, pop-culture, or finance you’ve already heard that the UFC has been sold for $4B. The acquisition group is headlined by sports and entertainment talent behemoth WME | IMG who will become operating partners with Silver Lake Partners, KKR, and MSD Capital are also part of the deal.

Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta bought the UFC in 2000 for $2M. Even by Silicon Valley standards, this is a massive win and having evolved a once banned, fringe sideshow into a staple of modern sports and entertainment, and indeed our collective culture is a more than well deserved reward after 16 years.

But here are the two most important aspects of the deal.

1. Dana White, the uncompromising face and mind behind everything that makes the UFC tick is staying on to run the thing.

2. With WME | IMG, the single biggest problem that has plagued the UFC since the beginning can now be solved. Turning the big talent into household names.

Dana White made a big league from nothing.

Without White, the UFC would have realized a power vaccum that could have ended the whole show. The guy has made tough, often criticized decisions, and has been the main engine of mainstream. Without White, the UFC would still have tough guys from the neighborhood punching each other in the groin like it did 23 years ago. That’s if it would be around at all. Looks like a great investment now but that’s what White and the Fertitta brothers bought, seriously. Since then White and team have created the big league that never was and gave mixed martial artists the ability to actually make a living doing what they love (well, some of them…fighter pay for the up and coming hasn’t risen with the PPV money and is an issue that needs to be addressed). Announcing the sale, Dana White said “we’ll take this sport to the next level”. He’s right. And That’s what this sale is all about.

WME | IMG will give fighters what they have always wanted.

For all of White’s efforts, the one thing he couldn’t manage to create is a star making machine. We know the names GSP, Ronda Rousey,…who else? Exactly. In the past 16 years there have only been arguably TWO names that the average person would recognize. Fight fans know Royce Gracie, Andersen Silva, Rampage Jackson, Jose Aldo, and Jon Jones (sheesh) but ask anyone that doesn’t follow the UFC and they wouldn’t have a clue. Even, the current poster child Connor McGregor, with all his loud mouth antics, isn’t known outside the cage-loving audience. Know the name Robbie Lawler? He’s a champion and his fights are always exciting. He’s fighting another exciting guy you haven’t heard of, Tyron Woodley, at UFC 201 in a couple weeks and it will be epic.

WME | IMG will change all that and that’s a great thing for everyone.

The talent giant is in the business of making stars. That’s what it does better than anyone else. Sponsor deals, commercials with more recognizable sports stars, storylines, it all adds up to making a name. Once people know your name, they want to see you do what you do. And that’s when the real money gets made. It’s the reason Brock Lesnar just got paid a UFC-record $2.5M for his first fight in 5 years against a guy that is on the verge of retiring on the same night that would-be champion Daniel Cormier made $500K. No one knows who Cormier is, everyone knows Brock Lesnar who made his name in the start making machine WWE (which gave us Hulk Hogan, Dawyne “The Rock” Johnson, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and more). The UFC has consistently banked on one star and risked not having any marketable names. That’s all about to change.

Talent + Representation = Recognition = Sales = Money.

I don’t expect immediate changes but with WME | IMG at the helm and Dana White running the show we’ll still enjoy a stable, growing organization but now with the ability to market the talent like other big leagues. The fighters should realize an opportunity to capitalize on the their talents and, not confined to the rules of an organization trying to grow up but a multi-national industry leader that should be looking to do right by it’s employees, base-level fight purses should rise. Sure, we’ll always have the fighters that “bring in the money”. That’s no different than any other sport where superstars bring in the dough (LeBron, Woods, Mayweather, Williams, keep going) but all boats should lift.

NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Nascar. These were all created in yesteryear and have become a part of everyday life, the UFC is the first big league created in a very long time. It’s now time for the rebel to grow up and that’s a good thing for fighters and fans everywhere.

How Nice Guys (and Girls!) Finish First

nicefinishfirstIf you’re in business, a relationship, or simply alive Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant is a must read. Grant’s groundbreaking research in organizational behavior explores how we approach our interactions with other people and contrasts the success of Givers, Takers, and Matchers. By no means will this post spoil the read so once you’re done reading this post (and shared it!) you should definitely pick up the book (e-book, or audiobook), it will likely change or re-enforce your thinking on how interaction style contributes to success.

The central question is;

“According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck. [But there is] a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

Outside the workplace, in our relationships with family, friends, and partners Grant argues that we are mostly givers, helping without expecting a win. When our career success is on the line Grant describes how people are aligned to being either a Giver, Taker, or Maker to achieve their goals.

We usually identify as a Giver or a Taker.

Takers: Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Garden-variety takers aren’t cruel or cutthroat; they’re just cautious and self-protective. “If I don’t look out for myself first,” takers think, “no one will.”

Givers: In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.

In contrasting Takers and Givers, Adam argues that the preferences in approach are not about money; they’re not distinguished by how much money they make or donate. The difference is in their attitude and actions towards other people.

“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”

But, we’re mostly all Matchers.

Grant agrees with and cites organizational behavior research that suggests none of us are purely Givers or Takers but Matchers, and that our personality isn’t fixed but fluid…

“We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors.”

“Giving, taking, and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction, but the lines between them aren’t hard and fast. You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you travel across different work roles and relationships. It wouldn’t be surprising if you act like a taker when negotiating your salary, a giver when mentoring someone with less experience than you, and a matcher when sharing expertise with a colleague. But evidence shows that at work, the vast majority of people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most of the people most of the time. And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck.”

Nice guys (and girls) finish first…and last.

Ok enough with the book citations. As the title of this post suggests; contrary to what the asshole in your office thinks, in ranking the three approaches Givers come out on top…but they also dominate the bottom. Takers and Matchers make up the middle. How is it possible that Givers are on top and at the bottom? The answer is in the strategies givers use and choices they make in achieving their goals. Successful givers leverage three strategies; sincerity screening, generous tit for tat, and being willing to negotiate. Read the book to learn more.

A giver can be a huge pushover and land at the bottom or a smart, well networked person that helps others and builds great rapport; paying it forward and becoming a trusted asset to the organization manifesting in career success.

You can think less “me, me, me” and not be so much a taker, genuinely not feeling you need to step on others to meet your goals. If you’re a taker and fortunate enough to realize it, treating others with more empathy will make you more a matcher which is where most people sit. Giving without expectation of return is something that can’t be faked; its something that you do because you feel it’s the right thing to do and believe that helping or working for the benefit of everyone may ultimately come back to be a benefit to yourself. If karma shines on you great, if not that’s fine too. People who are pure givers are a rare breed.

Give. The rest is gravy.

In the opening of the book Grant profiles venture capitalist David Hornik who is a giver and has a remarkable track record. I haven’t met David but I am fortunate enough to know a few givers and they have selflessly been a tremendous benefit to my career. I like to think that the thousands of coffees I make time to have to listen to aspiring entrepreneurs and the introductions I’m happy to make for them means I have some giver tendencies, or maybe I’m a matcher, others are better to judge. What I do know is that nice guys don’t always finish last because I’ve seen many at the top. I believe this to the point that I’ve launched a new company focused on helping tech startups succeed. The Codery is a collection of top-tier serial entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders, that are providing their experience, network, and knowledge to promising tech companies, helping them make decisions faster, better, smarter. The type of people you’d kill to have on your board helping through critical decisions like product/market fit, pricing model, whether a new vertical expansion makes sense, get funding ready, or decide if you should buy or sell a company. A mix of givers and makers on your side.

Be an example of good.

I credit my father with teaching me that much of a person’s ultimate success is not in their own hands but rather comes from working hard, being good to others and, as I’ve found, serendipitous events that you couldn’t plan for or control. I’ve never met anyone more selfless than my father. He ran a travel agency and one year had booked hundreds of people on Yugoslavian Airlines, collecting thousands of dollars in ticket fees that he passed onto the airline and get his small commission back on each ticket. Then the Balkan War broke out (mid-90s). Yugoslavian Airlines stopped flying and went insolvent taking all the ticket fees collected with it and stranding passengers that had already paid. People lost their money and tickets and agencies lost their commissions. Every other travel agency I’m aware of simply explained to their customers that it was not the agency’s fault; their money was with the airline and there is literally nothing that can be done. It was the truth and what most businesses would do but my father did something different and remarkable, he took the hit. He dug into his own funds and refunded all of his customer’s money. His business lost thousands, something it took years to recover from. I asked him why and he simply said that it was more important to be good and fair to others; even if it meant some sacrifice to yourself, your rewards will come. Ten years later, through the loyalty of his customers his agency was still open while others had closed their doors.

My father was a very intelligent, faithful, and welcoming man. When he passed I overheard someone saying to another person at the funeral; “he’s the only person I know that I have never heard someone speak badly of”. Your shoes are impossible to fill but thank you for being a giver and giving your all so that I could succeed. I’m by no means perfect but hope I’m making you proud.


3 Ways to Tell If You Have a Great Mentor

karatekidIn the past I’ve written about how giving back is an important part of being an entrepreneur. It’s a small world and the more you give to genuinely help in the success of others, the more others are more likely to help you when you need it; paying it forward always pays off. But what makes a good mentor? How do you know when to act on advice or simply smile and nod? My chief mentor recently gave me some advice that fundamentally changed a course I was on (and likely accelerated my new venture by months if not all together might make our new company). Over the years I’ve listened to good advice and bad advice (and probably gave enough of each). So, here are the top three things that make for a great mentor. If you have a mentor that hits on these points then good for you. If not, get one, you’ll be happy you did.

1. Listening

A good mentor listens first. They ask you to share your story, your challenges, and ask you what’s important to you and your team. They take the time so that when they give advice it’s to your benefit not one size fits all. Building a company with the end goal of selling it fast and buying a house is very different than aiming for a billion dollar empire. Your strategy, planning, and how you approach issues change and so having a good understanding of the plan is important. Things to look for that mark a good listener:

a) They’re giving you their attention (not responding to text messages or glancing at their phone every 5 minutes).

b) They ask pointed questions based on what you are saying, challenging you to think deeper.

c) They can whittle down what you’re saying to a few core points and play them back to you so that together you can chart some focused next steps.

2. Context

I’ve written before about how important context is; the ability to speak from experience is huge. They’ve been there and done it or have been part of a team that has been through similar challenges you’re facing, whether as an entrepreneur, executive, investor, or board member but make sure:

a) They were in the weeds not simply an observer to the challenges and how they were solved. You don’t want someone who wasn’t in the guts of the issue.

b) They’re able to quickly understand the heart of the issue and come at a problem from various angles. You don’t want someone who shoves a solution down your throat because they’ve seen it solve a related problem.

c) They’ve seen similar problems a few times before and can tell you how they were solved in either the same or different ways.

3. Genuine

The best mentor is someone who you’d be happy to have over for dinner during the holidays. They’re helping because they actually care; they believe in having a Good Network. Here’s what to look for:

a) You are not paying them. Paid mentors are called advisors and generally earnbetween 0.25-1% over a few years in exchange for dedicated time. You might one day ask a great mentor to be an advisor, formalizing a relationship that was good to begin with (and giving back to them because they’re so great).

b) They know what they don’t know. They don’t have an answer for everything and are not shy about saying so. They’ll either point you to some resources or (if you’re lucky) hunt down an answer for you.

c) They don’t care about ‘owning’ the relationship. A good mentor is happy to connect you with someone who might help on a specific need where they can’t. The relationship isn’t transactional, they actually care that you do well.

I’ve had both good and bad mentors and I’ve learned to tell the difference. At this point I’m thankful to have a handful who are phenomenal but my go to guy, my Chief Mentor is a great guy we’ll call Howard (why? because that’s actually his name :)). I can write a few blog posts about how the advice Howard has given me has shaped the way I think about building a company and what it takes to win. I’ve counted myself lucky to have him on my side and now he’s doing something truly great. Howard is donating his time to growth/later stage companies he might be able to help and in exchange asking them to donate a small amount to the Upside Foundation, an incredible charity. Everyone wins, the companies gain insanely good advice, Upside can change the world, and Howard…well he’s just happy to help because that’s the kind of guy he is.


Popcorn is Eating Hollywood, How Hollywood Bites Back


In case you haven’t heard of Popcorn Time, here’s a quick rundown of what it is: (1) Install an app  (2) Open the app and get free, brand spankin’ new movies and TV shows. That’s it, magic. No waiting for new releases or hunting Netflix for the good stuff, all the latest and greatest right there at your fingertips. Make no mistake it is still downloading content in violation of copyright laws so beware. The difference is that now anyone can get these movies as easy as it is to fire up Netflix and in an interface just as nice.

How can this be so?

Well, legally it can’t. Popcorn Time is the easiest way ever to get torrent content; those new movies people you knew (not you!) used to somehow download from the internet are now right there is an easy to use, beautiful app. The kicker is that unlike the music industry which went after Napster for enabling the consumption of music without paying for it, the scary part for Hollywood is that Popcorn Time is an open source program meaning anyone can download and run the code. There is no ‘company’ to go after so the only way to stop it short of going after every person is to go after the torrent sites, a battle that has been failing since the dawn of the internets. The original creators backed away from the project, it disappeared for a day and then roared back as new groups picked it up and have greatly expanded the offering with more content, launched an Android app, and even added Chromecast support. All this is less than two months.

The rise of Popcorn Time is due to the simple truth that people want to watch the newest content without waiting for it or figuring out where to get it. Make it easy to find and consume and people will flock to your service. While Popcorn Time had Oscar winners Frozen, American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave, and more, in Canada the new arrivals on Netflix last month included the first two Bourne movies. Seriously.

What this all means is that the multi-billion dollar movie industry that relies on a business model centred around content rights and availability windows is being massively disrupted and there is little that can be done (remember, there is no company to go after). The scary part is that if Popcorn Time caught on to mass adoption and studios felt the pinch then it could spell doom for great content since it’s the money made from all of these rights dealings that pays for the movies we enjoy. As a consumer its great to get free new movies, but what happens when those movies stop getting made?

Hollywood has two options

(a) Get the lawyers busy trying in vain to shut down torrent sites, domain hosts, and going after everyone that downloads the app

(b) Recognize that the rights business models that have persisted for decades are not in step with consumer expectations in an always-on, instant gratification world and change

Just like their music industry brethren, studios are scrambling the but ultimately there is no stopping this train. The good news is that unlike the development needed to establish music downloads and streaming; iTunes, Netflix, Spotify and others are now in place and widely used. There is no user behavior chasm to cross, all that needs to change is the rules.

All of this is easier said than done. The entire music industry pulled in $15B last year worldwide from recorded music sales while global box office sales totalled $35.9B. Those numbers don’t include what HBO, Netflix, Hulu and others pay for the right to carry content which again outpace what music services must pay; Netflix is rumored to be paying Disney $300M for the rights to its catalogue and getting no new movies until 2016! The good news is that the highest revenue growth is from these streaming services and so the negotiating relationship is shifting. With Popcorn Time putting pressure on Hollywood and in position to jumpstart a potential death spiral for Netflix these two bedfellows should align as the enemy of the enemy becomes a friend.

Hollywood will eventually eat Popcorn

Given the choice to get what we want most of us will gladly pay a fair price for it. It’s when we’re not given the movies we want but feel we’re entitled to, business models be damned, that we are more likely to use something like Popcorn Time and face the chance that a studio lawyer will pick us out of the millions to march to court. It is a mammoth disruption with billions at stake but eventually we will all be able to get the latest and greatest movies and TV shows through our favorite streaming service or downloaded on iTunes or something like it. It’s easy to envision Netflix adding a Premium subscription plan that costs more than the regular but offers new content.

Walk of Shame which stars Elizabeth Banks opened last weekend and was simultaneously released on iTunes and Pay TV . It did horribly at the box office and rocketed to #1 on iTunes. The shift has already begun, grab the popcorn and enjoy.