Coffee Talk 3: Strategy, Planning & Collaboration

Hey Shruti,

This is a temp URL so I can share it with you in advance. This will eventually become a blog post. What do you think? Anything to add?

This post is the story behind Coffee Talk 3. I think it’s worthwhile for three reasons. First, there was a special component about this planning effort – a collaboration. I want to highlight a special team member and his awesome mom and dad. Second, I talk all the time about strategy. In fact [we] actually used strategy in [our] own efforts. And third, this is a behind-the-scenes look and accompaniment to the event this past week. Here is hoping the reader comes away with an appreciation for what goes into bringing about a community event.

“What Can I Do?”

My friend and former classmate at University of Portland’s MBA program, Shruti Chatterjee, and her husband, Ratul, have an infant son. Kiyan was about 3-months old when Shruti and I met for coffee and began discussing Coffee Talk 3.

Kiyan was as much a part of the team as Shruti and me.

Shruti inquired about the two previous Coffee Talk events I had put on earlier in the year. My next one was coming up. I had some ideas about what I would do for it. Regardless, Shruti was interested in being a part. She didn’t speak the words, but figuratively, she asked “What can I do?”


After thinking about it over the next 24 hours, I figured on a rough plan. Would she support consultations with me for any café owners who agreed to one – free of charge. That’s right. Shruti volunteered her time. After all was said and done, I figure she probably put in a full week’s worth of time.

That’s a low-ball estimate.


Shruti is a mom, and her husband is a dad.

Between the two, they probably put in a month’s worth of free effort in support of Coffee Talk 3. I never saw the naps, the diaper changes, the late nights, the overnights, the early mornings, the bathing, the feedings, the car rides, the dressings, the carrying, the singing, the conversations, the buckling into the stroller,… Suffice to say, Ratul didn’t speak the words, but he more or less asked “What can I do?”

Instead of the inherent constraints, I looked at the irreplaceable advantages. That’s why I am so thankful to Shruti and Ratul (and Kiyan, too!) for their sacrifice to help me support the coffee café community in Vancouver, WA.

Me: “What Can I Do?”

Babies are hard work. They just are. And they operate on a different schedule. As such, the planning schedule Shruti and I arranged changed a number of times – tardy starts, interruptions, last-minute cancellations, postponements.

I don’t know why I chose to write the phrase, because I don’t believe any of us actually said it. That’s not actually the point. Nevertheless, I asked “What can I do?” to accommodate? What a simple question. Everyone (figuratively) used it. Everyone benefitted. All of use could argue his or her case, including the café owners and residually, their staffs, etc. I believe I benefitted the most.

Instead of the inherent constraints, I looked at the irreplaceable advantages. That’s why I am so thankful to Shruti and Ratul (and Kiyan, too!) for their sacrifice to help me help the coffee café community in Vancouver.

The Goal

The goal in my mind was paramount. If Shruti collaborates with me, then not only will I be more successful in my project, but we both can benefit. That, my friendly reader, is either called win-win or a no-brainer. Forgive some technical terms from a Strategy Consultant. They mean I should do this.

Same As Meeting Socially

Back in 2016, Shruti and I had taken a negotiating course together during our MBA programs at University of Portland’s Pamplin School of Business. Of course, we had similar professors, too. We were connected on LinkedIn on which Shruti wrote me back in early-April.

After some brief catch-up over messaging, I learned Shruti had had a baby in December. We decided to meet up for coffee.

In my calendar invite, I wrote:

Again, Shruti, if you’d like and/or if it’s more convenient to bring your son, then please do.  (If you do, then I’ll be pleased to meet him!)  Also, if you need to alter the day/time/place, etc.–even if it’s at the last moment–then that’s OK.  ‘Life with a baby…  Just let me know, OK?

Considering Collaborating

I will risk embarrassing Shruti here. She is smart. Really smart. And, like any other collaborator, she has experiences and skills and competencies that are at the least different than my own.

Specifically, she showed interest in supporting my Coffee Talk 3 event. The event (held this past week) would be the third in a recurring series that brings together local coffee café owners to discuss the market, industry trends and strategy.

Shruti has an idea about starting a café in her home country one day. She’s got training and visibility into all aspects of doing so except the operations. Would there be a way to gain exposure by helping plan the event?

Strategic Collaboration Begins

At first, I was unsure of how she could get involved. I told her that I would get back to her. In my mind, I knew it would be great to collaborate. I just wasn’t sure how everyone could benefit – café owners, Shruti, and me.

When the idea struck me, it just made sense. 2 MBAs. Consultations. Discussing operations. Two-on-one consultations to observe, analyze, and aggregate would serve my interests. 2 MBAs would be extra value to café owners. In doing so, Shruti would gain exposure to café operations. and, on June 11, discuss business trends with the group.When the idea struck me, it just made sense.

The results were outstanding. And, if given the opportunity to revisit the decision to collaborate with a mother of an infant son, I would easily decide the same.

I would do it again – same way, same everything. It is more than possible working with a woman with an infant. It is smart. It is productive. It is results-driven. The variable is not the baby. The overarching variable is empathy – is the empathy ON or OFF in the mind of the person(s) without the baby?