A Short Zeldman Story

On a rainy day several years ago, I was all set to meet a prospective client. I had been in NYC for a little less than a year, and this was going to be the biggest project that we had taken on so far. After several phone meetings, we were set to meet face to face in a Manhattan coffee shop. I think at the time I thought it was a nice neutral ground for this type of meeting.

I showed up a little early, and quickly jumped in line to grab a coffee. The place was crowded, and I started to wonder if we were even going to be able to sit and meet. The two founders picked me out while I was still in line, and we started to chat by picking up a thread in the conversation from an earlier call. They were sharp guys. So far so good.

At this point I should probably step back and give a little more context. The project they wanted to build was basically Svpply (which didn’t exist yet). I was prepared to pitch a pretty progressive approach technology-wise. And to make a case for the web version to be responsive, which may seem standard nowadays, but at the time was pretty much unheard of. It was going to be expensive. I was there ready for an uphill battle; the sort of meeting where I switch from design guy to sales guy and back again.

When we all had our drinks, we started looking for a place to sit. As we scanned the room, everyone zeroed in on the single empty table left in the crowded coffee shop. They started  heading over to sit down, and as they did, my heart sank. At the table directly next to ours, sitting quietly, was Jeffrey Zeldman.


So there I was, getting ready to pitch for the biggest project my young agency had seen, and I’m going to have to do it should-to-shoulder with Zeldman. It’s like if your high school basketball team was playing for the state championship, and Michael Jordan showed up to watch. It’s hard to describe that panic that just seeing him there caused, but I remember how quickly my brain made the decision that there was no fucking way we would be sitting at that table.

I honestly don’t remember what excuse I gave, but I ended up convincing them to move to the lobby of an adjacent hotel. The presentation went fine and remained 100% Zeldman-free.

I’m not sure if there’s a real point to this story, but I’ve always loved the contrast in that moment—total and utter panic for me while for him, it was just a cup of coffee.

And no, we didn’t get that job anyway.