Ten Meetings Per Day
I was explaining how I go about finding deals yesterday to a friend of mine and I thought I ought to explain it to everyone.
I write this blog. It's like a broadcast channel of "what is interesting to me." I market it every way I know how and I get somewhere between 70k to 100k unique readers of it every month between web, rss, and mobile.
As a result, I figure entrepreneurs and others have a pretty good idea of what I want to see and what I don't. And I believe they can self select. And for the most part, they do a great job of that.
Given that dynamic, I take meetings, as many as I can. I went back over my calendar for the past few weeks and it seems that on average I take ten meetings a day. I don't filter my calendar that much to be honest. I try to meet with as many people as I can.
I know that if I filtered my calendar more carefully, I'd get a better successful meeting ratio. But instead of spending time on vetting meetings, I spend time taking them.
So maybe I have a 70% success rate, seven good meetings per day, three bad ones.
If I spent a considerable part of my day reading business plans, referencing people on the way in, I might be able to take five or six meetings. But even if they were all successful, I'd still get less successful meetings that day.
So I don't bother too much about vetting meetings. I just take them as much as I can.
That's how I do it. Thought you should know.
I guess I’d call this a breadth-first algorithm rather than a depth-first one. It also reminds me of the “exploration vs exploitation” thinking in biology – instead of leaning towards the exploitation side (as might be expected), you lean towards exploration and let the self-selecting filter of your blog take care of some of the focus (exploitation) issues.It’s a nice strategy, very fitting with the Web 2.0 zeitgeist 🙂
i certainly have let the web 2.0 zeitgeist inform my thinking on this terry
I’ve been thinking about this on and off all afternoon & evening. I tend to look at things from a biological perspective, with a lot of emphasis on search and optimization, fitness, fitness functions, fitness landscapes etc.There’s a system of agents (just think about the VC side of it for now) involved in a search process. Search is always a matter of finding some balance between exploitation (loosely: trying to get more out of what you already know works) and exploitation (loosely: trying new things). Search algorithms that get the balance wrong will tend to do worse than ones that don’t. You can argue that the ecology of agents (VCs) has been for a long time skewed towards exploitation (= more time checking people out, only replying to people who are introduced via a trusted source, insisting on deep dive business plans up front, and even the running of large funds that necessarily require large investments). A good strategy in a field of agents who are largely doing the same thing is obviously some form of diversity. What you’re doing (Fred), in part, is to show the other set of agents (entrepreneurs) the lay of the land. In bio terms, you’re making the fitness landscape, or at least the fitness function, much more apparent by describing it bit by bit in your blog over the years. That makes a explorative search strategy that much more effective because you can rely to some extent on the right entrepreneurs finding you (and the blog not only points the way to the occasionally shifting landscape peaks, it filters along the way too), as you noted.I find all this very interesting. The blog serves to reveal the landscape, it allows you to adopt a more explorative search strategy, and it shifts some of the work onto the entrepreneurs (who are meanwhile delighted). That’s a competitive advantage in the VC world, and I don’t think too many VCs have woken up to it, let alone begun to exploit it, let alone successfully.There’s another aspect of the AVC blog that I also think changes things in a way that’s strongly to your advantage (Fred). I wrote about it in a post titled “Individuality, transparency, and the cult of impersonality” a while back, at http://bit.ly/3Ss8hx
just read your post terry. you are on to me. scary 🙂
You either have short meetings or a very long work day – or perhaps both.
long work day today, started at 7am today and will finish at 9pmbut today is unusual, i generally start at 8am and am done at 6pm, but i can do nine one hour meetings in that span or 8 one hour and 2 thirty minute meetings
I’m interested to know how quickly you know from the start of the meeting whether it’s going to be a good meeting or a bad one.
in 10 mins or less
do you cut meetings short? how?this is very related to interviewing job candidates.
i am not good at that. i need to work on it
back when i was working for The Man and doing interviews for new hires i used to tell prospective interviewees in the email upfront that interviews are often short, sometimes less than 5 minutes, and that this was not meant to offend but rather respect everyone’s time. usually this went over well, although there were a couple instances of people travelling in excess of 1 hr only to have me show them the door in less than 3 min and them being visibly upset as a result. lolwell maybe the kind of meetings you have are not compatible with that type of approach, although it did help me save a lot of time and energy while still getting to meet a lot of people.
Whoz the man?
my former employer, forex capital markets
This gives a whole new perspective on your beliefs. Not in a bad way, just a curiosity way. I wonder what you know.
Cutting a meeting short isn’t that difficult if you assume that the other person a) is an adult and b) doesn’t want to waste their time on mere politesse. It’s like when you go on a first date. It doesn’t take long to recognize that it’s not working. Generally, both parties can tell, but one may not wish to admit it to himself or herself if the other person is particularly attractive or otherwise desirable.When you conclude that the meeting is not productive, simply tell the other person nicely that this doesn’t seem to be working for you. Ask if they’re sensing the same thing. If they don’t, or won’t admit it, you’ve learned something important about them. You have a reason for reaching the “unproductive” conclusion. Preface it with a genuine compliment and then share it, e.g., “Your venture is pretty interesting, but it seems to be well outside our sweet spot. I don’t see us moving in that direction any time soon. I have a couple of suggestion for your, but I don’t want to waste your time when you could be speaking with investors who are better aligned with your concept.” Or, “You seem like a very bright person and your enthusiasm is infectious, but frankly, I’m struggling to relate to you. Our personal styles don’t match well, and over the years I’ve learned to trust those instincts, so I’m going to do you a favor and tell you the truth: I don’t see us collaborating. I think you’d be better matched with a VC who (share characteristic that makes it a better match).”The idea is to tell people the truth, kindly, but simply and directly. People can handle any kind of news once they know where they stand. You do them no favors by stroking them and leaving false impressions or unfounded hopes. The 2nd half of the equation though, is to help them in some way, either with advice or a referral to a better-matched source, or something else that lets them leave better off than they arrived.
thanks Mike. this is good advice and i will try to use it next week.
In addition to this blog, I think it helps that Fred replies to most (or perhaps all) of his emails. Short, pithy exchanges with entrepreneurs can often be a good substitute for meetings.I’m pretty sure it helps in building karma points that influence deal flow.PS: I’m not suggesting people should bombard him with emails. If you keep it short and relevant, he’ll probably reply. 🙂
i am way behind on email right now Niyi, but i do try to do that
You probably learn more from meeting the entrepreneur/team than reading their business plan anyway.In fact, you actually filter which business plans you read by holding meetings first.
Excellent! It makes great sense and you probably find some gems that would have never emerged if you’d over thought the invitation.
What makes a meeting good? Or bad?And how long does it take you to determine if a meeting is good or bad?”All the good meetings are taken.” –Woody Allen, “Annie Hall”
Annie Hall FTW. That’s got to be one of the funniest movies ever made. And I say that as someone who’s seen exactly two Woody Allen movies and didn’t see Annie Hall for the first time until a few years ago.
I still need to see that movie. I keep getting compared to her, and I still don’t know why….
it’s bad if its a complete waste of time for either me or themi’ll generally know in the first 10 minsseth godin taught me to do 30 min meetings and i do them, but i often book an hour
So instead of spending time filtering, you accept the wide band filter of your public profile- interesting.I guess we’re still not at the point where processes can help give you 9-10 awesome meetings a day. Too many nuances to the people involved and understanding internal funding conflicts.You get some great hands on information that middle men services would obscure.
Fred, how long is your average meeting? i think this is as important as the number of meetings you take
most are an hour, some are two hours, some are 30 mins
some first time entrepreneurs seem to think “getting a meeting” with a VC is actually a sign they’re onto something. this post definitely suggests otherwise.
i think that is somewhat true, but not entirely true
It depends on the expectations for the meeting. If an entrepreneur goes with the idea that after his first meeting with Fred he is going to get a partner meeting and then funded in a couple of weeks, then they will be disappointed. But if they view it as a process of engaging with Fred, using him as an advisor to get feedback on your idea, and talk about your plans and then go back execute your plans and then again come back to him with progress, then you won’t be disappointed. It’s a great opportunity to build a relationship with Fred. Can you put a $$ value on that? :)BTW Fred wrote on the USV blog early on that he waits around and watches first time entrepreneurs for a while before jumping on board. So there is no ambiguity on what to expect if people spend time getting to know Fred’s intentions by reading his previous posts. http://www.unionsquareventu…Quote from the post: “But as I mentioned previously, we need to be open to first time entrepreneurs who have no track record with us or others. With this group, we look for traction on the business plan, a service in the market that is being used and getting favorable reaction from the market. We want to spend a lot of time “hanging around the rim” on these deals so we can be certain that our style and the entrepreneur’s style will work well together. We talk a lot about how the entrepreneur plans to develop as a leader or if they don’t, how they plan to develop others to lead the business.”Also first time entrepreneurs with no references should read this post by Mark Shuster on how to build relationships with VCs.http://www.bothsidesoftheta…
It’s an athletic approach. The team, this community, self trains through conversation.A workable success ratio, but exhausting nonetheless.
And as entrepreneurs, I think we should be using the brute force method of finding good customers. Fact. Great post, Fred, and thanks!
Adam,Could you elaborate on your first sentence?
Sure! Even in the web/community space, where ~1% of the people coming to your site are the ones who engage, post, and play an active role…I think the best way to attract and retain great customers is to actively engage as many as you can.If Fred is saying (and I paraphrase) “spend less time vetting people and more time interacting with them,” then I would say that applies double to the entrepreneurs looking for a users/clients/customers. Perhaps we should spend less time segmenting our customers and profiling them…and more time talking to them.Great companies are forged by attracting raving fans, and raving fans are built on a foundation of engagement. The more you talk to, the more likely you’ll meet one. But that’s just my view. What do you think? Others?
The quote on your site: is that by Heinlein?BTW, is there a way to turn of the whizzing by of posts on your blog? I’d like to read more, but I can’t get past that.
Adam, I think your instincts are correct but I think of this less of a brute force and boil the ocean approach. Its really crowdsourcing a community where it self selects by building a conversation platform around a topic. I do agree that crowdsourcing as a social tool to sift through larger populations cost effectively rather than more expensive, more specific profilng and tools like PPC is definately a way to go.
Absolutely. You’re a marketing type, so I think you get these concepts intuitively, and so you’re able to create that conversation platform. And all the better as a result.I think many entrepreneurs get vertigo when they see the “ocean,” they get flustered, and they don’t know where to get started. Engaging in this web can feel like watching cars whiz past on the freeway, and it can be tough to merge in. So what’s the next step? Well, start with one conversation, I suppose, and work hard at it. Then find 10 more people to bring into the discussion. Have as many conversations as you can.(Fred, shoot me a note if we are hijacking your dialog! Seems like a fascinating discussion, but perhaps off topic…)
Well phrased and what I hear from alot of smart entrepreneurs with a great idea for a product and staring into the flood of the market and trying to figure out where and how to fish for adopters and customers.Marketing is about finding a market, plain and simple. The more you make this part of your product definition from the outset, the better you are stacking the odds towards success. If you think of marketing as a campaign, something to fund afterwards, you are creating roadblocks not inroads.
No w you are making me feel guilty for my BA. Damn.
My BA in English and Philosophy is the best thing I could have done 😉
I have strong mixed feelings about being an art student. art students have very different educations. I wish I had more “practical skills”I wish my department was less theoretical as well as more theoretical. I wish it also had more skill building. Right now it feels like practical philosophy in a bad remix.I’m also feeling really stuck with my BA. The Art Dova profile did not take well to critiques. This is not the art scene, and the department wants me to put limitations on my experimentations in new media. They feel it is way to broad and you come up with so what? or what makes what you did any different than a message board (actually I think they were thinking a 4chan board but I don’t think they know what those are) Or why facebook, or what would a more average user, is there a particular facebook user in mind?If you just start out with social media as a medium to make artwork with and your interest is on some level communication, and you are interest is sorting out the differences between person, object, space, action, and maybe eventually meme, and to get this question and result “displayed” (we’re post duchamp, we’ve had happenings and land art) in an ultra refined way,What exactly do you do to get limitations?That’s why I don’t like my degree.You end up in some sticky situations about being very competitive, it pays poorly, and you feel like you get slaughtered professionally when you make anything because of the move towards self-explaining pieces on one hand, which have to be understood on one layer by viewers, and a haute understanding by the ‘art world’ on the other.In (new) new media, some of the questions are being asked at the same time, so the artwork is feeling ehhh.This is what artwork about twitter looks like now:http://www.afeverishdream.c…http://www.tweetingcolors.com/I'm not attracted to them because I feel like they are avoiding the question. You never get at what the people are doing, and the profile being different from the tweet or which is which, and how you should treat each. Personal thoughts…
Shana, you might find some encouragement by taking a look at Hugh MacLeod’s blog, “gapingvoid: “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards”
yup. yup. Interisting inkwork, excellent points. I have working block sometimes too. It makes it worse.I junked stuff this quarter too. I’m at a total loss. I’m perfectly willing to let it freeflow through here and my ba, I realize the interconnection, doesn’t make it less frustrating.
Thanks for sharing Shana.
It’s an education with a controversial background about what should be taught. There are no good answers.
awaldstein: I agree wholeheartedly that trying to bolt on a mar-comm campaign after the fact is suicidal, that one must address all four Ps, not just promotion.Marketing is, indeed, about identifying a market, which I would describe as defining a profile of people who share characteristics or attributes advantageous to your business, e.g., their circumstances suggest that they likely face the same problem/challenge or opportunity, and that the impact of that problem compels them to take remedial action because the perceived cost of doing nothing is unacceptable. The simplest form of this in B2B is a vertical orientation, i.e., an industry sector.Where I would take issue with your definition is the part about “trying to figure out where and how to fish for adopters and customers.” I don’t think it’s possible to figure that out. Much easier is to enable the market to self-select by positioning via clear messaging in trusted-source comm channels. For example, if I consistently exhort readers/listeners to throw all RFPs in the trash without even reading them, the audience will self-stratify into three groups: 1) those who think I’ve lost my mind and choose to ignore me; 2) those who don’t care enough about the issue one way or the other to have an opinion of me; and 3) those who, sick of wasting time and money on low-return RFP-response efforts, think I’m a genius (mostly because I sound like them). The last group is my market; they will choose to follow my communications, at an industry conference they may choose the session where I speak instead of other options, and may approach me afterward to discuss their company-specific flavor of the problem I’m talking about.In B2C marketing, all this happens on a much larger scale and often much faster. Every day, people gravitate toward or away from your brand based on the nature of your communication, and others’ communication about you.I do like your fishing analogy, though. You choose a fishing hole based upon the likelihood of certain fish being present, and you choose species-specific bait to trigger the same kind of self-selection by the fish.
It’s a huge and juicy topic, thnx for your thoughts. My only response to targeting the crowd is that there are folks now who are using targeting SEO based crowd sourcing methods to hone a target ‘crowd’ through the key words of the discussion. http://www.socialapproach is doing doing some of this and worth a look.
Being off topic is allowed. Joy of disqus.
I’m a Disqus true believer. My views on how comments engender community at @ http://bit.ly/1bfHWf
impressive stamina – I’m burned to a crisp after five in a row.
my rough period is 2pm to 4pmi am thinking of taking a 30 minute nap during that period every dayhaven’t implemented that yet thoughi’d need a couch in my office to start
I’ve been promising myself for years that I’d start napping in the afternoon. Its helped tremendously when I’ve done it.
I consulted for a year out of a home office and usually took a nap from 3:00 to 3:20. Worked like a charm. Now that I’m back in cubicle land sometimes I nervously scan the hallways for an imaginary daybed or bench around that time. Somehow it is never there!
Very impressive ethic. How about a quick 20 minute yoga/stretch midday as an antidote to the midafternoon slump? I use yogadownload.com which offers tons of options for class types and duration, but I think there are other similar services out there.
It’s not a you thing. I find a lot of people are burnt out during that period of time, which also happens to be around the time the sun should be at it’s peak. Maybe it’s a pure biological thing.I’m also burnt out during that time. Maybe everyone in the world should go back to the siesta system? Maybe there was a reason for it?
To borrow from Ferris Bueller re naps: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”The regenerative effects of 30 minutes of shuteye in the mid/late afternoon are amazing (for me anyway). Results may vary.
i do it religiously on the weekends and really want to make it an every day thing
‘community capital’ ftw! That approach is consistent with who you are on your blog which is consistent with you are from my experience. You build community through relationship. That degree of engagement builds your intuition about ideas and about people. Social vs. mechanical ideology which is consistent with where we are going as society.On that point, I heard a speech by HRH the Prince of Wales (the Monarchy was arguably one of the greatest provocateurs and beneficiaries of the mindset) effectively denouncing it and talking about a new philosophy and ‘community capital’.http://tumblog.igniter.com/…That fundamental shift is what you are authentically enacting.
i’ll check out your post. sounds interesting.
It’s a 47min youtube video (no podcasts) – worth queuing in boxee and watching with the kids even :-).Also transcript is here for a quicker scan:http://www.princeofwales.go…
Having a quick look at a powerpoint before a meeting serves two objectives.1. As you say, you can quickly decide if you actually want to do the meeting.2. It helps you prepare for the meeting, perhaps read some reference material or talk to a relevant old friend.Don’t you prepare for meetings?
not much, unless they are board meetings or final pitch meetings
a ‘social VC’ strategy. how do you decide which 10 meetings to take?
a quick email dialog is what i use most of the time
Sort of follows the the same idea behind failing often. You’ll have a few more “failures” sure, but a lot more “winners” as a result.
From my own past experience of living there, it’s pretty easy to have several interesting/relevant meetings per day in an environment such as NYC. Even easier – again from past experience of living there – than in (eg) London (which is such a huge city by comparison to NYC’s relative compactness). This is a huge attraction re: being NYC based.It’s something more of a challenge to have so many interesting meetings per day when living in the middle of nowhere in Yorkshire. I may need to address this – and sooner, rather than later … 😉
yes, but you have SWFC
I don’t have nearly that many meetings, but I do try to have the same philosophy of erring on the side of talking to someone.Even better than the 70% that go well are the few that really change my mind, open something new up for me, and give me an entirely new perspective. Usually they come along unexpectedly and they are such a great treat. Interesting people are definitely the highlight of my job.
that’s kind of the pointi don’t use an rss reader for the same reasoni want to be surprised and learn something new every day
Fred, can you expand on the RSS piece. Are you saying that you don’t use an RSS reader because you feel that by doing that you end up always reading the same people instead of just wandering on trusted sources and stumble new sources? But then how do you manage? You just go through bookmarks etc? I know it’s a bit of a sidetrack on the current debate but I’m obsessed on optimizing my time when I’m consuming media online. Thanks.
Actually I want to know that too. And I’m curious, top thing you learned today.
Re: RSS … it’s one of the issues we have tried to address with ensembli – please have a look – love to know what you think: http://www.ensembli.com
yes, that is what i am saying. i use blog aggregators like hacker news and social media like twitter to tell me what to read every day
The essence of life, Fred.
Your thoughts on learning something new make me think of something I have contemplated and done personally.Continuous education is not just intellectual or academic — sometimes it can simply be focused curiousity. Go learn to fly a plane or to dance or paint or play the violin or blow glass.For guys at the 50 year old and plus mark (looking into the abyss and contemplating your own mortality age) — when was the last time you really did something that scared the crap out of you? Maybe break a sweat, heart pounding, shortness of breath, hand shaking scared?I do not preach recklessness but I am a fan of a good scare. A damn good scare. About every 5 years or maybe every year?It could be something a bit transcendental or thoughtful or physically scary — cheating on your wife doesn’t count! LOL
JLM, there are two ways of learning something new; passive and active.Active is as you have described, continuous education, fly a plane etc. It’s linnear and directed. This sounds like you and most successful people. It’s efficient.The other way is passive, it is opening up to what you don’t know. Being open to new things without actually knowing what you’ll get or whether or not you’ll even learn something new at that time.I think this is what Fred looks to get from his meetings. By not “vetting” he is open to something unexpected or new. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Agree completely w/ your analysis. We all need a bit of both.Much of life is the conflict between/among —the doers and the innocent, but informed, observersthe experiential v the hypotheticalthe empirical v the theoreticalWe all need a bit of both.
Agree, JLM. It’s all too easy to get stuck into a rut. Carpe Diem, and all that!Having been fortunate to have been blessed with an abundance of thrills and spills over the years – including involving flying, motorcycles, cars, gigs, sports, travel, people, business, etc – I have plenty of happy and/or ‘interesting’ memories to call upon to remind me I still have (or did have!) a pulse, lol … things have slowed down somewhat in those visceral respects (I am 50 next year) but that doesn’t bother me too much. It took me until a few years ago to find my true lifetime partner (my wife) – which was a blessed relief, and still is to this day – long may that particular – and more subtle/cerebral/emotional – thrill continue.One should never live in the past but I have a great repository of adrenalin-fuelled moments to call upon – no regrets, which is cool … :-)However, the thing that gets my heart pumping like no other nowadays is the fear of failure.Thrills and spills are relatively easily attained. Success is something much more elusive.
90% of success is arriving on timeYou are already successful the second you lace up your sneakers as there is not 0.5% of people in the world who actually take a personal risk in any fashion.
Like the quote “90% of success is arriving on time” – flip side is what one of our partners taught me, which is that much of the time “being early is indistinguishable from being wrong”. I’m still learning that one.
Blimey, I need to think on that one – simple, but deep; think I ‘get’ it but my head has been full of a cold this past couple of days so it’s my 2nd night running of indulging in a wee dram of Whisky (I only drink the stuff when a cold’s beginning) … 😉
“Interesting people are definitely the highlight of my job.”Then you definitely are in the right position and doing the right thing.Because meeting interesting people is the both the work of one’s life but more importantly the life of one’s work.I cannot tell you how many interesting people I have met and how much I have learned by letting them talk and me shutting up. (And that is no easy task for me.)I have learned more about being blessed to be an American from my Vietnamese lady barber than any politician’s rousing stump speech.The world is full of interesting people.
The world IS full of interesting people, we just have to be willing to see them. Unfortunately, it appears to me fewer and fewer of us are “open” to finding them. We’re too busy vetting them. :)Where do you live? Next time I’m in your city, let’s meet.You in?
ATX — 512-656-1383 BBQ or TexMex?
TexMex!I get to Dallas once in a while, but never Austin. I’ll have to work on that. I’m in Denver, 303-601-8107 coloradoMex or Burger King. 🙂
Keenan: I’m completely off topic, but this complete stranger would like to pick your local brain about some challenges related to the indoor electric go-kart track we’re building in Highlands Ranch. I’ll try my best to make this a good meeting (so I don’t become an object lesson for everyone on this thread – lol).
email me keenan at asalesguy dot com
I have a house in the ‘Boat and get to Denver often. I will give you a ring in the New Year.
Thx JLM – I am lucky to have a job I love. I live in ATL – always happy to have visitors!
My wee ones are both Dawgs and I get to Athens often. If I fly comm’l I go through ATL but otherwise straight to AHN.
I’d bookend the day with the high-potential meetings and put the duds around lunch time.
Mental note: don’t meet Andy during the middle of the day.
Andy, I fear those who find this comment.
and do the last meeting of the day over pappy 23!
Words to live by!
I am super impressed with your responsiveness. Thanks for being so open, you’re truly a model VC. Content, openness and totally get the entrepreneurial culture. I dig that. Looking forward to reaching out to you soon.
best approach is email. you can contact me off the link on the top of this blog. sometimes i am slow on the replies however.
“And I believe they can self select. And for the most part, they do a great job of that.”How would you know?Do you find companies that you like a lot that didn’t bother contacting you but should have?
you are right, i don’t know how to measure that half of the self selection issuei do know that i rarely get asked for a meeting from someone who is working in a space i am not interested in
In the deal flow biz, the most important consideration IS the people. If the people aspect doesn’t work, run as fast as you can. When it comes to people, even a magician cannot make chicken salad out of chicken excrement. Chemistry is everything.For an operating company (different environment than Fred is commenting upon), the last thing a CEO needs to run a business is a bunch of meetings — entirely different environment. I personally hate meetings of all kinds. I believe in giving folks clear objectives, getting them to tell me they understand them and then get out of the way and let them report progress. A good 10-minute phone call is a lot better than a 2-hour meeting.The ability to structure, manage and follow up on required meetings is a very definite skill which is fairly rare in my view.An agenda, a time budget, assigned speakers/reporters, a “parking lot” and an action plan are essential to making meetings effective. It saves a lot of wasted time and creates a record to ensure efficient initiation of the next meeting.
A boss of mine – back in the late 80s when I was working in Germany quite a bit – made it clear ahead of every meeting that come the end of said meeting there would be a binary outcome. I still apply that mind-set to this day.
Being me, I sit there stressed wondering too much about that binary outcome and being nervous. How do you shut that off and be normal.
Make sure you have multiple options.
How do you create multiple options. Sometimes meetings as we all know are exploratory. Or suggestion oriented.Or you are just sitting there going OMG I can’t believe I am doing this. There really is no such thing as practice meetings, and I wish there was.More to the point acually, how do you create a better meeting so that you create options in your meeting so you don’t waste time.
Not multiple options *in* the meeting. If you’re worried about the binary outcome, make sure the less appealing outcome isn’t so bad by having other options.Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure the meeting is only one of a number of parallel opportunities.
Too often, people meet simply because they can, with no sense of what they want to accomplish. You also must narrow your focus to the immediate segment vs. longer term aspirations. Without intending to, many have as their goal, “To get Fred to invest in my venture.” Well, that’s not going to happen in 30 minutes. What do you want out of THIS MEETING? Both parties must ask, “What do I want in exchange for 30 minutes out of my life?” Does the other party agree with and support that goal? If you agree on the meeting’s purpose and goal upfront, then it’s a simple matter to identify the obstacles to reaching that limited goal and set an agenda that overcomes them and gives the best chance to deliver on your mutual purpose.Most meetings fail because there is no shared purpose, making it an (unintentional) exercise in hoping for a miracle.
You have put your finger on exactly why meetings are useless in an operating company — they often fail to advance the raison d’etre of the business.There is no reason why time should not be dedicated to “briefings” or “progress reports” which are by their very nature not “decision meetings”.The management of the meeting is a skill which simply must be mastered. It becomes so much easier if there is an agenda with every topic identified, a time budget for the discussion, the presenter/speaker identified and whether it requires a decision to be made. It is a pain in the butt to do this but you can reduce 8 hour Board meetings to 90 minutes plus a lunch.A critical skill that I plagiarized from a guy I worked for was the creation of a “parking lot” for discussions which were not making progress. They were simply “parked” until the next meeting by which time somebody had done some research to address the issue and economize on the time.Conversely when a gathering is a briefing or a discussion, simply going around the room in an orderly manner and forcing everybody to participate is a great discipline. Don’t let anybody be silent and then subsequently say — well I wasn’t in favor of that lame idea. Silence is assent in my book.
Interesting point, Shana – I had not thought of it that way. I just find it a huge relief knowing that whatever the nature of the meeting if it is under ‘binary rules’ a decision/action will be taken for any of the topics that arise, rather than perpetual talking/vagueness; I find that scenario of uncertainty infinitely more frustrating.
I hate vagueness as well.That being said, I find that most of the time, at least where I am at life, I’m surrounded by vagueness. I find that life is always unfolding because I am so young, and it isn’t one option. It’s many interlinking options with many people who are disconnected or partially disconnected with each other weighing in.In the end, I hate meetings because I end up with a very unclear sense of purpose or action. I also don’t know how to structure my time around stuff like classes (they are a meeting of sorts) because even though I have to show up, (at least for some), for each class it isn’t so clear what the relationship is to my end end goals.I end up just feeling really lost and wondering why? Or feeling like the rebel child in all of this. Really I’m not, I just don’t like this whole “gaming the system” method of life, and want some clarity on a) the flexibility on the order of what is going on in terms of action ( is the purpose to go and complete xyz tasks that are really the root tasks or just to show up, if so why are you doing this to me) or b) how do you want these real tasks done.I tend be a little more independent than I should be, I’m willing to admit a fault. I’m also much more willing to go by the goal list than to go to say “ignore this, just show up and stick around” list, even if It means I obey parts of my running late nature, overwhelemed witth trying too much, being too much, nature. I also admit trying to be way too experiemental and veering a little from the how of life if given two options to argue against, and trying to find my own third.As a result, I hate meetings, since I still don’t know what the binary is. I walk in thinking I am in major trouble of some sort every time since I want some sort of clear purpose set out. Perhaps I’m strange, but I really think most collaboration should be done somewhere else, and the meeting is to cement everything else, and to provide the last few firm points. It’s not that I’m anti-social. And I like working with people, in fact I prefer working with pairs or groups. Meetings seem to create more problems…
You’re not alone in experiencing those feelings, Shana.By virtue of my being an ‘old fart’ I have the dubious benefit of having experienced (probably) several thousand meetings, over the years. It is an artificial environment, especially when (as often the case) politics, egos, powerpoint, etc are added to the mix …I suggest that at the conclusion of a meeting if there doesn’t appear to have been any clear purpose/outcome, express your feelings/concern (as bluntly or politely as you deem appropriate for the circumstances).
College students are different than other people. We’re low on the totem pole. And we exist in bureaucracies. You’re supposed to be “flexing” the system at this age to get ahead. I happen to dislike it. I’m not sure why I dislike it either. Most people love it. I think I made a few wrong choices, and now am mopping them up. Long term, I think it will be ok (I hope), but I still wonder…I also think I was inhibited, and was missing a lot of critical skills that involved just asking. There are days I still think I am, and I think they are solvable, I just think university systems are totally not the right place to learn them.This place (AVC.com) has been a bit freeing that it has been less scary to ask for options other than that, which is more innate to my nature. But still, I want to be good. Been an interesting growth experience…
Uhhh, if you should happen to figure that out any time soon, would you please call President Obama and let him in on the secret so maybe we can get the war in A’stan back on track? LOL
Can’t, I have to stay discrete. I respect the Secret Service too much. They’re nice guys, impersonal, but nice, His pre/post-president abode is a neighborhood fixture. One of my favorite bookshops is his family’s favorite bookshop. One of my close friend’s used to share his barber. People are annoyed that the restaurant he reviewed in the neighborhood for some Public Access show is being closed down. I respect that divide in person. It’s actually a huge pain when it comes to community management. For some reason he lives next to a synagogue. His street is still blocked for cars. They only recently allowed pedestrian traffic. If he comes home, they close blocks right near where I live. And the Secret Service tends to speed. I have heard of students getting slightly harrassed during the transition period because Obama was using a certain apartment building’s gym in the area. The building also has a large student ghetto population, including foreign born students and immigrant students.So Getting connected to Obama is not in the cards. Sorry.(Though I’m really really shocked that during the health care debates no one looked into the History of UCH and Michelle’s tenure, as well as student and neighborhood reactions. Has to be said. I’m still curious why that never happened.)
What calendaring program do you use. I’m guessing google, but how are using it to be most effective with your meetings.**Many people use their calendaring programs differently.
i want to use google, but our office uses exchange with bberry sync so i use outlook web access in chrome or on my blackberrybut to be honest, dorsey manages all of this for me. i could not do it without her.
I will admit that I was hoping to start a conversation along the lines of so, how does everyone here get their calendars straight? Because a lot of people (including me) find getting calendars together difficult (it’s slowly getting better, but not fast and not by enough)So comparing how you get ten meetings in, to the programmer who also comments here, to me, to someone else, and various styles of getting different work done would be useful. Now I am sorting wish I could ask Dorsey directly. Even then it might not be enough. Hmmm. We really need to aggregated this sort of human knowledge. It’s not really web knowledge. It’s behavioral stuff that makes no sense without context.
market research for a startup in a social calendar management space?
Interesting. I just wrote a post about the correlation between level of success and accessibility called “Talking to $1 Billion CEO’s” (http://jordancooper.wordpre…. Your practice is in line with behavior Auren Hoffman believes typical of “A players”
whoa. i love your blog jordan. super relevant to me.
What makes a meeting good for you. When you look at all the great ones you’ve had, what would you say are some of the commonalities? I’m meeting with a very respected VC group soon and would like to make sure I make it a good meeting for them even if they decide not to invest.
best meetings are when:1) i meet someone or some people who are super smart and fun to engage with2) i learn something newi’d also love to get an investment out of it, but the reality is that if i do >2000 meetings per year, i’ll do 2-3 investments. so i don’t focus on that at all.
Although ten meetings a day is probably great for your education (if you learn better by listening as opposed to reading), it seems a bit unfair to the companies you meet with. Although you probably get a lot of deal flow and already sort somewhat, you could probably pass on 30-40% of those 10 meetings just by reading up on them a little. Since you’re eventually going to pass on 99% of companies you meet with, cutting back your daily meetings to, say, 6-7 instead would save the NYC startup ecosystem (read: entrepreneurs) quite a bit of angst and wasted time. Save yourself a bit of time by being (a bit) more selective and try to respect the entrepreneurs you meeting with a bit more.
I’d suggest that if the company approaching Fred has self qualified sufficiently and gotten to a meeting, there is sufficient interest to invest the time in a meeting. At a minimum, I think you’d get some killer feedback..
i think this is a good critique. here’s how i deal with it.1) i won’t meet with someone if there is no chance i’ll invest unless i’ve communicated that via email first2) i won’t meet with someone who wants to travel to NYC to meet me unless i am seriously interested3) i let people know that i do about 2000 meetings per year and invest in 2-3 companies personally.
Given that you invest in a fraction of what you see Fred, how do you typically let an entrepreneur know that you’re not interested in pursing and/or cut a meeting short?
i usually do that via email before the meeting. it is important to set expectations right.i don’t often cut meetings short
It’s an interesting approach to taking meetings and I think is similar to the way that we consume a lot of social media such as Facebook/Twitter. We apply a prelim filter, be it a friend list or who we follow and then we let the data wash over us and cherry pick what is most interesting to us. What I like most about this approach for meetings is that there is a self limiting factor here, which is you can physically only take so many meetings a day, so it becomes harder for you to be overwhelmed by incoming data.
it can be overwhelming though
Fred, you are a people person. Based on my interactions with you, people fire you up. Vetting them from afar just doesn’t do it for you.Seeing, listening, engaging and collaborating in person is who you are. From where I’m sitting, it’s a strength.You’re playing to your strength as you should.
so true. i am awful on the phone
This is so refreshing to hear! That’s why I read this blog every day – because ideas like this are still unique, even if they should be considered ‘common sense’.
I’m jealous. My meetings are boring as hell, a waste of time, and 90% just busy work. Not to mention it’s just people who like to hear themselves talk.I sit in meetings frustrated wishing and wanting to make money for the company, instead of just talking. I feel guilty sitting around listening to the same ideas, embellishing some project planner’s idea of work, while people are looking for work, losing their jobs left and right.Maybe it’s just me.
if you ever come to NYC, come see mewe’ll do a better meeting!
It’s a very interesting and creative way of looking at meeting and it actually very sensible. By giving more of your time for meetings with entrepreneurs you are establishing a reputation for being open and how knows down the road even the bad meeting may lead indirectly to good meetings.
yes, but as some of the comments here point out, i am also getting a reputation for being impossible to convince to invest.
I believe that if an entrepreneur thinks his or her business idea is a viable they should prove it with revenue or a growing customer base or something measurable, without VC funding. Only then should they approach a VC for funding.
And out of those hundreds of meetings per month and thousands per year, how many companies at any one time are you a) considering seriously and doing your diligence and b) invested in?
per year:~ 2000 meetings~ 100 serious considered~ 2-3 investments myself~6-8 investments by our firm
What I find encouraging is that there are enough entrepreneurs in the NYC area to fill your calendar with 10 meetings a day. Score one for the East Coast.
not every meeting is a pitch meeting though. some are board meetings, some are meetings with our portfolio companies that are not board meetings, some are with other VCs to “talk shop”, etci’d bet that 50-70% are with entrepreneurs
Your pro-activeness is awesome. I also like meeting with people openly because you never know what you’ll learn from the other person. A strict vetting process can be problematic because it prevents you from seeing new opportunities. If you have people who do the vetting, you may be constrained by group think or if you have too strict of a personal vetting process you might have an echo chamber dilemma. Overall, openess is a networkers evolutionary process.
i start many meetings by setting the expectation of how long they will last