Yesterday I did office hours for the second time. We started doing office hours in the fall of last year and try to do them once a quarter. Brad, Albert, Christina, and I all do them. Christina does office hours way more often than the rest of us. But we all do them.
We were inspired by Josh Kopelman and Brad Feld who have been doing their equivalent of office hours for some time now.
Here's how we do them. We use Nate Westheimer's Ohours platform. Here is USV's Ohours page. And we broadcast office hours openings on the USV Twitter feed. Signup is on a first come first serve basis.
I block out a three hour period and take meetings in 15 minute blocks. So I did twelve short meetings yesterday. About half of them were in person and about half were on skype video.
Because there is absolutely no screening and signup is drop dead simple, the lineup is completely random. And that is what I like most about office hours. I doubt any of the people I met yesterday would have gotten a meeting with me any other way.
The two most common uses of the fifteen minutes was a funding pitch (I got three of them) and advice on which of two or more ideas the entrepreneur should focus on (I got four of these). But I also got people looking to get an intro to a potential customer, people looking for advice on scaling an organization, and people looking for me to promote what they are doing to others.
Earlier yesterday morning I had breafast with a young VC. He talked about finding "outliers" and how important that is in our business. He is so right and although I've yet to meet an entrepreneur I immediately wanted to back during office hours, I am equally sure that it will happen and it will be a person we would not have met through our usual process.
I doubt one ‘finds’ outliers.Just happens.
Interesting.I believe it was Andre Breton and the Surrealists who conceptualized the idea of Haphazard Occurrence. You can’t plan for it but you can work to create circumstances and open your own poise to encourage it to happen.
When I was a teenager, I read a book by the man who’s considered to be the founder of modern karate. It had a list of “maxims for the trainee” in the back, one of which was, “when the mind is ready, a teacher appears”.Not long after I bought the book, a black belt in that style of karate moved in to a house around the block, and offered to give a friend of mine and I lessons. So that maxim sort of came true literally (for a while, at least: the black belt got tired of giving free lessons soon enough).
you’ve given me an idea to tweet out random quotes from Master Po….ah grasshopper.
Fascinating DaveThis is a discussion for bottles of organic bubbly and leisure on the rooftop.’Laws of attraction’. ‘Serendipity’. Haphazard Attraction’ ‘when the mind is ready’. All connected with subtle differences.I’m a believer that you get what you work for (plus luck). But I’ve come to believe more, especially with the power of a socially driven transparent world, that you can find doors to possibilities by pushing out interest and passion in an open manner. Luck matters but you need to work every day like you can make your own luck through connections and self belief.
great comment Arnold
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”blogged about it once. http://bit.ly/cQD5Yg
Well said.Surfing over to read your post.
thanks!*****::* @reecepacheco <http: twitter.com=”” reecepacheco=””>*:: like cool video? sign up for our alpha! shelby.tv*
On your alpha list now, thnx for the invite.I’m a veteran of the social video wars so interested. Recent post @http://bt.io/Gxkp
cool… i’d seen that post of yours before.to be clear, we’re not doing social chat so much as giving you apersonalized channel of video your friends are watching/recommending. you’llsee. ;)**
Disqus is not letting me follow on with comments so this stuttering is necessary…but annoying.Distinction is clear. I’ll check it out.I’m looking at everything lately through a lens of extending nets and circles of friendships through interest connections. Curious to see if that plays into your channel idea.
i think it will.i’ll get you on board later today…**
I firmly believe that is how most of life works out – it’s a lot of work, and lots of luck (you can work hard to no direction)
Live/work with passion is a foolproof formula.
Beyond that, I’m realizing you have to be prepared to meet and befriend all sorts of people for such serendipity to happen- you never know what kind of introductions you need.
Actually, I think it was formalized by Fluxus….
New one to me Shana although you may be right.Manifesto of Surrealism by Breton was early to mid 1920s I believe.
You have to look for them like a kid looking for his bookbag before school. You can’t look in the middle of the market. :-)For example, our target is B2B companies with high volume medium deal size sales forces. We’re also trying to talk to people with varying volume and deal sizes to see if there is some crazy inflection point out there where there is a big multiplier in our value – but maybe only for a half dozen companies.-XC
I’m sure you will meet an entrepreneur you want to back through office hours. I’m a big believer in serendipity.Love the fact that you used Skype, how did you find that as a medium for interacting with entrepreneurs?
Indeed.Loved this quote so much I Twitter’ed it the other day…“You embrace serendipity and you pivot as you go along this longer term arc. That’s the way I have lived my life” – @joi < Nicely put. #MIT
I was going to ask about Skype as well.For me, better than a call but never as good as a meeting.I do a lot of demo walk throughs and difficult to do the video conference and the walk through together. Am I missing a app to make this easier?
I thought Skype had a screen sharing facility Arnold, I’ve never tried it.
It does. We use it a lot
what do you think in terms of quality
If something is important/relevant enough then a face-to-face meeting will happen – is the only true test of a dialogue/proposition/etc.Key thing (concern) is whether a (eg) Skype pre-screening for a possible meeting compromises the opportunity.One will never know, I guess…
If you’re doing a web demo with one person/one screen, you can “share your screen” in Skype. I don’t think Skype supports sharing your screen with more than one screen at this point.For sharing with more than one person/screen there’s different screen sharing sites, such as YuuGuu. We’ve had demos before using Skype for voice, YuuGuu for video.
Yuuguu is great – was backed by the same VC that backed ‘us’ (ie, one of my recent past start-ups, http://www.ensembli.com).They’ve done very well – well deserved.
Thanks for the tip Dan
Exactly right. Much better than a call for me
It works pretty well. Four of the six skypes were to eastern Europeyesterday
Thanks again for your time, was great to chat yesterday.And Skype was fine for me, although yes, eye contact is a bit tricky 🙂
i had one of a handful of Skype biz calls the other day.it was good, not great.nice to see someone’s face, but weird because you’re not actually looking at each other (rather, you have to look at the camera to give the impression of eye contact).
that’s a good point about the eye contact Reece, when I use Skype it’s always with people I know well so it’s not something I think about.
yeah, i try to arrange the window near the camera so it gives the appearanceof direct eye contact…**
I put the Skype window just under the camera to make the eye contact impression automatic. Every time I look at the other person’s picture, I’m looking (almost) at the camera.
yeah… same.still, i’d rather be in person.
Well, yes. In person will always be the best connection. :-)Skype’s nice for times when that’s not possible, and especially for making international voice and video calls free. That’s a big enabler.
I’ve done job interviews via Skype and my experience was also “good, not great.”More important, however, was the signal that the hiring manager is interested enough in my ideas (and respectful enough of my time) to do a video call instead of an on site meeting.The application may not be great, but it is efficiently democratizing.
That can be easily solved by camera position. I find with laptops that is not the biggest deal at all (the camera is about eye height.
Big difference if you already know the person or it’s a first meeting.For a first meeting you’re right there are so many non-verbal queues and on Skype you can catch, maybe, half of them? Still better than phone.
I had a intro-by-a-friend meeting with some VC’s who will never in a million years fund me – and we all knew it. They take those meetings on purpose to get smarter about things that aren’t in their knowledge set. I met with them to refine my pitch by hitting totally cold VC’s.I was able to offer to help one of their portfolio companies get introduced into my current company and they pointed me at a former CEO of theirs who knows a lot about what we’re doing and can give us some smart insight.So I guess while we were all looking for general stuff, there was also a sense that we had to try to make something concrete happen.-XC
Did you have a big block of cheese in the foyer?I think this is a great idea by the way…
Big block of cheese day was the first thing that came to mind for me.
Just wondering, how long did it take for the 12 slots to fill up?
I have no idea. Gary would know
Gary should chime in here, but my recollection is that it was all of 20 minutes.
As Christina mentioned, the vast majority of them went quickly. There was some churn to get them completely closed out. And, we had a few cancellations the day of.
When I signed up for Ohours with USV on a different day, the slots were filled in just a few minutes.
We opened 36 slots. The first slot was taken at about 8am. The last one was taken at about 3pm.
Nate’s site is a tremendous resource that I wish more VCs in the city took advantage of. For someone who wants ultimately to break into the industry it’s given me the chance to get in front of VCs whom I was unable to get a hold of via email.Ohours has also been a fantastic way to meet people in the NYC tech scene on a one-on-one basis, and I’d encourage anyone who wants to get entrenched in this community to use it. I’ve made numerous intros for people after hosting my own and attending other people’s Ohours, and the same has been done for me. It seems like Ohours should definitely be a feature on favo.rs given how many people use it.
I’m trying to get an invite code to http://favo.rs – do you have one, and how did you get it?
Thanks for the kind words, Adam.
I also agree that, now more than ever, “outliers” are critical to find in early stage VC. With the proliferation of social media there is rarely a funded startup that numerous other VCs didn’t look at or at least hear of. Beating the other guys to the punch is vital (and could prevent having to compete as much on terms), and it appears that Ohours could really facilitate this.
You could do a much more condensed video version of this. A platform that enables you to click through masses of short 2-minute pitch clips without the “hooplala” of live pitch competitions.One-way, but a higher throughput than 4 per hour.
I love this Fred! It’s kind of like reverse cold calling.
That is how Brad Feld came across the TechStars idea that he is so known for today.
Great idea. Love that you are looking for non-traditional ways to interact and find deals.
the only ones that work these days are non-traditionaleveryone can read techcrunch or go to Y Combinator or hang out on angel list
This is an extraordinarily generous concept. The fact that it may be good business for USV does not make it less so. Another reminder that ideas (like art) become more valuable, the more they are shared.
Were there any companies looking at the Enterprise in a social way?When this hits, those companies will make this first batch look very limited.
Hi Tom,we were. If you want to know more, please email me kmamas at megaventory.comThanks!
Thanks, will check it out.
i’ve used Ohours a few times and i found it really rewarding.there are probably 2 people i would’ve hired on the spot and a couple others who i still keep in touch with a few months later.and yes, as CliffElam already mentioned, taking those meetings is a way of doing research or serendipitous learning.
for what it’s worth, reece, the folks who have met you tell me it’s equally rewarding 🙂
ha… thanks for the feedback!—————sent wirelessly
I’d agree. I’ve found office hours to be quite energizing. There are a lot of passionate people working on exciting projects out there.
I am a huge fan of office hours and what Nate built is a slick tool for organizing. At First Round we have funded two entrepreneurs who we met at Office Hours and likely would not have met otherwise, supporting the idea that you can find outliers. I have also found that the office hours meetings are a great way to find themes in the ecosystem — multiple, separate people working on similar ideas or thinking about similar problems, using common tools or building on/trying to disrupt the same platforms or markets — and i think these themes can help open your mind and allow “teachers to appear” as Dave said. I have learned a ton every time we have held office hours and look forward to more.
wow, two deals from ohours. that is very impressive. even more reason to keep doing them!
Thanks for letting me be one of the twelve appointments. It was great to meet you and get feedback on my project. Many thanks for making yourself available.
I had one of yesterday’s slots and used skype. Imho slots should be set to 25mins to include also some 5-10mins minutes for introductions. I think introductions are very important in such talks/presentations.
Filling out your Ohours bio and including links to your Twitter, Linkedin, etc., are great ways of conserving time. Making them longer means that we won’t be able to talk to as many people.
IMO what Nate’s doing with office hours is terrific, both for the community and individuals. The serendipitous connections you form (especially in NYC where everyone is only 1 or 2 degrees away, sometimes without knowing it) can become tremendously valuable down the line.
I’ve heard Nate describe this as the value of opening your door up to other people. It’s a great goal.
Fred, how many of the entrepreneurs that you have backed would you have backed based on that one 15 minute meeting? I wonder about how a guy like Evan Williams comes across in a 15 minute meeting if you hadn’t known his background beforehand.
the 15 minute meeting is just a meeting to decide if you want to take a second meeting
Love the idea. I just reached out to someone in my city after sifting through the options in Ohours.
Hmm….so Ohours sifted context?If so, I have to spend some time with this. I’m looking for context filters.
Well, what was the most outlier question?
want to invest $5mm?
I think my first impression was to laugh, and the second was, umm, that’s a bit rude
The whole dynamics around serendipity and outliers are really interesting and tough to get right when it comes to platforms/people with ultra-high demand, like you and/or USV.Interestingly, it’s something I’ve been observing with both Ohours and the NY Tech Meetup.With both, what happens is that people who ask for slots (either a meeting or a demo) are generally the loudest and most diligent self-promoters.While you want to reward people who are quick to see/hear of an availability or an opportunity and ask for it, it’s not necessarily what you want to optimize for.With NYTM we’d gotten around this by setting explicit themes. University Research Night is harder to plan for, because you actually have to solicit demos, but always amazing quality.One idea for Office Hours and Ohours more specifically is to set up and anonymous profile, just saying what kind of advice you’re good at giving and what kind of people you’re interested in meeting. *THEN* see who actually signs up.Chances are the rate of serendipity will go way up.Question for me is: How can I engineer this into the platform?
Did you ever see Ben Brown’s Consumating.com? (circa 2004-ish) You tagged yourself, and then people could tag you. Perhaps you could extend the behavior around tagging into reputation, and then use that as a filter. i.e. take meetings from people who have been tagged as “foo”.
great points nate. i’m curious to see what you come up with
Fred,The term “outliers” is a fashionable term ever since Gladwell’s book. I’m wondering, what context your associate was using it? I always thought that outlier = rare ability significantly greater than anyone else. I would assume the outliers would be the most capable of beating through the brick wall to make things happen.
i think in the context of our breakfast conversation it was someone who can produce outsized returns
I’ve been doing office hours about growth for a few weeks, also on ohours. I think the meetings are worth it if only to get excited by other people working on interesting things. This fits Milton Glaser’s rules: only work for people you likehttp://www.miltonglaser.com…Here is how you know:”And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”The ohour sessions I’ve had (skype based 20 minute sessions for an hour) definitely fit as nourishing.http://ohours.org/ivankirigin
i like that rule.focus on people who give you energy
What a great concept, I would love to start participating in things like this for my field.
should have office hours in fredland. appointments are free, but if you don’t show up to one…..well, you can expect to be required to do some act of community service (as well as a potential fine, payable in fredbucks [nation-state funny money not accepted])
enforced by our bouncer of course
You know it boss! That’s what the governance layer is all about….when thegame disrupts reality to create a new world order
When is the next office hours session scheduled?
Sam, our plan is to hold these quarterly. Follow @usv on Twitter to hear about the next round.
Awesome Fred :-)I read this book just after I left University called Executive Charisma (D.A. Benton) great book for any software developer who has spent more time with machines than people (like me then). It recommended that you introduce yourself to one person a day at work and find out what they do.. that simple rule has done wonders for me in in terms of career, learning and fun. I took to the next step and now introduce myself to random people in coffee shops every week 🙂 It helps me constantly challenge my perspective of life, learn at a faster pace and even more fun!
@FredWould be interesting to record office hours and post the videos… [provided the entrepreneur is open to it]. Crowd rate the pitch and let people add comments to it- might be an awesome way add outside thoughts and learn something additional.