For the past three or four years, I have been trying to reduce my air travel for a host of reasons (wellness, reducing carbon footprint, increasing productivity, etc) and I would say that this effort has largely been successful.

The main tool that I have used to accomplish this is videoconferencing and although I use whatever videoconferencing software that the other side wants to use, it turns out that I am mostly Zooming these days.

We use Zoom at USV for all of our team meetings and for many of the pitches we receive over video (which has increased significantly in the last few years).

And the vast majority of our portfolio companies use Zoom too.

There are many days when I will be on Zoom for three, four, five hours and I can get a lot done that way.

We had a board meeting yesterday that was one of the best meetings that the company has had and everybody was on Zoom.

I will say that video works better when everyone knows each other well (like the USV team) and the benefits of body language are less.

But without a doubt, videoconferencing has arrived and it can and should reduce your need for air travel. We can’t fully replace the in-person, face to face experience, but we are pretty close to it now. And so we should leverage that to improve our lives, our effectiveness, and our business.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. Mike Zamansky

    That dynamic Charlie mentioned – multiple people on one computer with only a one on screen muddles things. I had a Zoom meeting recently with multiple people local to me and a couple from out of town. Told the other local players I was going to take the call from my office and recommended they do the same from their offices to avoid the situation. Unfortunately, they didn’t.There are times when that situation is necessary — large in person meeting with a couple who can’t attend in person but video conferencing seems to work better when it’s all or none.Still not a replacement for in person but if I can meet someone in person at least once and get to know them for a bit the video conference is a close enough second in most cases.

  2. JamesHRH

    I applaud your commitment to your beliefs.

  3. Matt Zagaja

    I have found myself replacing phone calls with video calls myself. The technology at some point in the past couple years finally arrived. Zoom, BlueJeans, FaceTime, they all usually “work”. One thing I have found fun to do if I’m on a tight schedule and want to catch up with someone is schedule a virtual lunch over video chat. I reserve the phone booth sized conference room at the office, eat, and don’t need to travel.I do agree it still isn’t quite the same as in-person meetings, but good enough for taking care of business or catching up with folks you already know.

  4. William Mougayar

    And second to that type of tool for productivity and convenience is DocuSign or Hellosign for signing docs.

  5. pointsnfigures

    Professor Nick Epley has done a lot of work with reading email, texts etc. He wrote a book, Mindwise. https://www.goodreads.com/b… It’s super interesting. Fred wrote “I will say that video works better when everyone knows each other well (like the USV team) and the benefits of body language are less.” I think this is important.The knock on effect is that as technology gets better and better at conveying our “huminism” and human qualities, where you live becomes less important as long as you have a great internet connection. This will further fuel the movement of distributed workforces and will give momentum to the movement of people from high tax/high regulatory cities/states to lower tax less regulation heavy states.

    1. Michael Elling

      What about the 40% of society that can’t afford a “great internet connection?”

  6. jaygoldman

    We’re heavy Zoom users at Sensei Labs for all of the reasons Fred mentioned. Our customers are all over the world so travel would be unreasonably expensive, time consuming, and bad for the planet. It’s a reasonably good solution, especially when the sound and video quality are good for all parties (as everyone else has mentioned), but I do find that it removes most of the small talk and bonding moments. Often the real connections between people happen in the chatter before and after the meeting, or the meal you grab together because you happen to be in the same town. Those are the moments that form relationships but also the ones that get edited out in the efficiency of joining and leaving meetings from anywhere in the world.Two things we’ve learned: it’s worth outfitting at least one of your meeting rooms with a Zoom Room setup (and don’t skimp on the microphone — sound quality is way more important than video quality), and having everyone connect to Zoom on their own laptops, even if they’re in the same room, can solve a number of problems mentioned in the comments. Just have everyone turn off their audio so you don’t get feedback. We do our weekly dev demos across our whole team by having everyone connect to Zoom from their desks, put themselves on mute, and only have the presenter on audio. Works really well!

  7. awaldstein

    yup to zoom, yup to putting personal wellness as the driving factor that drives a lot else including productivity.fan of the product, especially its quality and virality. working on a project years ago and just within that project i was personally turned on to using it, then everyone I touched i spread it.now becoming a platform for distant learning and some other applications that just make sense now that its footprint is so large and the product so damn good.

  8. David C. Baker

    My struggle with video is that it works best when I am still (as in seated) and I get antsy. I can wander on the phone or in a face to face meeting.

  9. Sebastian Wain

    It is incredible how Zoom works comparing to the other alternatives. Many times I have the impression they even work when the Internet connection cut in using some kind of videoconference prediction algorithm 😉

  10. CJ

    In my previous life working IT for a high profile recruiting company, video played a huge part in the culture of the company. This was early 2000s and I’d say the interview mix was 25/50/25 – where it starts on the phone, moves to video, then final qualification was in person.These were 6 figure and above roles so the money was there to do every interview in person, even when it required flying but the time wasn’t. Because video was so important to the business side of the house, it became an often used tool on the operations side as well. Made communicating and meetings much more productive.It’s interesting to see the rest of the world start to catch up on video. After leaving, I was always surprised how many people didn’t use it and how less effective meetings are because of it.

    1. Adam Parish

      Old news.

  11. LIAD

    don’t particularly enjoy air travel – and use zoom a bunch too.however – can come to the diametrically opposed conclusion to yours about it improving our lives, effectiveness and business whilst also agreeing with your conclusion.Schrodingers Zoom.

  12. DJL

    So I have to ask if you (or other people active here) support the Green New Deal, which essentially proposed to eliminate air travel. (Seriously?) A lot of Democrat Senators have signed on.This would essentially shut-down the business as we know it. But I have not seen one VC come out and condemn it.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      No, no, no, that’s not how the Greenies of the New Deal work!!!! They wanted most of all attention, and the MSM (mainstream media) provided it. Sure, just a little $10T in 12 years to “save the planet” where we “passed the point of no return” some years ago and that “will end in 10 years” anyway!!!!Soooo, the New Deal Greenies have their attention and virtue signaling, maybe contributions from the renewable, sustainable, subsidy lobby, know that now such a thing would never pass Congress, and otherwise move on to some more attention getting, e.g., claiming that Trump is a racist, dog, racist, dirty, sexist, a dirty dog, racist, in the pocket of Putin, sexist, a white supremacist, racist, sexist, …, anything else they can guess to throw out!!!As a result, I regard the Greenies and the MSM as worse than toxic sewage and insist on ignoring them, but their nonsense is trivially easy to understand and their stench gets through clearly enough anyway.

      1. DJL

        To me this is a stain on the entire VC and Big Tech community. They know full well this is shit. But their hated for Trump is so severe that they will never attack any idea or person that is against him, no matter how stupid and silly that idea/person is.You had major VC firms posting “F** Trump” on their blogs (for what reason?), but they are totally silent when their entire business model is threatened. Sickening.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          So explain to me, in simple, clear terms, why they hate Trump?

          1. DJL

            Of course I don’t know for sure. Here is my theory: Big tech is packed with rich, white Liberals. They love globalism and climate reduction because it makes them feel good. They are (generally) snobs who think they know what is best. Of course, they will never lose their jobs or healthcare or neighborhood because of any policy decision. And they don’t really care how Liberal policies have destroyed inner-cities.Trump is dismantling everything they stand for, including the political swamp that defends them. They (big tech, news media) cannot stand that they are being defeated by some bozo that they consider beneath them. It’s pretty simple, schoolyard level stuff to me.

          2. DJL

            Wondering what you thought of my theory?

          3. sigmaalgebra

            The hate for Trump and the flowing oceans of anti-Trump propaganda — wildly outdoing Dr. J. Goebbels — of the mainstream media (MSM) suggest to me the usual explanations:(i) “Always look for the hidden agenda.”(ii) “Follow the money.”You remember the movie Dr. Zhivago and there the character Victor Komarovsky who was “in with” a long list of powerful people from whatever interests.Well, I’m suspecting that being “in with” high end parts of the Democrats can be obtained with money — campaign contributions, nice jobs for sons and daughters, some really good hot tips on cattle futures, buying a really nice house at a big discount, etc. — that can give some fantastic ROI (return on investment).Sure, some people go along with the anti-Trump stuff to fit in with high society Odor-Eaters spray coverups of the real workings of the money, and there are lots of “convenient idiots”, e.g., 99+% of the people who still watch the MSM TV, but something so large and irrational (AOC, Fauxcahontas, Beto, Mika and Joe, the MSM) at its real, crucial core about has to be about money, quite a lot of money.

          4. DJL

            Yes. $20 mil used to get you some good stuff when the Clinton Foundation was in. Globalism (the hidden agenda) that takes the US down to (possibly) raise the standard of living for billions in other countries (the money) is a tasty market for big tech. And the highest rungs of the Party get to be the ruling class over it all. Lot’s of lux appointments and consulting dollars. The World economy. Mr. T has put a major crimp in that system.

          5. sigmaalgebra


    2. Sam H

      Stop spreading misinformation. The Green New Deal says nothing about eliminating air travel.

      1. DJL

        Okay, “moving toward the total reduction of fossil fuels”. All of the people here in Houston that make their living off of fossil fuels will be down for that. What is the cost and timeline of “retrofitting every building in the United States”? It is total liberal fantasy. Nobody is held accountable for the details.

    3. fredwilson

      We offset our travel already. It costs about 3-10% extra depending on what project you choose to offset with. I don’t think offsets or a carbon tax will kill air travel

      1. DJL

        Just make it more expensive so only rich people can fly. Carbon taxes have been in place in EU with no noticeable effect. Its great for political control, not to great for emissions.

  13. Lance

    Coupled with Gong.io, we find Zoom to be highly effective for SaaS selling, especially for the inside sales team. Nothing beats in-person, but today it’s much harder to schedule first calls in person. Gong.io is incredibly powerful. It scans, catalogs and archives each call for understanding and sharing insights with the team. It also alleviates the need for taking notes, which can be quite distracting when leading a meeting.

  14. Mike

    Interesting discussion. I’ve used Zoom, but mostly for small team conference calls. For a group that meets regularly and are familiar audio seems to be sufficient. Establishing new relationships, customer interactions, face to face will be the way to go with a Zoom type platform as a fill in. But it seems the options are increasing and improving.I have found a certain amout of business travel can be productive and enjoyable. But the total costs of travel are high and airports are tough these days so need to be smart about it.Talk about an industry ripe for disruption. Has commercial air travel really changed that much in the last 50 years? Will be interesting to see if the promises of sub-orbital commercial flights materialize in the coming decades. New York to Tokyo in 3 hours. That would be game changing. I have no idea how this type of technology might fit within a low carbon economy.

  15. JayJanney

    I wish I could join in praising zoom, but my own experience with it has been meh, at best. I’ve had too many technical issues with it. I teach two hybrid courses using Zoom, with 10-15 students per class. We’ve yet to have a semester where the technology worked as planned. And that is using my University office computer wired connection, new computer running Windows 10. Dual monitors (I got old, I have poor eyesight).Beyond that, my biggest complaint is that you can share one item at a time pretty well, but beyond that and the quality goes down. In class I like having up a powerpoint, generally a shared google doc where we can write, and sometimes jpeg or a pdf. It’s okay, not awesome.I’m not poo pooing technology; I think it has a place, but you need technology to be in the background, so reliable that people forget to comment about it. If Zoom gets there, then I’ll huzzah it with the best of them.And in fairness, we contract with a 3rd party to operate the classes, so it might be a coordination issue between zoom and our 3rd party vendor.

  16. sigmaalgebra

    Ah, Fred, you just gave Excedrin headache #20,283,442,223 to everyone in the dense, urban, high cost real estate business!!

  17. JLM

    .Horses for courses.In the communication business the medium has to work for the topic, the people, and the people dynamic.The tradeoff is always: “Is this good enough?”In the scenario Freddie describes — plane flight v Zoom — I would tend to go with the Zoom interface recognizing its shortcomings — not picking up the entire room vibe.I find myself talking to clients for an hour usually on Skype or Zoom. Sometimes, I have 3-4 such seances in a day.It works in a different way for different persons. Once I had to talk to a CEO about something wildly sensitive. It worked better to go audio than audio/video. He/she said it made him/her more comfortable not to see my face. [No, it didn’t hurt my sensitive feelings.]There is no substitute for sitting with a person and hashing it out while receiving the input of their mannerisms and reactions.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  18. Chuck Reynolds

    Do you find that you are using voice only or video conference and voice? What have been some of the hurdles that you’ve experiences in getting folks to use VC vs. just voice and how did you overcome them?

  19. lisa hickey

    When meeting with others, the most important thing is to come prepared to give people information that they don’t know — but to communicate that information in a way that is so clear, so concise, and so meaningful that the other attendees know immediately how that information should be used. If everyone shows up to a meeting with the intention to do that alone—it doesn’t matter if it is video, phone, in person, text, email, chat or any communication platform.Zoom is great. But surrounding yourself with people who know how to communicate things of value is even better.And yay to reducing carbon footprints and talking about it!

  20. Adam Parish

    Hey Fred – I live on a combination of video conferencing software, too. What headphones do you use with your PixelBook / Pixel for best audio? I was so productive and looked normal with my wired Plantronics Blackwire 435, but Plantronics hasn’t updated this product in years.My wishlist is USB-C, in-ear and mic boom. <— There isn’t a device like this on the market, but the Blackwire 435 comes close. It just needs an update and native USB-C support.https://www.plantronics.com

  21. JamesHRH

    It is not you, it is the lack of familiarity.

  22. kenberger

    Interesting, as I was about to write the opposite!We’ve been using Meet, and Zoom, lately for EST and PST zoned blockchain co’s to interview our engineering candidates who are in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America, and it’s worked super well! Could be because our candidates were well-screened by both sides to start with.But also, a big tip is to have the people sitting in as “studio”-like a situation as possible. A nice conference room could be all it takes, make sure the lighting is natural-looking, no odd direct sunlight or cold fluorescent lights, excellent bandwidth, etc. Having people sit where you can see their whole body can also help.I actually feel like interviews are great for this, whereas the other use cases mentioned merit more of the hanging out, eating, drinking, etc.

  23. awaldstein

    think its a matter of knowing how to use it in that circumstance.recently instructed one of my account ceo’s on the best practices of managing a meeting cross a bunch of different locations especially as his accent was a challenge to some of the investors.learnable skill.just like we learned to be on panels, on tv and on and on.

  24. jason wright

    Acting makes perfect. Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. Go for a for a job you don’t want, and sense how different the Zoom experience is. Draw conclusions. Is it nerves? Is it tension? Is it ‘rabbits…’?

  25. JLM

    .The technique you describe — the unknown observer — comes right out of the POW/enemy interrogation agent playbook.Somebody watching an exchange while not speaking is often a superior observer because they don’t have the distraction of being involved. Plus they have a different, more transparent angle.Once I was convinced somebody was telling me the truth and somebody who listened to the conversation from an odd angle and who said nothing, said, “Son-of-a-bitch is lying through his teeth.”I thought otherwise. Guy was lying. I couldn’t see the guy’s hands or feet. The observer could. He had more info than I did. Made a better call.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  26. Gene @ Tradle.io

    While we use Zoom as a preferred VC, I concur that I had exactly the same weird dynamic, in our case in the sales meetings: I am visible, they are not, or just one of them is. Too many of such meetings, if this is a first call, end up in a confusion, and sometimes in a disaster. I am now explicitly requesting a video on their side, but often get a weird excuse when already on the call, that they do not have the right camera, no camera, wrong computer, or some other such excuse. It also happens too often that some people just can’t use the application (either did not work for them or sound did not work) and they just dial in instead. But since dial in is without an individual ID, they are not recognized as a specific participant so very hard to understand who is even talking. Unfortunately still have to travel way too often.And yea, those minutes prior to and after the meeting are the most precious.

  27. JamesHRH

    Hmmmm. Debated responding.It’s not the lack of familiarity with Zoom, it’s the lack of familiarity ( connection ) with the people.Fred is right that video conferencing only works for established relationships. For a gig you really want, I would meet in person.