Brad Feld

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Preparing For A First Meeting With Me

May 18, 2009

I have lots of short meetings.  I’ll try to meet with anyone that I can that is referred to me or seems to be doing something relevant to my world.  I’ll also meet with people I think are interesting or, in some cases, just to be polite.

Some of the most interesting things I’m involved in have come out of random meetings.  One of my favorite examples is TechStars.  David Cohen somehow ended up on my “random day” meeting schedule.  We had never met before and I had no idea who he was.  He came in, sat down, and handed me a first draft of a brochure he had created.  I asked him to tell me about himself and “TechStars.”  He did.  Five minutes later I looked at him and said “I’m in – let’s figure this out.”

I had two random meetings today (and I’ve got two more).  Each ended after 15 minutes.  I tried to be polite in both, but the people were woefully unprepared.  This makes me a little impatient as it’s so easy to do a little work in advance of our meeting to figure out what I’m going to be interested or not interested in. 

At the risk of sounding obnoxious and arrogant, following are some suggestions of things to do to prepare for a first meeting with me.  By the way, I think this applies to any first meeting, but I’ll personalize it since I know it works with me.

Search the web for meGoogle, LinkedIn, my blog, Foundry Group blog, Askthevc blog.  A little bit of research will save us both a lot of time.  I won’t have to tell you my story (which I won’t do anyway in a random meeting.)  You will know in advance what I do (and don’t) invest in.  You can also tune your presentation / our discussion to me.

Figure out the one thing you want to communicate with me.  I’m meeting with you to talk about you and what you are up to.  I can probably handle one – maybe two – things during our meeting.  So, get right to it and lead off with the one thing you want to accomplish with our meeting.  If we are two minutes into our meeting and I still have no clue why we are meeting, I’ll ask you “what do you want to get out of this meeting?”  That’s a hint to cut the chit chat and focus.  I’m not trying to be rude – just efficient – so we can make our time together useful to you.

Don’t make our meeting an endless stream of Planet Feld references: I want to talk to you about what you are up to.  Don’t try to connect with me by talking about my running, or my reading, or my house in Alaska unless it’s relevant to what you are talking to me about.  I can focus 100% of my energy on you for 15 minutes – help me make it count.

Have one thing in your head that you think I can learn from you: Regardless of the outcome of a meeting, I view it as a success if I learn one thing.  If our meeting isn’t going anywhere after ten minutes, you’ll notice a not so subtle shift as I move into “shit, I’ve got five more minutes left – I better get something out of this meeting.”  It helps, of course, if you know what you want me to learn from you, and it relates to what I care about.

Following are two other hints for during the meeting.

Don’t ask me to sign an NDA.  Please read this blog post titled Why Most VC’s Don’t Sign NDAs.  If you insist on having an NDA signed, don’t have a meeting with me. 

Pay attention to time. Our random meeting is likely scheduled for 30 minutes.  However, most of them only take around 15 minutes.  Don’t view this as a bad thing – if you are focused and get to the point, we can usually accomplish more in a 15 minute meeting than most humans accomplish in an hour long meeting.  If I’m really into what you are doing I’ll probably get it in 5 minutes and immediately shift into “let’s figure out what to do next” mode.  Sometimes it takes me longer and the aha moment hits me at minute 13, at which point we’ll go longer.  Please don’t feel the need to fill up 30 minutes or stretch things out, especially if you know I’m either into what you are up to – or that I’m not.  I’ll appreciate the extra 15 minutes you gave me back (to write blog posts like this) and remember our meeting more fondly!