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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Preparing For A First Meeting With Me

Comments (64)

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!

  • http://www.visistat.com Tina Bean

    Great comments! I think we should use these helpful tips with any meeting.

    If' we can't articulate our value proposition and defend our technology in 15 minutes, then we don't deserve to be there.

  • happyhappy

    great advice though i wish you would have organized it according to "turn-ons" and "turn-offs"

  • http://ben.casnocha.com Ben Casnocha

    I try to do most random meetings over the phone — easier to cut it off if it's a waste of time.

    Don’t make our meeting an endless stream of Planet Feld references

    This is very interesting. I know exactly what you're talking about. At times finding the common ground / common interests is a great way to make a connection. But other times it's hugely annoying and a waste of time, especially if it doesn't feel genuine.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/PhilSugar PhilSugar

      I agree with you. I think common ground/interests come out after a long relationship or are randomly found but trying to force it feels fake. Kind of like using my name repeatedly (I know what it is) or asking questions that require I answer in the affirmative (if I could double your net worth would you be interested?)

      Must come from some sort of bad book on sales techniques. I love studying the art and science of sales but those are three big sins.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dgcohen David G. Cohen

    Awesome. I remember that first TechStars meeting vividly. I remember having that clear goal – "Get this guy involved and supportive of TechStars". Guess that worked.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/arinewman120 arinewman

    Good advice Brad. I think this is good guidance for any meeting, and certainly any VC meeting. If we had more 15 minute meetings and less hour-long ramblings we'd all be more efficient.

  • http://www.dealhorizon.com John Sharp

    Excellent post. Also important – recognizing when the meeting is over.

    Once "next steps" have been agreed and a handshake completed, it's time to stop selling and start heading for the door. Small talk should be timed to last the distance it takes to get to the elevator.

  • http://www.miajavier.com Mia

    It's great to see these comments. I'm a newbie analyst in the cleantech space and I continue to be surprised at how intelligent entrepreneurs sabotage their funding efforts by failing to do a little desk research on approaching investors. Your post underscores how easily an entrepreneur can access useful information.

  • Jon Van V.

    Meetings are the reason why humans will never reach their full potential.

    Maybe I heard that on Star Trek, but it rings true. I can't count the number of times I find myself in a meeting wondering 'do I need to be here for this?' or 'why are we talking about this?' If you want to be social and chit-chat lets do lunch, if you want to get something done then lets get to it.

    I agree.

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  • http://lmframework.com David

    Brad, sorry to fly in the face of public opinion, but this post (and above all the title) makes you look like a right jerk.

    I know what you've achieved, and most importantly how much you've given back to the community. That's why I read your blog, and why I'm willing to spend time giving you feedback.

    I think you should have framed the post in a more generic context: how to get the most out of any 15 minute meeting, regardless of the counterparty.

    As always, no offence whatsoever intended, and I really appreciate your writing.

    D.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      No offense taken.  That’s why I explicitly said in the post “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.”  I recognize the risk of sounding like an ass when giving advice from a first person perspective (rather than from a generic perspective.)  However, I am personally so tired of reading all the “generic advice” that exists on the web; I just prefer to tell it from my perspective.  It is – after all – what’s in my head. 

      • http://thedreaminaction.com Ryan Graves

        Brad- I have to agree that real, personal advice has become tougher to find. I struggle with my own blogging. Certain things I understand "how it is" without actually having first hand experience. Does that mean I shouldn't right what I'm learning, no. But I do need to be honest about my experience and my perspective when writing advice type posts. I appreciate you using your experience and including the personal tone.

  • http://lmframework.com David

    I hear you, and I know your intentions are good.

    And I don't know if you have access to sites like The Funded, where a good chunk of the comments focus on the (perceived) arrogance of the VC community.

    Notwithstanding your disclaimer, when reading your post I couldn't help thinking of Gordon Gekko leaning back in his big leather chair and saying "impress me".

    • http://izit.com David Coakley

      I appreciate your frank opinion as much as Brad's. But, Brad is all about being effective and if he hadn't told it like it is, it wouldn't have been nearly as effective, as most of us wouldn't have read through it (and beyond… right on through the comments as well).

      Brad wouldn't concoct "shock-n-awe" to make a point, but this post surely was frank-n-honest! (Which Brad is well known and respected for.)

      Most importantly I've no doubt his intention was to be helpful to entrepreneurs. Of course he probably only had 15 minutes to write the post!

  • http://www.lawyerhd.com Frank Greces

    Brad,

    Thanks for the post and the random "non" meeting….you just gave me a great idea for a new web model related to driving efficiency through the human interaction process…..must be that Colorado H20….

    Frank

    ps if you ever need a fishing partner up in Simpsonville (aka Homer) I get up there every year to chase coho and halibut…

  • abc

    Pfffft, when you meet with me I hope you have practice what you preach and have Googled me, looked into what we are doing and have spent some time understanding what it is we are doing and why we are meeting.

    Respect is a two way street and just because you have money doesn’t mean you are above the people who made you wealthy.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      If you’d left your real email address I’d automatically have info about you show up in my Gist Dashboard!

      I always look at whatever information people provide me before the meeting.  If they don’t provide me with anything, I hit Google and LinkedIn.  So yes – I practice what I preach.

      • http://markgslater.wordpress.com mark slater

        you know i was going to say something along the lines of what this chap did (maybe not as 'off the cuff') –

        why would you not leave an email? pretty sad.

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  • Dave

    Another step people can take is to meet first with one or more people who know you (Brad, or in the general case, the meet-ee). I have done this for people on a number of occasions and I think they find it very helpful, because it vets the emphasis and subject matter.

    For those of you who object to the asymmetry in what Brad has said here, you need to realize that the asymmetry is inherent in the situation. Brad is talking about meetings where people have *asked him* to meet with them, thus, apparently, they want something from him. You're asking him to spend time with you, a perfect stranger, to discuss something that you want. I think that for him to spend *any* time researching people in advance is going an extra mile, not "practicing what he preaches."

    Meanwhile I'm trying to picture Gordon Gekko wearing those toe-bootie shoe things that Brad has.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      My t-shirts are also cooler than Gekko’s Brooks Brothers thingys.

  • http://www.tonybain.com Tony Bain

    :) To me this says that Brad must be a geek at heart, as surely only a geek would try to turn a first time personal interaction into a short, simple & efficient exchange of relevant data without wasting unnecessary bandwidth. Loving it!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    I am – and will always be – deeply geek.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/MCavalcanti Miguel Cavalcanti

    Hi Brad, tks a lot for the advice.

    I liked a lot, and I will use it. Hope to use with you in a 15min meeting, in the future. :-)

    Best wishes, Miguel, from Brazil

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  • http://blindoptimists.com Hendro Wijaya

    Hey Brad, i think it's great that you post this thing on your blog.

    It makes life easier both ways. I don't have to worry about being too straightforward in meeting (and preparing on how to begin the conversation in a non-work-related way). After all, that's what you want. =)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Yup – you got it.  Nicely interpreted!

  • Denise

    Brad,

    I actually think it's great that you wrote this from your own viewpoint. It emphasizes the most important aspect of building rapport (knowing your audience). I'm sure many people mistakenly think they can use the same approach with everyone. Some people want to spend 5 minutes talking about books, or football, or wine – others want to get right to business. I've had the frustration of spending an hour long meeting talking about nothing for the first 55 minutes, and then handling the business in the last 5 minutes – but to some people it's all about the relationship.

  • Dave

    Brad–I'd echo that I think it is great you did this. It is really hard to know what investors want from a first meeting. Some want an hour meeting, half chit chat, 1/4th market space overview, 1/4th company specific; others want short and to the point (like you); others somewhere in between; and others seem to have no idea what they want out of a meeting. Some read materials in advance so a cut to the chase really could happen, others seem to read on the fly, and others it is unclear why the meeting was even scheduled. If every investor would post something similar (and was similarly honest in self-reflection as to whether they really would read materials), I think meetings would be a lot more productive.

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  • Zhou

    In China the approach you describe would be considered very rude.
    http://www.chinatrade.com/blog/business-meeting-e

    So I appreciate the first person format you offer here vs. the 10-Things-To-Make-Any VC-Like-You-Better type post.
    The small talk vs. just-the-facts approach should be a game time decision.
    You can usually tell if your chit-chat is getting stale and it's time to get down to business.

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  • David

    does this mean I should reschedule our initial 3 hour meeting…you could have just called and not gone to all this trouble…

  • http://www.thomsinger.com thom singer

    This is good advice for anyone meeting with busy and important people. You should always know the purpose of the meeting and be respectful of the other person's time. Get to the point and get the most out of your meeting time.

    However, the flip side is important too. The person granting the meeting must remember that the other person is a human, and with that comes some flaws. If they did not read this post, they may not know how you best see the meeting going (as all people are different and that means different communication styles). If you want to keep on track with a meeting, you need to be sure to set the stage at the start of the meeting.

    If both parties agree to a quick and focused discussion it will keep them from wasting time and keep you from being annoyed.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JChauncey JChauncey

    now I just need a post to tell me how to not be so gosh darn nervous at meetings like this, and also how to ask for advice the right way. =)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/brettmartin brettmartin

    It's not arrogant to be efficient. Only by being efficient can one be accessible, which is one of the best qualities of people like brad and successful people in general.

    http://bit.ly/31vxF9

    Having spent the past year interviewing very time constrained people (CEOs and VCs), I can say without question that these rules are dead on. Particularly the part about knowing how much time you have and trying to accomplish an objective vs. filling up 30 minutes with idle chatter. I've found that it's best to notify the interviewee that we are running over even if s/he is fully engaged- they are always appreciative and if really interested, excited to schedule another, less time constrained, call.

    Thanks for the 15 minutes Brad.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Thanks!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/john_minnih5395 John Minnihan

    Brad & I met in '06 – see http://www.feld.com/archives/2006/07/an-exampl… for his take on that – and his position on meetings really is one of the best I've encountered.

    Be yourself, but get to the point. Even when the point may not be obvious & you're thinking through a set of choices, like in my most recent meeting w/ Brad. Clarity really *can* develop in these 15 minutes bursts. Just be ready to hold up your end of the 15 minute deal.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SJGolembiewski SJGolembiewski

    I'd say this sums it up fairly well….

    "When Ryan first mentioned Pogoplug to me, he said “it’s a Slingbox for your hard drive.” I thought about it for a moment before asking “so you mean I can get 1TB of cloud storage for a one time payment of under $200 (the Pogoplug and a 1TB hard drive)?” Ryan responded verbosely with “yes” to which I responded “done.” It’s another chunk of special magic software packaged in a little plastic box."

    I think the more the founders have experience in running very lean, the more they will utilize time extraordinarily well.

    I imagine it like being on a battlefield and you are having to set aside everything that has been going on to go into a debriefing and explain exactly what you need, why you need it and what will happen once you have it in a matter of a couple minutes.

    Maybe a little extreme but I think its better to be formally prepared and not talk lightly about something you have only 15 mins to make a substantial impact on someone.

  • howard lindzon

    big deal. i can do these meetings in 10 minutes. must be the boulder air :)

  • http://nabeelhyatt.com Nabeel Hyatt

    Hmm, are you sure the 15 min thing is working for you? You mention that you want to skip chit chat, and skip the backgrounds, and get to the point. However, prior to meeting with someone you want them to have googled you, learned about you, etc. And, in the comments you say you do the same for anyone you are meeting.

    Are you really gaining much time here? Or are you spending the time that would be spent "together learning about our shared experiences" into time spent "alone each other and trying to infer what you like."

    I'm not a big fan of the one-hour and a pitch deck thing either (just posted about that on my blog) but I wonder if you are overoptimizing? Or is this just a first pass filter? I just haven't had any experience with this approach and curious if I should try it but I'm worried about the loss of actual learning in person.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      It’s working great.  These are random meetings so I already have some context from whatever the outreach to me was.  I have low expectations for there being anything specifically actionable for me, but I always try to be helpful to the person I’m meeting with.  I find that the “warm up” takes very little time and if we get right into it, I actually get to hear what is on the person’s mind, rather than having to wallow around in “intro land” for a while.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/austinavery austinavery

    If they did not read this post, they may not know how you best see the meeting going and I hope you have practice what you preach .

  • Gregory W

    Can you also make a post for how cashiers and retail clerks should interact with you? They could come to Planet Feld (whatever that is), read it, wait for you to come into the store, and then put the plan into action. Don't waste your time. Don't chit chat about your books. And carry your shit to your car and take the cart back. You could see returns as early as tomorrow.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Remember, this article was aimed at people that “want to meet with me.”  I always try to be respectful of anyone that I ever ask to meet with me – I was just offering hints for people that “ask to meet with me.”

      As I mentioned after I spent two hours behind the counter at Spud Bros recently (as part of a fundraiser), I will never again be disrespectful of anyone that is serving me.

      • http://lmframework.com David

        Brad, I think this post has value beyond its original intentions.

        Some of the comments (including my own initial ones) point to a possible arrogant interpretation, notwithstanding you pointing out the exact same risk in the post itself.

        I know nothing about marketing and PR, but I think that if someone chanced upon the post without knowing your background (and the how much you've given back) then it the whole tone is open to misinterpretation.

        This a is small but still valid lesson (at least to me). Assume your readers have only just met you, and take nothing as known.

        Respect

        D.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

          I guess I don’t really know how to solve for that.  It’s super easy to find out more about me and create context for the post (I even link to a few easy sources.)

          I suppose I could have worked harder on the preamble but I thought that I covered it pretty well especially when I put out the disclaimer about the potential for misinterpretation.

          I find the harsh negative reaction to this type of article perplexing and intriguing.

          • http://lmframework.com David

            That's the point. People form an initial opinion based only on what's presented before them.

            How many times do you think people research your background before posting a comment?

            I've learned something here (perhaps not what I was supposed to learn) but it's a lesson all the same.

            D.

          • Luis

            Well let me jump in and say that I',m one of those that "chanced by" your article and YES, u do present yourself as a huge dick. I even looked up your twitter feed for some background and, again, big dick.

            So, I guess I'll have to take David up here for his word and believe that some your meetings today took more than 15 minutes, leaving u short of editing time.

            BTW, the article is quite good.

  • http://www.jmitchell.me James Mitchell

    Brad, very interesting post. I think it was you or Dave Jilk that told me that you have an assistant who schedules all of your appointments. Have you thought of having her send a friendly e-mail to every new appointee, something like “Brad is really looking forward to meeting you. He recently wrote a post which I think you might want to read because it will give you more insight into how Brad operates.” Coming from her rather than you, it would come across much less as “it’s my way or the highway” than if you sent the link. And if a person did not read it, or read it and still did not get to the point, then you know the person is beyond clueless.

    I recently wrote a page on how I want to interact with prospective business associates:

    http://www.jmitchell.me/prospective-friends

    Some people have read it and said, “Right on, I want to work with you.” Others said, “I don’t think we would be a good fit.” This page has saved me a lot of time by weeding out those who are clearly inappropriate. One person said, “It’s very in your face.” But that’s the way I am, why hide it, what good would that do? It’s better that they know this up front.

    I think the world would be a much better place if everyone wrote posts like Brad’s. People would know up front what is expected, what the other person is expecting. Think of the time and energy that would be saved!

    James Mitchell

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