How to Rock a Short "Office Hours" Meeting

Whether you’re going through an accelerator or you’re at some kind of speed dating event, short “office hours” meetings present both an opportunity and a problem for investors. It’s a great way to get out from behind the e-mail and actually meet people face to face.

However, it’s a terrible way to get your whole pitch in. There’s just not enough time to convince someone to invest and have a productive back and forth.

So what do you do?

First off, change the goal. The goal is to get another meeting, not to get a check. That starts with the basics. Be professional and polite. A quick thank you for having them make the time is appreciated, especially because they’re likely doing this for a few hours straight.

It’s exhausting—so be excited and upbeat about what you’re doing.

Start off by sharing a quick plan for the 20 minutes:

“Here’s what I’d like to do… First I’d like to establish whether or not we’re the kind of company you would consider and then I’d like to outline the X number of things I think you’d need to believe in order to want to take another meeting with us.”

Describe the nature of your company in terms of stage, sector, etc.

“We’re an enterprise SaaS company solving X problem using Y solution. We’re pre-revenue and we have a team currently building a beta product that will be launched in four weeks. Is this a stage and sector that is a fit with your fund?”

If the person says no, you could ask them for suggestions on who you should talk to, or ask them their best piece of fundraising advice, or frankly, just give them their time back. You could say, “I’m going to e-mail you a description of what we do and a deck—should you meet up with any relevant investors, please feel free to pass this on.”

If they say yes, distill your whole pitch down to a few short things that an investor would need to believe to want to know more.

“For you to be interested, you’d have to believe the following:

That people are willing to pay to protect their privacy online.

That we have a team capable of user acquisition at scale based on our track record.

That the market size justifies venture financing.”

If they take an issue with any of your points, just share with them why you believe you’re right—but don’t try to debate it. You don’t have the time for that.

If you have time, share something interesting about how you do what you do—which, you can of course weave into the answers above—but 20 minutes goes really quickly. With some time left on the clock, ask them if you believe this warrants a deeper dive in another meeting. If they say no, just thank them for their time and move on.

What I Want NYC to Do About Uber

You may have heard that NYC is potentially going to cap the number of cars with Uber and similar services.  

On one side, Uber is adding more cars to already congested streets--and taxi medalians have been capped for years.  

On the other, you'll hear that Uber solves the transportation desert problem in NYC and also makes live easier for riders of color who are used to getting skipped over for rides.

I'm not there yet on whether I have an opinion as to what the right number of Ubers should be in NYC, but I do have a very strong opinion as to the treatment of drivers and other "gig economy" workers.

You see, Uber drivers, Taskrabbits, Relay bike delivery people, etc. are all 1099 workers.  Each individual trip and task is treated as a gig--a one-off project not unlike the way you might, for example, pay someone to design your website or code up an app.  

The problem is that 1099 offers near zero in the way of worker protections for anyone who does it like a full time job.  So, while a W-2 worker has protections around overtime and being overworked, 1099 workers don't have any.

I spoke to an Uber driver the other day.  He talked about the way Uber's rules deal with driving time versus total time.  Uber has a 10 hour limit on driving time--i.e., time on the clock with a rider--but up until recently, had no limit on the amount of time you could drive around trying to get to that 10 hours.  He said it would often take 15 hours to get 10 hours of rider time in.

A W-2 worker would have protections around 15 hour shifts and overtime requirements, but 1099s are SOL.

On top of that, when you take expenses into account like gas, leasing, and insurance, drivers are making below minimum wage.

It's been said that the city is considering putting in minimums for drivers, and I would say that before we cap the number of cars, we should be improving the lives of drivers.  Let's measure time in the car and make sure drivers are *netting* at least the minimum wage for all the hours they're in the car, because you literally can't earn the income without paying the expenses.  

This way, we focus on the first step of making sure Uber and others find a viable business model that doesn't involve abusing its workers.  Then, if it finds it can still exist, then we should figure out how many cars there should be. 

Interestingly, one of the ways it can do this is by increasing utilization--i.e. putting less drivers on the road, increasing wait times, so that each driver spends more time getting paid.  Right now, it floods the system with drivers to decrease wait times for consumers.  I, for one, would wait an extra couple of minutes if I knew that meant fair pay for drivers.

The City Counsel should use its leverage in this cap conversation to force Uber to pay drivers better.  If they really want to avoid the cap, they should be held to a higher worker treatment standard.

Ask Founders What They Really Need: The Quick Story Behind Clare's $2 Million Raise

Last September, I was introduced to Nicole Gibbons.  She's the founder of Clare, a modern paint brand that launched today to completely reinvent the paint shopping experience. 

She came in and shared all of the hassles that make buying paint a terrible experience--the difficulty in picking colors that actually look good with microscopic swatches, the need to go to a store and crossfit your way home with heavy paint cans, not to mention the harmful chemicals that are in so many paint brands.

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She knew all this from being an influential interior designer and detailed how she believed there was a big direct to consumer brand to be built in the space.  

Her plan was to close a bit first, first picking up $800k to start executing, and then fill out the rest.  

I asked her how far she could get with it--and which milestones she'd be able to achieve.  It only got her a handful of key features related to what she wanted for Clare.  I encouraged her to go out for the whole thing right off the bat.  

To a solo, first time, non-technical founder, asking for $1.6mm may have seemed like a lot to ask for for a Powerpoint--but it was so much better of a plan than launching something half as awesome for half the money.  Talking about a stepped raise can confuse an investor (and we are easily confused) as to what amount of money matches up with what goals--when the founder knows what they really need. 

It's so important for investors to recognize that different founders have lots of different views on how aggressive or conservative to be on a pitch--but underlying that sales strategy is a *real* plan that the founder knows they could succeed with if they could be successful with fundraising.  As an investor, getting at that without knocking the founder for their interpretation of what you want to here is the key to getting some under the radar deals that others might have overlooked.

Well, not only did she raise that money for a full launch, but she was *oversubscribed* and picked up some amazing additional investors like Imaginary, First Round, Able and Bullish, as well as the founders of Casper and Harry's.   

I'm excited to support Nicole, one of the most inspiring and dynamic founders I've met, and to be along for what promises to be an exciting and impactful brand in a huge space.  

How the Need for Growth Failed Our Social Network Experience

Just about 10 years ago, I tried hard to keep my Twitter follows to a manageable amount--to people I actually cared about following and either already knew or wanted to get to know in person.

5000+ follows later and I've failed miserably.  

It wasn't my fault, though--because the app itself, like all social networks, succeed around growth.  Every single feature is optimized around growing the userbase and increasing everyone's follower count, which means everyone's following count.  Networks are always telling you who from your contacts has joined and recommends you follow new accounts, even though you still only have two eyeballs in your head and 24 hours in the day.  The end result is that each person's connection to you in an ever increasingly connected network becomes more and more tenuous. 

A few years ago, I went to breakfast with Andy Weissman and he lamented Twitter's "Garyvee feature"--the turning off of the visibility of @ replies to people who weren't following the person you were messaging.  Basically, Gary Vaynerchuk would use the @ feature to message a ton of people at a time as he was scaling his following to try and scale 1:1 conversation as much as possible.  It wasn't particularly scalable as following him became a worse experience.  It was a firehose of listening to him not talk to you and just give shoutouts and the like.  However, when Twitter turned this off, while your stream became easier to consume (and easier for businesses or celebrities to interact with people en masse), it came at the expense of authentic discovery.  You never stumbled into half of an interesting conversation with someone you might want to follow based on the topic.  

There was a time when I thought Meetup Everywhere was going to be the next big thing--a social network that was dedicated to connecting people in real life was going to create a lightweight framework for people to localize the social network experience.  If groups got too big, it would be easy to enable splintering.  I don't know why it didn't take, but I've always lamented the failure of the web to create "neighborhoods" at scale that brought communities together (as opposed to just broadcasting to them like Patch).  

For a brief moment, tech was able to make my world feel smaller and more accessible, but now it doesn't feel that way anymore--and I have a theory that I'm part of a very narrow generation that even cares or notices.

There's an age group where you are old enough not to have Facebook in college, but young enough to be an avid user of tech--and to have used the internet to meet new people, probably through AOL or other forms of chat.  When we used dating apps, they weren't based around double opt-ins.  You regularly heard from strangers.  Ok, so it wasn't a *great* experience, but occasionally you'd find diamonds in the rough--and you had to take some risk around reaching out and getting rejected. 

Roughly speaking, this group probably peaks around 35-43.

Not only did we straddle a unique time in tech, but we also came at the tail end of real life neighborhoods as well.  When I was growing up, I would eat lunch and then run outside to play with my friends.  There wouldn't be any coordination between parents to make this happen.  I would just go ring doorbells to see who could come outside if they weren't already out.  It was just assumed that *someone* we knew--a parent or next door neighbor--would be on our street somewhere to keep an eye out.  

This experience made our local world feel very safe and accessible--where we regularly interacted with new people and made decisions for ourselves on who was safe and fun to play with.  We had positive experiences of meeting new kids and becoming friends all on our own, outside the confines of institutions like schools, camps, or parent organized play groups.  

Now, walking these same streets leaves you with a sense that someone stole all the children.  I'm not sure whether it's screen time or parental fear of abduction, but the kids seem to have disappeared from the street.  

It is this same age group that sought this out online--this same group that used Twitter to meet people and Foursquare to find where their friends were hanging out--in order to recreate the neighborhoods experience.  They built Barcamps and unconferences--semi-permeable spaces that got enough scale, but not too much scale, to facilitate people discovery and high quality conversation. 

I don't think we'll see a new form of social media ever attempt to make this happen again--because I don't think the builders of the next generation of apps ever really had this experience to know that it is missing.  Those that experienced it are now at a different point in their life where they're building families or at least coupled off and not really in network expansion mode.

These days, people gather to play a sport, to protest, to play games online, or to watch something--mostly with people they know are already like minded--and maybe that's fine, albeit a little one-dimensional, but sometimes it's nice just to gather in manageable numbers with people you aren't sure agree with you on everything, just for the sake of gathering. 

Can someone build that in a way that isn't contrived or creepy?

Why VC Feedback is Often Bad Data

I've seen this so many times over:

A founder pitches a VC, or several of them, and then they come back from that process with all sorts of new strategy goals or worries that they need to be doing something differently.  Nine times out of ten, if you're pitching more than one VC, the advice seems to conflict with itself, and the founder winds up playing Wack-a-Mole trying to figure out what to do next.  

What's going on??

The fundraising process is not intended to be a feedback process.  If it was, you'd run it very differently.  Founders would ask for very specific pieces of advice on topics they thought that particular investor would have some insight into.  Instead they often just dump everything they they know about their company on the VC's lap and ask for any kind of feedback whatsoever, leading to really messy data.  

So why is this feedback seemingly all over the board?

First, let's be clear--when you walk out of a VCs office and don't get a term sheet in the next week or at least another meeting with the partners necessary to make a decision, it's a pass.  Lack of a yes is a no--so anything that firm tells you should be taken with a grain of salt.  They don't want to invest in your company.  Any advice they have for you is going to be a bit broken.  It's a bit like if someone doesn't like ice cream and then says your favorite ice cream is too sweet.  First off, you need to drop that friend like a ton of bricks, and second, making that ice cream less sweet isn't a good idea.  They don't like ice cream--so no amount of sweetness reduction is going to make them happy.  That's not helpful feedback.

Second, the feedback is incomplete.  Since you didn't ask the investor to write you a complete strategy guide, all they're doing is giving you *one* of the reasons they passed.  There could be others--so many others that following up on just that one protest might still not lead you anywhere.  Just the other day, I was talking to a founder who was told by a Series A fund that they normally invest in companies around $125k/month in MRR.  She assumed that by getting to $150k/month, they'd automatically invest.  What that investor left out was that before they were going to write an $8mm check, they'd also want to see a marketing funnel established to get leads, an actively growing sales team that showed that the process could be replicated, and growing revenues within each customer.  Otherwise, one awesome enterprise salesperson in a market where contracts were big and good product would be enough--but no one is going to write a check that big to a virtual team of one business person and some devs.  

Lastly, the most important piece of feedback--the team feedback--almost never makes its way back to the founder.  Sometimes, VCs will walk out of a meeting thinking, "Ok there's no way I'm ever going to fund THAT guy," so they just make something up or make something small into something bigger.  They'll never tell you to your face that you're pretty much unbackable, so focusing on any other advice you got from them isn't going to fix the issue.

How do you solve this?

We're working on something cool at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures to address some of these questions.  :)