This post is either brilliant or idiotic. You've been warned...
You're on a boat. There's a terrible storm at sea. The boat capsizes, washing everyone overboard except for you and one other person. You're both stuck inside, unable to get out because only the hull is peeking above the water--but the sea is rising fast in the cabin. Your only hope is to break through the bottom of the hull to escape. You find a hammer, but its going to take you a few hours to bash through. Luckily, you've also found yourself the only remaining scuba tank--and it has just enough air left to give you enough time to break open a squeezable hole, maybe less.
The other survivor swims over, sees you intermittently breathing through the scuba tank as you go to work on the hull. He asks, "Can I have some air?"
You reply, "I hate to be that guy, but do you have an underwater blowtorch? 'Cause otherwise..."
It's not that you're trying to be a jerk--you certainly understand his need for air--but you share that air and you're both toast--because you won't have enough time to bust out of the hole. What's the point of that?
Well, it's kind of like that with VCs, or most professionals, and time. You feel like you're literally drowning--holding on to the precious little free spots of time you have left in your calendar. Then someone comes along and asks for some time, which is fine, except they're not really bringing anything to the table in return.
I can't tell you how many emails I get where someone just says "I'm not pitching, I'd just like to learn more about Brooklyn Bridge Ventures."
To which I'd really love to respond, "Do you have an underwater blowtorch?"
The thing about an underwater blowtorch is that it's not particularly useful to most people, most of the time--but when you need one, you really need one. For someone else, it's not an underwater blowtorch--maybe it's a six foot plumbing snake or a spare tire or a purple hat that matches a particular coat. Whatever, it doesn't matter--the point is, no matter how busy someone is, every single person has some item or short list that they will move everything else aside for.
When you're an individual VC, time is in short supply, but I am absolutely, 100% willing to make time--you just normally have to get me... something. That's the way it is for everyone. I see too often people just trying to either a) give something I don't need, like coffee or alcohol, neither of which I ever drink or b) trying to minimize how much they're taking from me. I've never taken a five minute meeting. If you're offering five minute meetings, it comes off as desperate. Go find someone that you are the underwater blowtorch for--and try and get a normal sized meeting with them.
I put out a ton of content on this blog--and so when I get someone asking for a "general take on fundraising for early stage companies", it's like... "Umm... I kinda have a blog for that, plus I speak in public about once a week..." On the other hand, if you found a specific post and have a specific, relevent, interesting question... YAY! Happy to engage. Interestingness and clever conversation is everyone's underwater blowtorch.
The more homework you do to figure out what someone really needs, the more likely it is they'll make time for you.