Time-saving tips from busy VCs
Doesn’t it feel sometimes like the better you do in your career, the more of your day is spent in meetings? This isn’t just true of venture capital; it’s everywhere. The struggle between creating “actual” work versus sitting in meetings is real, and your calendar is the battleground where it takes place.
The tension is obvious in VC, where the FOMO around seeing every new deal may conflict with time spent supporting existing ones (in board meetings, helping the founders, etc.). Time is our most limited resource. None of us want to miss the next pillar company, but we can’t say “yes” to every meeting request. Then again, if we are too closed-off and skeptical, we’ll miss quality people and ideas.
I asked VCs if they’ve found any life hacks that work to balance productivity with the insanity of scheduling. Here are tips and reflections from some of the people I know whose time is in the highest demand (edited for grammar and to remove duplicate suggestions):
Tipatat Chennavasin, The Venture Reality Fund:
· Keep meetings short, like to 30 minutes.
· Screen as much as you can in emails or through your network.
· Only try things with a demo and stay away from tech you just don’t believe in (like 360 video).
· You will reach a point when you can’t respond to all inquiries because even writing out rejections is taking too much time.
· Focus on quality over quantity. What matters more than the number of meetings you have or the number of watering holes you frequent is the quality of the deals you do and what the entrepreneurs say about you.
· Get an assistant to help you with scheduling meetings, conferences, rescheduling, and just all around life organization.
· Take a breath and do some work life planning — like who is helpful and who isn’t? Cut out the unhelpful, non-deal-sharing people out of your network for example.
· Only take meetings by strong referral.
· Be open and accessible through blogging so you don’t have to do it through a ton of meetings.
· Use Alexa — link her through to your calendar and ask what you have to do each morning. She’ll tell you, because she’s the future.
· You can’t make time for everything, so you need a way to estimate the probability of high quality. Using the “people” in and around an opportunity as one metric has helped me to prioritize.
· Calendly: I’ve been using Calendly to allow entrepreneurs and others to self-schedule 30-minute meetings, and it has been a really helpful tool.
· Portfolio first: at the end of the day, my portfolio companies are my first priority! Ultimately the substance of your deals, the value you add to the companies, and the relationships/interactions you develop is what begets quality opportunities in the long-run.
· Ask two to three key questions before agreeing to a meeting — then don’t feel shy to ask again. It’s totally OK to be a little tough to access if you’re focused.
· Get rid of the notion that other people have a right to your time. It’s a hard one to let go if you love what we do.
· Practice the art of “no” in the meeting — doesn’t work with everyone but it’s a big time saver.
· Run an efficient CRM across the firm. It’s amazing how many times people will try to get in and multiple partners end up meeting the same companies.
· Don’t obsess about efficiency. This has to stay fun. You meet people all the time and there’s no pressure to have an outcome. You’re not a bank ATM. Don’t get people into the mindset of “you’re here to find out if I’ll fund you.”
· Be absolutely crisp about the type of deal you’re looking for — helpful if people know “Jane only funds really ambitious teams; don’t bother if you don’t fit that bill.”
Jeff Fagnan, Accomplice:
· Learn how to end meetings early. End them as soon as they’re done, not when the calendar says they’re done. If you’re scheduled for 30 minutes but you know 15 minutes in that you’ve accomplished what you came here to do, politely but forcefully wrap it up.
· Start meetings, calls, and emails by asking “How can I be helpful?” It gets to the point of why this person wanted to talk and increases efficiency.
· Try to avoid having follow-ups from meetings. If you’re passing on an investment, you usually know in the initial meeting. Tell them right then. The second best response in venture is a fast “no.”
· Reinvest the time you save in the best people with whom you’ll have a long-term business relationship. Don’t just reinvest it in more volume.
· I block one day each week that is untouchable (sometimes two half days), to catch up on all things that don’t involve meeting face-to-face with humans or attending events. I’m relentless about protecting this time — it’s worth it.
· I try to evaluate whether meeting with someone is the best way to drive value for me and the person on the other side of the conversation. If it’s not, I’m candid about this, and try to be helpful in other ways.
· Often times, the best thing I can do is connect someone with another person who can be more helpful than I can.
· You will definitely miss something if you run yourself into the ground. You will be more attune to promising opportunities if you make time thoughtfully process and make sense of the all the conversations you’re having and information you’re digesting.
· Prioritize your trusted network + warm intros, especially from portfolio CEOs.
TJ Mahony, Accomplice
· Do not accept LinkedIn requests from people you’ve never met. Delete 99% of InMails.
· Give 45–60 minutes to meetings referred from trusted sources. All others are 30 minutes, hard stop.
· Previous “no’s” wanting to update you on progress should be done via email.
· Diligence: focus mainly on the founders with your time. Leverage your expert network for business viability.
Cack Wilhelm, Accomplice:
· We take tens of first-meetings a week and the majority are not going to lead to investments. I learned in sales that getting to ‘no’ is often as helpful as getting to ‘yes’ because it saves time.
· We can only have a prepared mind about a limited set of things. Depending on the person that may be a long list or a short list, but we can’t know everything. Instead of trying to spend time to see *everything* I have limited my scope for outbound and intentioned deal sourcing.
· Treat the team time wisely. A five hour Monday partner meeting is 10% of a 50 hour week.
A few from me:
· Scale yourself through blogging. Turn questions you get asked a lot into blog posts, then share the relevant post but decline a meeting whenever anyone else asks. E.g., this one on how to get a job in VC.
· Once a week, do a thorough once-over of your inbox to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Things pile up and you end up having to limit responses to things that are most urgent/important, leaving anything else that requires more time and thought but isn’t as pressing.
I’ll leave you with Eric Paley’s advice, which is a nice summary of what truly matters in this career around schedule management:
The challenge of VC is to both figure out where to spend time and also to always keep an open mind. I don’t know that I have any special hacks for this, but it is a constant juggle. Most importantly, having to prioritize can’t become a crutch to become cynical. That’s a certain path to failure in VC.