After a few meetings with members of the venture funding community most people would probably agree that we can all occasionally do a better job at making the most out of the interactions.
Here is what worked well for me in my recent role as a tech VC at Wellington Partners (although of course I am myself still working on getting better at it).
1. Knowing your business and the reason for the meeting.
I have occasionally come across people who were not fully prepared or ready in their mindset for the meeting. When entrepreneurs need to “go check with their CTOs” on basic tech or development questions, or technical folks don’t consider basic business sense in their explanations, then it often slows down meetings or delays decisions. When people try to anticipate reasonably expectable queries and prepare their thinking in advance, it usually seems to give them visible comfort during the meeting which in turn often comes across as positive confidence.
This of course also applies to the other side of the table: sometimes we as investors are either completely unclear of who we are going to see or what we are going to talk about, which often delays the start of the actual meeting. Whenever I take the time to familiarise myself with the context (look at the deck, read an article or do some googling) ahead of an upcoming meeting or call, I usually find the session to be more efficient and myself more likely to ask the type of questions that are useful when debriefing or following up later on.
2. Taking notes and writing down todos.
Having been wearing a corporate suit for a few years after university, I always find the shortage of people taking notes in meetings a somehow strange pattern when interacting with some entrepreneurs and VCs alike. Quite often VCs will ask for additional data points to dig deeper but sometimes these requests get lost after the meeting. For me taking written notes during the majority of meetings either by hand or using my phone/laptop as well as regularly writing down todos in my notebook means being a bit better at keeping up with little as well as large tasks, especially on days spent back-to-back in meetings.
3. Double checking your documents.
In management consulting they chat a lot about the 80/20 rule to keep efficient but I found there was also a strong culture around having high quality and accurate documents. People would often triple check their work to make sure all the numbers add up and that there are no typos; there is even a good sense of keeping the wording consistent across the document. All of this often adds another 30 min at the end of the day but I found it made most documents easier to understand and therefore meetings and presentations a lot more effective.
4. Making introductions immediately when offering them, not just after the meeting.
When going through older pages my notepad, I can see several “>” signs indicating me having suggested introductions to other people in the community. And all too often these todos can stay undone until I get nudged by the other party, which makes many meetings just a bit less beneficial. To get better at this, in some cases I have started sending very short intro emails right during the meeting (works better when you know both sides of the intro well), but I usually try to at least start the email so it stays around in my Draft email folder (better for double opt-in intros).
5. Asking for feedback and offering help
As an entrepreneur, at the end of any fundraising meeting I would try to ask for specific feedback on what could be done to make the pitch even more compelling, such as re-organising the story line a bit or maybe removing some and adding other data points into the presentation. This can be helpful for both follow up meetings with the same investor as well as when meeting competing funds, and should also give one a better indication of how the investors really think about a business and the larger vision.
As a VC, I think it can often be constructive to ask relatively early on in a meeting “how I could be helpful” to the entrepreneur, as this allows the meeting to be more focused on known pain points (while hopefully being useful for the entrepreneur) and also typically delivers interesting insights into “how the entrepreneur really thinks about and tackles challenges”.
A few smaller things:
While “releasing the agenda” has often led to the fantastic meetings, if someone has prepared a document for the meeting, it can be useful to at least briefly refer to the presentation either at the beginning or the end of the meeting to make sure no major topics remain undiscussed.
Adding a mobile number in email signatures from both desktop and mobile email clients makes life a lot easier for other parties to call, SMS or WhatsApp you. Especially when trying to find a meeting location in a larger office building or a contact at a conference, I often end up searching recent emails and then getting a clickable number is great.
For me taking pitch meeting notes electronically with my laptop or phone has worked well as these notes are both searchable and can be extended with follow up meeting notes easily. Evernote has been pretty efficient for me, although one has to pay £4 per month to get offline syncing (for the plane or the Tube) and it’s not possible to edit docs from several sources at the same time (like in Google docs) occasionally leading to syncing problems.