The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted pretty much everything in my day. Maybe the most significant change I have seen while working from home is that the usual cadence of the face-to-face meetings that made up my day has been replaced by video calls on platforms like Zoom, or plain old voice calls.
These video and voice calls have been really effective in terms of how Promus Ventures makes investments, and we have been as busy as ever through the pandemic. At the same time there is something unique about face to face meetings, and I do miss things like the serendipity of bumping into a random person I know at a coffee shop and catching up on their news and what is keeping them busy.
Meeting founders over a coffee is a great way for both the founder and us as investors to get to know each other. Most investments that we make are into early stage companies, where we are funding the team more than anything else. Because of the stage we invest at, many of these investments will take time to mature — so the founding team and our team will likely be working together for years! Both sides need to be really excited about the relationship, as no-one wants to work with someone they don’t like for a significant period of time.
As we have navigated through the pandemic I have been trying out a few ways to replicate the face to face meeting and get to know people well. One of the more effective things I have tried so far has been walking/hiking meetings — getting out of my home office for a period of time helps to keep me focused and engaged in conversations.
There is plenty of evidence that walking meetings bring benefits everywhere from productivity to creativity over and above all the physical and mental health benefits associated with exercise. Many of the people that I have been lucky to be able to lean on for advice and mentorship over the years have talked about how they like to use walking meetings to help them manage their calendars and get stuff done.
I usually tried to work in a few walking meetings weekly pre-pandemic, typically meeting people in San Francisco for a walk from our SOMA office through the city or along the Embarcadero. There was a pause in any face-to-face meetings on my side in March-April 2020 as the Bay Area went into the initial shelter in place and we all tried to adjust to the new normal, but I have made a conscious effort to figure out how to reboot my walking meetings since work-from-home has become the standard.
I started by scheduling calls during an hour that I had blocked out for a solo walk around my neighborhood — this worked well, so I expanded the time I spent doing walking calls to a couple of hours a day. I found it especially good for calls which were focused on the softer side of the VC business — building relationships, discussing trends and dealflow, catching up on careers and life. Despite the stress and challenges that the pandemic has brought, it seemed to me that these walk-and-talks were helping me be a better listener and thinker, and as a result a better friend and colleague.
As the months wore on I started to think about how to expand these walking meetings, and set up a few in-person walking meetings, making sure we followed the recommended social distancing protocols and respecting whatever restrictions the Bay Area Public Health departments mandated at a given time. We’re lucky in that we live near some great parks and trail networks in the SF Bay Area, and it was amazing how lovely these walking/hiking meetings were — both for me and for whoever I was meeting.
Since then I have added in some small group bike rides, meeting one or two colleagues or friends for socially-distanced exercise where we talk about everything from cabbages to kings.
It has been a fantastic way to add to everything else we do to try and add value back into the innovation ecosystem during the pandemic. It obviously relies on people being in the same geographic location, so doesn’t solve for interactions with people further afield — but for the SF Bay Area it has been a wonderful way to bring some variety to meetings.
In fact it has gone so well that I’m experimenting with expanding it — trying to both have more in-person meetings, and also have these with a wider pool of people!
So if you’re keen to spend some 1-on-1 time walking/hiking/biking and talking, feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just book a slot on my calendar. We can do anything from talk while we walk somewhere like the Los Gatos Creek Trail or Windy Hill in Portola Valley, to ride a bike up to Mt Umunhum (though I can’t guarantee that I will be able to have much of a conversation on some of the steep pitches on the Mt Umunhum road!)
Hopefully it goes without saying that we’ll be masked and participating under the guidelines from public health departments at the time — but as we come out the other side of the pandemic I plan to keep these slots going every week.