My personal “Panel Pile Up” Etiquette

My friend Fred Wilson wrote a post this morning about the looong queues of people speakers face after panels or talks we give at conferences: The Panel Pile-Up. This post is actually an edit of the comment I left on Fred’s blog.

I am speaking at one or two events a week, and I am seeing that pile-up all the time. It takes me anywhere from 10 to 40 mins to get off stage or “free myself up”. Once it took me over an hour to leave the room — at a TiE Conference a couple of years ago.

I consider it part of the job to meet people in the hallway, and so I try to be as efficient but gracious as possible. A sixty second pitch, a couple of short Q&As followed by “Can we continue the discussion by email?” are fine since I will typically be able to indicate whether I am interested in following up, or not.

It is also completely fine to introduce yourself and just mention that you will forward a plan through a mutual connection. Putting a name on a face and shaking hands is always nice.

I always carry business cards, and happily give them away when asked. Why? Because it is the most efficient way of moving to the next person! Otherwise I need to spell my email address j-e-f-f (like Franck)<dot>s-o-f-t-t (yes, two t’s) e-c-h-v-c (yes, vc like venture capital)<dot>com. If you compound the ambient noise, and the French accent, it would take me way more time than handing over a business card.

Very often, people will ask if I can meet them to give them feedback (“someone” said “If you want money, ask for advice”). And despite really enjoying doing it, but I am really short on time. So getting such a meeting organized through a trusted connection, like the funding pitch meeting, is often mandatory.

What’s not OK is “hogging the line”, and not understanding that 2 minutes is really the maximum you have keep a conversation going, out of courtesy for the other people going. Or trying to convince me to invest — right there and then, whereas the only reasonable expectation is to be invited into a meeting to pitch your idea. Other favorites (not) are asking me “if I invest in consumer internet”, “if I invest at the early stage”, or “what I invest in”. If I have been on stage, I have most likely introduced myself and explained all that.

As Jason Calacanis commented on the post, no entrepreneur should randomly pitch an investor without knowing the space, the stage and the context in which he/she invests in. Jeff Bussgang also made a very good point: we don’t have the same level of expectations with students — when I hang out at University conferences, and after class when I speak/attend courses, I am perfectly happy to answer even the most basic questions, that’s what we are here for.

Dan Primack asked a question in today’s PE Hub Wire: out of the thousands of people who have pitched us at conferences after a talk, how many have we invested in. You might have guessed the answer: zero. It is as rare as investing in a business plan received via a “cold email” on our business plan email address.

But I do believe in the value of serendipity: you never know where your next deal is going to come from. I can say that I met the founders of Userplane (Mike Jones, we sold the company to AOL and he is now CEO of MySpace) and Buzznet (now BuzzMedia, a 50M+ u/v’s network of web sites in the entertainment space) at a conference speakers dinner 6 years ago. So here you go: it’s worth it ;).

A few of my friends wrote Dan about their experience: three of them met a company they ended up investing in after a panel.