The VC panel last week might have been one of the most seemingly underprepared (and yet most meticulously behind-the-scenes-orchestrated) Valley events I’ve been to so far:
Dinner and a pitch from the other side of the table!
With the NextGen Conference in town, I was hosting PrintEco founders Arpan Shah and Tom Patterson.
Here’s what my afternoon schedule looked like:
12:12 PM Receive a call from Arpan and attempt to describe the convoluted system of public transportation from SFO to Palo Alto
5:00 PM Get back home, clean, and vacuum for guests. (Receive a phone call from Arpan that he and Tom are lost on Stanford campus—and they don’t even have any idea where they are in the labyrinth!
6:14 PM Set up Arpan and Tom. Learn about the awesome work they’re doing with PrintEco.
6:26 PM They ask me about the Reverse VC event tonight.
6:26:05 PM “Wait, it’s tonight?” [I check my email]
6:26:29 PM- “I’m introducing the moderators?!?”
Yet another reason why everyone in Silicon Valley is glued to their PDAs:
…You’re expected to check your email on every quarter of an HOUR.
(iPhones have 15 minute push notifications for a reason!)
The excitement getting there was well worth it as always.
After some initial mixing among interesting attendees—entrepreneurs, investors, and a few anomalous wealth management professionals (who weren’t quite sure why they were there)—I had the pleasure of passing the baton to Venture Beat editor Anthony Ha, and Mayfield Scholar Amy Saper to moderate the panel of venture capitalists.
Someone cracked the joke at the announcement of 30 second introductions that by virtue of being VCs all of them would go over, and I was extremely glad they did in the lighthearted mood. As an entrepreneur, you often hear commentary on the market from the perspective of an entrepreneur or from the perspective of a VC trying to speak on trends that concern an entrepreneur.
However, it’s rarer that you hear an investor genuinely explain his or her perspective on the personal level: not just what they are looking for in a good investment, but what motivates them on a personal level (the small things make such a big difference).
It’s also quite eye opening seeing several investors from various backgrounds sitting at one table and realizing how differently individuals in such a small and close knit community have such different approaches to their work:
Meeting a family friend!
Deepak Kamra of Canaan Partners, who I serendipitously discovered is an extended family friend, highlighted some excellent advice on the power of leveraging one’s network of Professors, friends, and family to get one’s foot in the door with an intro (a reference from another entrepreneur or the CEO of a portfolio company is the best!)
Christine Herron of Intel Capital on the other hand encouraged students to take advantage of the status as Stanford students to connect with many people that she says she has a harder time getting a hold of now that she is a VC versus when she was a student.
Rudy Garza of G51 gave one of the most memorable stories of the night about a student who was persistent enough to show up to his offices to do everything from small jobs to gift wrapping presents—but soon surprised everyone by recruiting tens of thousands of dollars for a new fund of the Texas based firm—(needless to say he no longer wrapped gifts after that!)
Joel Yarmon of DFJ will be seeing my summer plans soon (and will be seeing many more I presume after explaining that he responds to almost every single email he receives!)
Of the panelists, Mark Suster of GRP Partners again impressed me as always with both his perceptive material and his willingness to give his honest opinion (no matter how hard a time the audience gave him). Among other things, he stressed the importance of building a relationship with investors and “letting them know you’re human.” I loved his analogy when he likened the VC-entrepreneur relationship to “dating rituals.” His most memorable quotes of the evening:
“Get a date before you pop the question” (in reference to asking for funding) and explaining his hatred of email as “a to-do list.”
Most of all, I found his advice for entrepreneurs to ask investors for small actionable advice and then operate upon it, one of the most valuable pieces of wisdom echoed by the rest of the panel which I took away from the night.
All the panelists echoed sound advice about general good manners, etiquette, reciprocity, and genuine time investments in relationships (before monetary investments in companies):
-Believe in what you’re doing
-Find ways to help VCs and they will help you!
-When meeting with a VC, be respectful of an investor’s time and be prepared.
-Give VCs credit where credit is due
And some bonus email hacks (the average VC gets 200+ emails a day):
-Intros are still golden
-A steady stream of emails over a couple week/months is good to get on the radar screen (a deluge is not)
-Don’t guilt trip on emails and remind the recipient that they haven’t replied
-Send an email during a commute (to Joel on his daily train ride) or at other times that someone might start reading email. (Most people read their email inbox from top to bottom).
I came away from the night having gained more insight into the intricate inside culture of Silicon Valley, and having shared ideas and conversed with another group of innovative and exciting individuals whom I can’t wait to get to know better through more interaction in the Silicon Valley startup scene!