The Purpose of a First Meeting

Is almost always – and I do mean with rare exception – to get a second meeting.

And what I’m learning is that the vast majority of companies & people I meet with (85% plus) simply don’t get this.  I promised that this blog would be transparent, and so I want to be straightforward: most people try to achieve too much in a first meeting.  An analogy I like to give for this is from the poker world.  Most winning poker players make their money by having a better sense of ranges and hand values than their opponents.  Sometimes, winning poker players choose to ignore their experience, and instead implement “Fancy Play Syndrome.”  FPS occurs when you know you have the worst hand, but figure if you do something really weird and quirky your opponent will fold.  Most of the time, this fails.  That’s because the story a player is trying to tell via FPS is simply incongruous.  The best meetings I take are where the story is simple, the entrepreneur relies on his strengths in a certain industry to communicate a value prop, and acts naturally.

When I was younger and an aspiring thespian, I used to dream jealously of those lucky stars who got plucked out of their high school cafeterias into major picture roles.  But those occurrences are 1 in a million at best (so you’re saying there’s a chance?).  The same legends abound in the venture world of firms walking out of their first meeting with a signed term sheet at a great valuation.  Has it happened?  Yep.  Is it likely to happen? Nope.

In too many meetings, companies try to do too much.  Chris Dixon recently remarked that he wished he’d cut his meetings to 10 minutes.  And that’s the truth – if it takes a company an hour (or even 15 minutes) to explain what they do, we’re simply not going to invest.  The reason is because we’re an early stage VC.  Our goal is to find companies who are attacking a problem with an opportunity to expand to multiple problems long-term.  And while I’m new to this, our firm’s partners are really, really (and I mean scary) smart.  Which means that they understand how a singularly focused platform can expand to deeper opportunities long-term.  The job of a first meeting is to explain what you do now, why it matters, and why it works.  The job of later meetings is to explore the greater vision.  My goal isn’t to trivialize your business, but if you can’t explain it in 30-60 seconds, how are you going to convince customers or users to join your platform as well?

The title of this post says it all: the purpose of a first meeting is to get a second meeting.  Be concise, be precise, and be real.  Talk about what got you interested in the business, what you do, and why it works (or will).  Take a few moments to explain why you’re the right person for the job.  Consider every first meeting like you would a coffee date – realize that both sides are feeling each other, determining if there’s a potential match.

Most importantly, I don’t believe this approach applies to exclusively to VC.  I think it applies to job interviews, sales, even dates.  Very few major decisions are made on a single meeting.  And most important decisions are ultimately syndicated out to a larger group – meaning that your goal in a first meeting is just to be so incredibly clear and likable, that the person you meet with can’t help but introduce you to the larger decision making body.    Sales generally start lower in the funnel and move up, job interviews generally start in HR and expand towards specific offices, and dating is often screened by a larger friends group.  Focus on being concise in a first meeting and allow questioning in later meetings to open up the larger potential.

Ezra

About the author

Ezra Galston
Ezra Galston

Consumer focused hustling @Chicago Ventures, Young Entrepreneur @Foundation Capital, Class 18 @Kauffman Fellow, and Chicago Booth MBA. Former professional poker player, with 4 years experience doing marketing/biz dev in the online gaming industry. Launched a "poker hedge fund" in 2011, a record label in College, and produced a festival screened short film in 2006.

  • Ezra – Love this post.

    The general concept of reading how you as an associate (might) learn to beat the table rake in a market often dominated by follow-the-leader diversification strategies (which inherently add further transactional friction to volatile returns) is interesting from a by-stander perspective.

    However, from the perspective of a startup who are now getting second meetings I think you make a clear point, to amplify from the other side of the table…

    First, it took us a few meetings to stop thinking of pitch meetings as lottery tickets – ultimately you ( the startup) are responsible for the outcome to a significant extent.

    Secondly, anxiety is misplaced if it pushes for an early big win it’s as implausible as asking for an NDA – ( fortunately we didn’t go there 🙂

    So a startup should know exactly why they are there – to learn. The same as when they start being received by clients (or potentials). When searching for P/M fit

    So finally, as @cdixon points out. You have a story to tell, it better be honest, and a relationship to build (this is just fun – in the real world).

    The rest surely boils down to whether the story is interesting, and whether mutual feelings are positive. The rest comes out in the wash.

    So, from your poker perspective, (your-background – not my forte), the ante is some well spent time and travel costs and there are other tables in town, the button is in front of you (you deal), you choose where to deal the flop from in your deck, and the end of the first meeting is either a fold, or a turn.

    But the interesting thing is the outcome just isn’t combative, if both players want to see the river, they end up sharing a pot (large or small to which they should both contribute), and the best way to beat the house is for both to turn their hands face up from the beginning – so the tells don’t matter – and it always ends in a call…

    Shakespeare Merchant of Venice – Act II, Scene 2
    Launcelot Gobbo >>
    Well, old man, I will tell you news of
    your son: give me your blessing: truth will come
    to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son
    may, but at the length truth will out.

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