As a startup entrepreneur you’ll have many demands for your time. Especially if you start to have a degree of success or build a high public profile. Everyone will want you to speak at conferences. Service providers will want to get to know you. Potential employees want to “get together.” VC’s will want to learn about what you’re up to and later stage VCs will have their 23-year-old analysts call you to tell you how interested they are in your company.
The problem is that the scarcest resource in any entrepreneur’s life is your time. Yet we all feel guilty not doling out time for anybody who asks – especially if we were introduced. I know! I feel the same way. I’m trying to embrace my inner “NO” a little more in my life. One simply can’t take every meeting.
So a friend recently wrote me for advice. He said,
“I need some advice on something. I keep getting requests from people to meetup, give advice, requesting jobs, etc. How do I basically tell people “I’m sorry, I don’t have time” in a nice way? How do I punt on people?
I’m getting better at it, but it becomes difficult at times.”
I told him it was best if he had a standard line he could send out when he gets these kinds of requests. I suggested something like the following
“Thank you for writing to me – it’s nice to hear from you (or meet you) via email. Fortunately [my company] has started to take off in ways that I couldn’t have imagined just a short time ago. Unfortunately that means I don’t have as much time as I used to have to take meetings with people.
I hope you’ll understand. I’m now under a lot of pressure from my board to deliver against some pretty ambitious goals.I do try to get to tech social events from time-to-time so I hope we can catch up there. Hope you understand.”
If you feel you need to take the meeting but it’s not really a productive one for you, I suggest the following:
1. Make your meeting times really short and do so explicitly – “I’d love to meet. I’m super busy at work these days but I’d be happy to carve out 30 minutes of my time to see whether I can help.”
2. Plan meeting in your office. Cafe’s take too much time in ordering, etc., plus it’s impossible to ask somebody to leave your table after 30 minutes. True, you can get up and say you need to go, but it’s somehow more rude when you’re in a social environment. Plus, if you’re giving up 30 minutes why also give up commuting time? Obviously if they’re asking for the meeting the social etiquette is that they come to you.
3. Consider asking to limit it to a 22 minute meeting – this six minute video was simply brilliant. It argues for 22 minute meetings. I totally agree!
4. Schedule sometime right behind the meeting - the easiest way to make sure that your meeting doesn’t over run is to simply schedule a meeting or other activity behind it. If it’s an internal working session you can still have a colleague come and pull you out of the meeting. Politely warm the presenter before they start, “I’m really sorry. I just wanted to let you know that I have a meeting exactly 30 minutes after this one. I just wanted to tell you up front so you’d pace yourself.”
As a VC I struggle to say “no” to meetings. I simply get too many intros from great people. But it’s my job to take meetings. If I were in your shoes I’d embrace the power of “NO” more often and GSD.
UPDATE: In reading Mark Solon’s comments below it made me realize one thing. I need to emphasize one point better. I’m not saying “no more meetings” but rather “no, to more meetings.” Meetings are, as Mark points out, a way to explore and serendipitously discover things. But if you live in a major metropolis such as the Bay Area, LA, NY the sheer number of people who “just want coffee” is mind boggling. Take meetings – just be judicious. Thanks, Mark!