I have been in VC at Balderton since 2009, and met thousands of companies and founders over that period. Many times I have met the CEO 1:1. On other occasions I have been confronted by as many as eight people: founders, co-founders, employees, advisors, angel investors — the full works. Reflecting on this in a brief moment of August calm, the success or otherwise of these meetings is correlated to the number of people in the room: the fewer the better.
Going forward I am going to insist on meeting no more than two people at a time, with a preference for a 1:1 chat with the CEO in the initial meeting.
- The main reason for a VC to invest in a company is great founder(s). The more people in the room, the harder it is for me to get a feel for how you think, what motivates you, and for us to build a personal bond. Equally important is for you to decide whether I am someone you would like on your board for the next 5–10 years, which is also harder in a larger group.
- I want to have a discussion with you as a founder, not be pitched to. You learn much more about a person and their company through asking open and unexpected questions, going deep in a couple of areas, rather than trying to methodically cover off every point in 60 minutes. The more people in the room the more likely the meeting slips into watching slides.
- I need the occasional pause to process information. If there are multiple people presenting they find it hard to resist reiterating or adding an additional point, filling every silence. This leads to me zoning out for a moment as I can’t absorb any more.
- It’s inefficient. Your cofounders and team have better things to be doing with their time.
- It should not be necessary. You as CEO (or co-CEOs) should be able to answer 95% of the questions a VC might ask yourself. Any specific technicalities can be come back to afterwards.
- It is a strong signal that you and your co-founders trust each other.
- Having someone in the room who is completely silent (or even worse checking emails) is a distraction and makes it hard to maintain a natural conversation.
The exception to the above is where you have two co-CEOs or co-founders, with complementary skills, where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. Then a 2:1 meeting can work well, especially if you can feel a strong rapport and energy. Just need to be aware of letting the VC into the conversation and giving them time to think.
When I am going deeper with a company I certainly want to meet the rest of the founders and key team members. Again though these conversations are much more useful if they are 1:1, without the CEO present. Sometimes a brainstorm session with a larger group on roadmap and expansion can work well at later stages.
I am not a fan of advisors/fundraisers in meetings. Great advisors can help you craft your story, rehearse your pitch, prioritise which VCs to talk to and provide warm introductions. But they don’t need to be in the meeting itself.
Hope this is not too self-indulgent a post, and open to questions and criticism…