The 20:20:20 Rule of a Successful VC Meeting

So you're about to go meet with a VC. Here's some free advice from someone who has had a few of those: at a certain point in the meeting, approximately one third of the way into your allotted time, you will need to do something that may feel quite alien to you: You will need to shut up.

I know, it's hard. We all think we have the best and greatest new thing, and as our spouses are well aware, we can talk for hours on the subject. But in the context of an investor meeting, at a certain point, it's not about what you think of the idea that is important, it's what the investor thinks - and might propose to do next.

Which is why having a game plan is important. The plan I propose? Let's call it the 20:20:20 rule:

  1. First 20 Minutes: Talk/Present
  2. Next 20 Minutes: Discuss/Demo
  3. Last 20 Minutes: Agree actions/date of next meeting

This sounds like a pretty obviously smart move, right? Unfortunately, those of us who've been in a number of these VC meetings know how quickly that time goes by. Talk too much, and before you know it there are five minutes left and you're flipping through your final slides and talking like Daffy Duck - and two of the key guys you were presenting to are looking at their watches and heading for the door, without a follow-up secured.

And that really is the key point. The most common outcome of a rushed meeting is a lack of discussion about follow-up - which is fine if you're using professional placement guys, or know someone on the team, but not fine if you're doing this yourself.

My advice? Structure the meeting. Appoint someone on the team as the timekeeper. Agree a "code phrase" that anyone on the team can use to substitute for "okay, they get it - let's move it along" (the best code phrase I've heard used in this context is "should we skip to the next slide?")

If you're moving too fast, the guys the other side of the table will be sure to let you know (most VCs are, with few exceptions, usually too polite to indicate that you've moving too slowly.)

Above all, make sure you have time to plan next steps. Take control of the last 20 minutes. Use this time to a) ask them what their process is for evaluating opportunities, b) talk about the timeframe you're looking at for closing, c) find out if there are any investment committee people in the room, and d) discuss and agree what needs to be shared in order for them to get to a decision re investment.

So that's it - the 20:20:20 rule of getting to the next meeting. Good luck!

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John Sharp

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