Investor giving advice to a team of young entrepreneurs

4 Top Tips to get the most out of Open Office Hours with a VC

During our bootcamps and training for our Student VCs, we tell them over and over that the first meeting with a founder is a two-way-street. You’re getting to know each other, figuring out if you like each other, trust each other, and have the potential to work together for a really long time (a founder-VC relationship can last longer than most marriages :/). We’re usually referring to a first official meeting after receiving a pitch deck, but the same can be said for the more informal interactions that may happen before that.

Today we’ll be looking at the relatively common concept of Open Office Hours – what are they? why are they useful? and how can you get the most out of them as a founder sitting across from a VC?

What are Open Office Hours?

This isn’t a particularly new concept. If you’ve been to university, you’ll remember there was usually a time every week when lecturers and professors sat in their office and made themselves available to deal with any queries, worries, complaints or other issues with coursework, exams and anything else affecting your studies. Some managers and CxOs hold Open Office Hours for their employees making themselves more accessible and approachable to the human element of their organisation.

In the startup and venture capital world, Open Office Hours are simply periods of time that a VC carves out of their calendar to meet with founders, answer questions, hear ideas and give advice and guidance. Sessions usually last around 20 minutes and can be on a drop-in basis or booked online. It’s important to note that these sessions aren’t for pitching as such, but for making that first connection and getting some valuable advice. It’s essentially about getting some face time with some otherwise unapproachable, unreachable VCs.

Why bother?

VCs do this for a number of reasons. It’s basically a VC’s job to meet as many founders and hear as many ideas as possible. Networking events are one way, introductions are another. The most brutal way of looking at it is that Open Office are simply another channel for generating leads. But that’s a bit unfair. VCs also need to stay relevant, keep up with trends, stay connected to their local startup ecosystem and many have a passion for what they do and want to give back as much as possible to early stage founders – after all, they may want to invest in them some day.

For founders, the benefits are more obvious: free personalised advice and guidance, making connections and getting a foot into the investor network. It’s a chance to make an impression if you think fundraising might be in your company’s future. But at worst, you’ll be going away with some (hopefully) good, actionable advice that could help you get over the current big problem you’re facing.

How to get the most out of Open Office Hours

1. Practice your elevator pitch

Don’t think for a moment that I’m back-pedalling on the ‘this is not a pitch’ comment. It’s really not, and that’s why you need to have your elevator pitch ready, so as not to eat up the whole session with you trying to explain everything your company does and running out of time before you get to ask your questions. An elevator pitch is a 30-60 second summary of your idea/startup. What to include is up to you, but I like this tried and tested format used at hack events and Startup Weekends across the world:

Problem you’re solving (15 seconds)
Who has that problem? (15 seconds)
Your elegant solution (15 seconds)
Stage you’re at (10 seconds)

Don’t worry. If you get this right, there’s a good chance the VC will ask further questions if they want more information before giving you the advice you came for.

2. Prioritise your questions

Are you thinking about starting a new technology focused company? Are you already working on a tech company and interested in getting feedback? Maybe you’re facing a business challenge and looking for advice? You might be ready to start fundraising and want to review your pitch? Or you’re thinking of pitching the fund in the near future and want to know more about the process you’ll go through and the investment criteria.

Whatever your situation and stage, you only have 20 minutes. Once you’re done with introductions, niceties and your elevator pitch, you could be down to 18 minutes. So prioritise what you want to talk about, starting with the most pressing, important issue and work down from there.

3. Do your research

  1. On the Fund
  2. On the VC

I’m not talking about social media stalking the VC you’re going to meet or spending hours reading up on all the possible answers to the questions you’re going to ask. This, like my previous two tips, is about making the best possible use of the short amount of time you have.

Don’t waste it by asking questions about who the partners are at the fund or what other companies the fund has invested in if that information is readily available on their website. And when you’re prioritising your questions (because you’ve read Tip no. 2 thoroughly), take into account the background and skills of the VC you’re meeting. If they’re all about growth hacking a SaaS company, you’ll likely get very little value out of asking them for help solving technical hardware problems.

4. Relax

Ugh, well this is a throw-away tip if ever I saw one. Might as well have just done 3 tips and kept it at that. But, what the hey, I left it in. And what I really mean is to remember that Open Office Hours are informal. Don’t put too much pressure on it. No need to wear a suit. I won’t tell you that VCs aren’t going to be making any automatic judgements (as we all do when we meet someone for the first time), but the probability of them investing in you in the future, if that’s what you want, is unlikely to hinge on this 20 min session. Focus on making the connection, getting the information you need, and having an enjoyable conversation.

Truly Open Office Hours

At Campus Capital, our Student VCs often hold Open Office Hours in the cities their team operates in. At Campus Capital HQ, we’re taking this concept and taking it to another level, opening our founder/VC conversations up to the public so anyone can learn from the insights they generate.

Enter, Truly Open Office Hours, a new video and podcast series where we connect founders with relevant VCs for awesome conversations that we share with the world. We’re taking applications on a rolling basis so if you’d like for your startup to feature, check out the main page for more information and to apply.

Your Top Tips

Have you attended Open Office Hours before? What are your top tips for getting the most our of these short, informal sessions? Perhaps you’re a VC or a manager who hosts their own open office hours. What are some of the things that make the most effective meetings, in your experience? Please leave your tips, experiences and advice in the comments below!