Introductions that go badly are a great way to burn the friendships I have with hard-working, brilliant people who don’t get any closer to building a billion dollar company by meeting you for a coffee. So if I don’t already know you well, even if you’re awesome, I’m not interested in helping you meet people.
The best way to get to know me well is to be a startup founder in the accelerator programs offered by BlueChilli or Startmate, where I mentor and invest. Best way to be in one of those programs is to apply and be accepted.
Get specific, fast
In the home of TL; DR, brokering a meeting has a lot to do with being specific. Starting an email exchange back and forth is very likely to distract and annoy the person you’d like to meet, and by extension, me. So I’m not going to hit up a friend for you until you tell me exactly what you need.
Write a one paragraph “ask” that explains who you are, what your startup does, and why that person will benefit from connecting with you. Be as specific and concise as you possibly can.
Just be fast
Aussies tend to underestimate the sheer speed of business interactions in the SF/Bay Area tech community and how important it is to show that you can perform at that same speed. If I am able to get you an intro to somebody who can help you, and you sit on that intro and don’t send a follow-up email immediately, that intro goes bad quicker than a tray of prawns in the summer sun. Not only does it mean you won’t get a yes when you get around to following-up, it means you’re making me look bad too. (Suggested by Hugh Geiger, thanks for the input).
Tell me when you’re actually there and where you’ll actually be
If this is about meeting someone when you’re in San Francisco, or London or Singapore, tell me when. When I say “when” I don’t mean telling me “a few weeks in August”. Tell me which dates you are available to meet people. If you’re in SF between 1–20 August but you’ve already arranged to attend a conference, booked a few other meetings, need to make some sales calls on another day and take a trip up to Yosemite on your last week, you’re not actually available to meet all of those 20 days. Tell me which days, and whether that’s the afternoon, the morning, or the whole day.
Where you’ll be is also important. For example, SF and Silicon Valley are not the same place. It can take more than two hours of freeway driving from SF to San Jose (where Silicon Valley ends), sometimes more. So tell me where you’re planning to stay most of your visit, such as in SF (aka “the City”) or someplace in Silicon Valley (such as San Mateo, Palo Alto, or Mountain View).
Nobody is across everything
Unlike Australia, where most of us have to work across multiple areas of a startup, people working in US startups are typically in relatively narrow job roles. If you want to ask product questions, you have to meet a product manager. If you want to ask engineering questions, you have to ask an engineer. And so on for sales, distribution, operations, etc.
You can sometimes get a broader view from a CEO or VP but they are also harder to get time with and may be mostly focused on hiring and raising capital — it may have been a relatively long time since they’ve had direct involvement in sales, product or engineering.
You musn’t get in the way of them killing it
As a general principle, people are more likely to say yes to meeting you if you can be specific about what you’d like to learn about.
Very few people are interested in meeting a friend of mine for a coffee without a specific purpose, because everybody’s focused on smashing, killing, nailing or grievously harming ‘it’ in some other manner, lest their competitors take advantage of that idle coffee time with you to damage ‘it’ even more significantly.
It will really help if you can come up with some specific questions, or areas that you feel you know the least about, to focus on. Then I can see if I can introduce you to a product, sales, distribution, operations, etc person who can help you with those specific questions.
I am kind of a tiny deal
In Australia I am a medium-sized frog in a small pond. I’m kind of a medium deal. In San Francisco I am kind of a tiny deal; a microscopic speck of frog spawn in the kind of massive inland sea not seen since the Triassic period and populated by enormous Basilosauruses, Liopleurodons and Mosasaurs.
I know some people, but it’s more likely I don’t know the people you need to meet. But all is not lost: I’ll kick my little froggy legs as hard as I can.
It’s possible that somebody I know, will know somebody, who knows the person you need to speak to. Which means you need to tell me who the person you need to speak to is. If you don’t know who you need to speak to, I can’t help you. Fortunately, you have the internet to help you.
Build a short list of startups (or investors, or larger companies) you’d like to meet. If you don’t know which of the companies you need to meet are based in the Bay Area, ask on Quora. Search for the relevant job role in those companies matching the questions you have.
For instance, if you want to meet product managers in food delivery startups, http://bit.ly/1MEB06m is a search for people with “product” in their title who work for Doordash, which according to LinkedIn is in SF and must have closed a round recently because they have a long list of job openings as I write this. They might be interested in meeting you in the slight chance you might make a good hire.
Show me the X specific people you want to meet on LinkedIn and maybe I know somebody who knows somebody who knows them. We can at least try.
Choose the right time of year to be there
The California business calendar is different to the Australian calendar. Although many employees only get a week or two of paid vacation per year, some of them make up for it by not working very hard and/or not being very available for meetings during particular times of year. A lot of this aligns with school vacation times if the person you want to meet is old enough to have a family.
If you’ve ever seen an American movie set at Thanksgiving you’ll know it’s almost compulsory to take a short vacation to see your hilarious in-laws to accidentally kill their beloved cat at Thanksgiving, which falls in the last week of November. Nobody will meet you around Thanksgiving week.
Since California schools have a vacation from the week before Christmas to New Years Day, some people will take vacation time anywhere from Thanksgiving through to the first week or two of January. Many businesses will be quiet at that time and it may be harder to get to see people even if they’re not on vacation. They may be working from home, travelling to/from family interstate, catching up with important customers socially, or just not wanting to meet new Australians.
The other big holiday season is the summer holiday. Schools finish around the middle of June and don’t come back until the first week of September — it can be very hard to get meetings with anybody with family at this time.
Adverse impact of ski industry on tech industry productivity
California’s ski resorts are 3–5 hours drive from San Francisco and many tech industry people take time to ski during the year for a week at a time, or go skiing for the weekend, which really means leaving from work early on a Friday and/or returning late on a Monday.
Ski/snowboard-related absenteeism is common from the beginning December until early April, although if the season is good that might start earlier and finish later.
Visit when the weather is shitty
In short, the best times to be in SF/Bay Area for meeting people (which also coincides with conferences and meetups) are roughly February to early-June, or September to mid-November. Which is when it’s rainy and cold most of the time. But you didn’t come for a vacation!
Correct me if I’m wrong
I could be wrong — this is my impression after visiting SF and the Bay Area repeatedly, but I wasn’t taking notes while I did so. Please let me know if you disagree or want to tweak my recommendations.