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August 08, 2006

Blackberries for Sal

We picked blueberries last weekend with our kids.  They are in season here in New England and yielded a great crop this year.  Afterwards, I read to them the classic children's book, “Blueberries for Sal”, a charming story of a little girl who follows her mother around a blueberry patch, eating berries as fast as she gathers them.  When they drop into her empty pail, you can hear the refrain “kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk”.

As I intoned these sounds, I thought about a VC spin on the story.  What if VCs walked into Monday morning pitches with entrepreneurs and each partner dropped their beloved Blackberries into a pail?  "Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk".

The Monday Morning Partners Meeting is every entrepreneur’s dream and nightmare rolled into one.  It’s their big chance to present to the entire partnership – a sign that their deal is being taken seriously and that the lead partner is comfortable exposing it to their colleagues.  On the other hand, it’s a forum rife with pitfalls and potholes – either everyone is bored, distracted and checking their Blackberries every few minutes, or they’re peppering you with tough, pointed questions and frowning cycnically.   When my business partner and I pitched the Kleiner Perkins partnership on the Upromise Series A, I still remember how John Doerr drilled into the deep specifics of a slide with a number on it just to see if we truly knew our stuff, caring less about the answer and more how we responded under fire.  In many other pitch meetings, I've felt like I was talking to a log as the VC would furrow their brow, nod their head and pretend to listen, while staring down at their rapidly twitching thumbs.

For some VCs, having Attention Deficit Disorder seems to be a competitive advantage and the ever-present Blackberry on the hip is like a narcotic – we always check it to see what new deal might be coming over the transom, how the latest portfolio company did in the quarter and the final score of the Red Sox day game.  But what if VCs literally dropped their Blackberries into a pail when meeting with entrepreneurs and actually focused on the meeting?  I know many an entrepreneur who would breath a sigh of relief if they heard "kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk" as they walked into the Monday Morning Partners Meeting.  It would show great respect for the entrepreneur, a signal that their project is the most important thing right now and deserving of full, high quality attention.

So the next time you’re entering into the dreaded Monday Morning Partners Meeting, bring your pail and collect some Blackberries.  If you have the courage to do that, you might get that coveted term sheet after all.


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Great post. Venture Capitalist Attention Deficit Disorder (VCADD) is indeed a peculiar affliction. I suffer from AADD. It affects Angels and same symptoms, but it's a milder form and starts earlier. This recent post from Dharmesh Shah gives some other concrete suggestions on how to handle this at an investor pitch: http://onstartups.com/Home/tabid/3339/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/765/HowToWatchAStartupPresentation.aspx

Great post... it's all about respecting the process. If you're sitting there reading your email then you're not paying attention to what's going on. That's a lack of respect. Usually when I see this kind of behavior I cut the meeting short. Why waste your time with people who don't care enough about what you are doing to simply listen.

I would love to go into a meeting and do that if others are being disrepectful. Especially since we are now the ones getting invitations for VC money and at the present time....don't need it. Reaching profitability quickly has afforded us the arrogance to do such a thing. I can remember not too long ago when the tables were turned though and it still stings.

As we've begun our second round of presentations to investors and others, I'm intrigued by the decrease in 'device disorder' we've been seeing.

For the most part, Round 1 was barely more than a side-bar conversation while the person we were meeting with attended to their other duties.

Through luck, good planning or talent (I like to think we've got all 3!), now that we're in Round 2 the attention deficit is much lower and we're being engaged rather than dealt with.

Perhaps it has something to do with the seriousness of the conversation as we get closer to term sheets from a few of these potential investors.

From a Board Member perspective, we banned devices in our meetings about 3 months ago and wait for it . . . the meetings are more productive and typically 15-30 minutes SHORTER! The only exception is for the scribe who gets to take notes on his/her computer. But, everyone else gets to use (SHOCKING) paper!

Can't agree more - ban the devices and you'll get more done - plus, it's polite.

That's a great point about efficiency, Brian, and engagement. It's a self-fulfilling loop: if your mind is wandering, you grab your crackberry; if you grab your crackberry, your mind wanders more.

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