Preparing for a coaches’ meeting, parts 1 and 2 (DRAFT)

Draft! Revised version to appear as a two-part series on NWEN’s blog.

Congratulations to the 20 companies who advanced to the second round of the First Look Forum!  Hopefully by now you’re already scheduling your meetings with the coaches.   We’ve got a great list of coaches, including some of the highest-profile investors and entrepreneurs in the Seattle area.  From a startup’s perspective, it’s a huge opportunity — and potentially a little scary.

Back in fall 2009, I was in that situation with Qworky.  We were delighted to make it into the second round, and through the luck of the draw one of our coaches was one of the angel investors on our shortlist of “people we really really want to meet”.  Huzzah!  But then everybody’s schedule got busy and we didn’t prepare as thoroughly for the meeting as we had intended to.  One of the other founders still hadn’t left their previous job, and the other had some conflicts, so I wound up doing the meeting by myself …

And I bombed.

Needless to say we didn’t make it to the next round.

Even so, it worked out very well for us.   We got some extremely valuable feedback and made some significant changes in our business as a result.  By setting expectations properly before and during the meeting, getting valuable feedback and showing that we had heard it, we wound up with a good relationship with the investor.  And it was great practice for the spring 2010 First Look Forum, when our CEO Mikal Lewis took Qworky to the final five.

Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but one of the unique things about at the First Look Forum is the opportunity to be in front of investors and other entrepreneurs where it’s just fine if you don’t have answers to everything yet. As long as you think realistically about your goals and set expectations, you can have a good meeting.  In this short series, I’ll give some tips about how.


Meetings tend to go better when both parties understand each others’ goals, and there’s at least a rough agenda to make sure that all the important topics get covered. For this first meeting, the coaches’ goals are clear: get enough information to rate your company on Market, Novelty, Scalability, Traction and Team; and help you as much as possible within the hour. But what are your goals?

Getting to the next round, presumably; but there are likely to be others as well, and they may be even more important. Are there strategic choices or areas of your business plan that you particularly need advice on? Are there connections that you’re particularly interested in making? An hour-long meeting can be a good chance to make progress on any of these.

Once you’ve thought about your goals, share them with the investor, and suggest an appropraite agenda item. You can use language like “One or our main goals for the FLF is X, so we’re hoping to spend at least a few minutes talking about Y.” Of course, there’s no guarantee that it’ll actually happen … but it’s a lot more likely to if you bring it up.

To be continued

Tomorrow, we’ll cover creating a good impression and a quick refresher in “meetings 101”. Stay tuned!

Part 2

a bit of upfront material goes here summarizing and linking to part 1 … and then on to the meat

Creating a good impression

Something I always keep in mind before a meeting like this is that no matter what the results are, I want the people I’m meeting with to come away impressed with me and my company — and interested enough that I can follow up with them in the future. Giving off an aura of competence and confidence can help a lot here. But how to do that when there’s so much you don’t know?

One thing that works well for me is to start with what you do know. Most of the companies that made it to the second round had at least a couple of very strong sections in their one-pagers, areas where they almost certainly know more than the investors. And similarly most of the companies have at least a couple of sections where there are substantial opportunities for progress. Being aware of your strengths and willing to admit your current weaknesses helps to establish credibility — and it also helps reduce the chance that you’ll say something blindingly wrong.

And there’s no substitute for preparation and practice. Everybody on the team should be able to give the one-line pitch, business summary, problem/solution, go-to-market plan, and so on. Practice them until their smooth. Each person should work on a 30-second introduction, and also a 1-to-2 minute version in case the coaches ask to find out more. Then do a “tough questions” drill, where you ask each other the questions you dread hearing … and work out good answers. And if you don’t have a good answer? Describe when you think you will, or what you’re doing to figure it out, or decide that this is one of the areas where you’re going to ask for help if it comes up.

Personally, I’ll often spend 10 to 20 hours preparing for a key one-hour meeting. Your mileage may vary; some people feel that too much practice leaves them stale. In general, though, it’s relatively rare to get into trouble by preparing too much — and a lot more likely you’ll have problems if you don’t prepare enough.

And …

Most of you reading this probably already know these, but don’t forget the meeting basics:

  • make sure you work out the mechanics: how you’ll introduce yourselves, who will handle which kinds of questions, and how you’ll use to ask each other for help when you need it
  • if you have friends or advisors who are investors, consider doing a “dress rehearsal” with them playing the role of your coaches
  • touch base in email the afternoon before the meeting, double-checking the logistics, and including an updated one-pager if you have one
  • plan to get their a few minutes early (like the go-getter entrpreneur that you are!) and make sure to leave extra time for parking and traffic
  • make sure to follow up after the meeting, thanking them for their time, sharing your key takeaways, and answering any questions you didn’t handle during the meeting

clever conclusion here!