Like many in the startup world, I travel a lot:
  • To meet with founders I’ve invested in.
  • To meet with investors who have (or might) invest in the Start Haven Fund.
  • For conferences.
  • To launch new Startup Haven chapters.
  • To visit family and friends.
  • Just to visit amazing places.
Lately, I have been traveling with the specific mission to meet founders and investors in places far and wide. I do this because it is Startup Haven’s mission (i.e., my mission) to connect as many venture-scale founders and investors as possible… regardless of where they are. I want to do this because I know what happens when you do this: founders get help, investors get investments, the world gets dents (see below.)
So, whenever I travel, for whatever reason I’m traveling — literally, every time I travel — I try to meet new founders and investors. If you’re a founder or investor too, then I think you should give it a try yourself. Why?
The Fun
Venture-scale founders and investors everywhere are interesting. It’s axiomatic. If you’re building a company with the chance to dent the world, then you’re highly likely to be a pretty interesting cat. Same thing holds if you’re an investor in companies that want to dent the world… super high probability that you’re an interesting cat, too. If you get a few interesting cats around a table, great conversations ensue. QED
This most usually takes the form of a meal or a drink. Here’s how that goes.
About a month before I’m going to travel, I hit LinkedIn, Crunchbase, and the Startup Haven network looking for locals in the startup ecosystem I’m visiting. Of course, not every place has a tier-one startup ecosystem with hundreds or thousands of founders and investors bumping around. But you would be surprised at how many places have founders and investors working hard to dent the world. And remember, it only takes a few to make for a really interesting breakfast or happy hour.
Once I find some, I reach out through either LinkedIn or email and invite them to break bread with me. My goal is usually to get 6 – 8 folks to join me for dinner, breakfast, coffee, happy hour, or whatever I fancy at the time. Sometimes it turns out to be 2 or 3… sometimes I get 20 takers and I need to find a bigger place! Sometimes it’s just a face-to-face coffee or a beer. In the past six months, I’ve done this in…
Phoenix, Denver, Boulder, Sacramento, Philly, DC, Casablanca, Amsterdam, and Bonn. Iceland is next.
It doesn’t work out every time. For example, I’m writing this from aboard my flight to Bozeman, MT to attend my niece’s wedding. I reached out to the handful of founders/investors I could identify there and invited them to breakfast. Every one of them was happy with the invitation, but many were traveling themselves or had other obligations. Only two could make it. It is almost an hour drive to Bozeman from our Airbnb in the woods and I couldn’t make the math work for just two, given the possibility that one of them would have something come up last minute. So I ‘postponed’ until my next trip there.
The Profit
Well, not really “profit,” per se. More like value, of many kinds. Here are some of the forms that value can take.
If you’re a founder, you should want to build a strong network of other founders. Truth is, no one can help you more than another founder… and no one will be willing to help you the way another founder will. Every time you build a relationship with another founder, you increase your luck surface area. The same goes for meeting investors, although don’t make it about pitching. If you have the chance to meet an investor for breakfast in another city, my recommendation is to not spend more than two minutes talking about your startup unless you are responding to a question about it.
If you’re an investor, you should want to meet other investors. Just like for founders, every time you build a relationship with another investor, you increase your luck surface area. Investors need high-quality deal flow. Very often, referrals from other investors are among the best deals an investor sees. Investors also learn a lot from other investors. Needless to say, meeting founders is also very valuable for investors. It’s the bread and butter of startup investing. And, investors, remember that founders know other founders. So even if you don’t invest in the company of the founder you’re sharing hashbrowns with, if they treated that founder well then they will be on the lookout for other deals you might invest in. At a minimum, definitely spring for the meal!
An obvious point to make: when you’re reaching out to founders or investors outside of your hamlet, it’s reasonable to seek out folks for whom the relevance is obvious — i.e., reaching out to others in your sector, stage, product category, etc. But do yourself a favor and meet founders and investors who are in other sectors, at other stages, and with other product categories.
Finally, I strongly encourage you to seek out folks who do not look like you. Meeting founders and investors outside of your town and your well-worn pathways will invariably lead to new perspectives.