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If you want to be Big Time don’t act like Mr. Big Time


Last month a venture capitalist I haven’t met reached out to me asking for a meeting.

  • He sent me a one-line email that said, I’d like to meet you.
  • He didn’t ask me if I wanted to meet him. He didn’t tell me what meeting was about.
  • He cc’d his admin and dropped off the thread. She sent me two available times. 
  • She didn’t say where the meeting would be … it was just assumed I’d travel to his office in Menlo Park.

Uh oh! I was being “big timed!”

Being “big timed” is when a very busy and important Mr. Big Time summons you for a meeting. It is assumed you will show up at his office when he has a free slot since he is too busy and important to come to your place. You get plopped in a conference room with a bottled water by a comely assistant. Mr. Big Time breezes in, gives you 45 minutes of distracted partial attention (his Blackberry gets the rest). His admin then comes away and whisks him away for his next big time meeting.

(Thanks for my friend Greg Gretsch, who actually *is* a VC (@greggretsch) for explaining the phrase “big timed” to me.)

I decided to give Mr. Big Time another chance. I sent a follow up message to his admin asking for clarity on the meeting. It got worse:

  • She explained to me that he is a very very busy guy. (Uh, have you met a startup CEO? We’re kinda busy, too).
  • She said BUT he’d be willing to meet anywhere that was directly along his commute from his house to his office (he lives in the south bay, I’m in SF….thanks, very helpful).
  • She explained that he just assumes people he schedules must be local to Menlo Park. (Big Timers are *always* in the center of their world). I guess when half the industry moved to San Francisco, it forgot to send a change of address.
  • And I found out that the meeting would have been a waste anyway - he was looking for someone available for a full-time gig, and I kinda have one of those already (big timers have associates do their LinkedIn searches for them).

Now, of course if I were out raising money and asked a VC for a meeting, I’d expect to go to his office. I asked for the meeting, after all. That’s basic business etiquette. And even in this instance I would have been happy to stop by his office next time I was in Menlo. All I needed was a, “hey Mike, would you mind coming over here if it is convenient?” 

VCs have always been susceptable to big timing. They sat on big piles of money, the entrepreneurs needed it to get their company started, a line would form out the door, and the VC could pick and choose. They got to feel big time, even if it were really their big pile of money doing the talking.

We all know how that is working out: new startups now need less money to start, can get traction earlier, have a long list of friendly seed funds and angels they can approach, and are increasingly only seeing a short list of top tier firms as relevant to them.

And those top tier firms, who actually *are* big time, usually don’t *act* big time.

My investors are respectful of entrepreneurs, meet them on their terms, and are willing to travel and hustle and seek them out. The give credit to the company at every possible turn, and don’t go out to the press to speak on behalf of the company: they defer to the CEO and founders to be the name and face of the company.

They want big time returns, and they know that all of the industry’s returns are generated by big time entrepreneurs, so they see them as peers and treat them with respect.

Big timers don’t get to work with other big timers if they treat them as small time.

And we’ve all seen it work the other way: a startup gains some traction, and the founders start to act big time. They get on the conference circuit, get arrogant, boss their teams around, treat interview candidates shabbily, and start big timing everyone who comes to visit.

They often build weak teams of small timers. Folks who act big time often don’t really want to be around other big timers…they want to be top dog. Then when they hit a bump and their team abandons them, they quickly find out it was their potential big pile of money they were sitting on, not they, who were big time. 

The entrepreners who are legitimately big time are humble, respectful, and helpful. Sure they are assertive, opinionate, and say no a lot, but they give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs, treat their employees with respect, and treat customers like partners.

So, if you want to be a big timer and spend your time with other big timers, don’t act like Mr. Big Time.