Life is full. Mostly, we get to choose what big blocks we put into it, even if the details shift and change moment to moment.
May 16, 2016
Hazeltine: Investing in an Open Door Policy
Her job at The Startup Factory means saying yes to meetings and gatherings without an agenda.
At a recent young investor dinner, the conversation reminded me how the elements that we pack into our days jostle for our brain-space—whether boot camps or strategic prospecting for corporate M&A or kids’ birthday parties. That group of exceptionally bright and driven and understated people talked about how they consistently make time for the things and people they value, despite the ever-present trade-offs. They show up, show up, show up, and in a case of doubt, they show up.
When the conversation turned to the seemingly endless stream of one-off meetings we all squeeze in alongside term sheets and pitches and birthday cake, it didn’t surprise me that some of us sighed before we launched into a pros and cons list.
That back and forth fits into an ongoing debate about time-management (#lifehacking) vs. accessibility of notoriously aloof investors. Discerning what’s worth the time requires a special ruthlessness that’s tough for people like me who generate energy from being with other humans. Cutting conference calls, focusing email time, doing after-work burpees and sleeping enough all require telling someone “no, thank you.” Having the chutzpah to decline for the sake of your health is generally a good thing, but when we’re talking about synchronicity and community building, I draw another line.
Establishing that I’m “too busy” to show up has a downside. Sure, I get control, but there is such a thing as too much control. It kills anything we cannot engineer, especially the magic that can and does happen in open-ended interactions.
If I let my ENTJ-ness drive my schedule, I end up with less of this good stuff. So instead, I harness my planning instincts to set up times without an agenda because I value what comes out of it. Bi-weekly open office hours, weekly #TeaSF sit downs at American Underground, and all the startup community-adjacent hanging out I do confront me with my own biases, introduce me to great people and companies I wouldn’t have met otherwise and keep me grounded.
But this is bigger than me. It’s as big as the Triangle and North Carolina as startup communities.
If we individually show up for each other in moments when it’s not clear what we gain, we build trust, we turn strangers into buddies, we learn, we grow. Brad Feld’s startup community model notes that the most important harbinger of startup community health is the experience of the newest member. Welcoming strangers build relationships and community at a macro level. If we hide behind being “busy,” our community and everything it supports are in big trouble.
When I joined The Startup Factory, I committed to an open-door policy.* It requires me to consistently acknowledge that I cannot judge the relative merits of an idea or a person in a split second. I get to say yes and find out why later.
*N.B. An open door policy is not the same as a “Knock on my Door, Get a Meeting Policy,” even if it sometimes happens to function that way. I’m not always immediately available, so out of necessity, I sometimes need to push meetings out a week or two.