June 17, 2004

Showing Up

Depending on which Google search results you go with, Woody Allen once said that either 80 or 90% of success is just "showing up."

I've found this to be true. Opportunities present themselves if you look for them. And when one's doing a seed-stage startup, one spends a lot of time looking for opportunities wherever they are. Perhaps this explains why I go to tech conferences. It's not generally for the sessions. It's not the schmoozing or networking. It's because when a lot of bright people from all over the country or the world meet in the same room to discuss stuff, interesting and unexpected things happen. You wind up meeting people you didn't expect to meet, and those meetings in turn lead to other meetings and so on. All the hassle in going to the event in the first place pays off, miraculously.

Take for instance today's Meet the VCs breakfast, held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. Run by the San Diego Venture Group, this event has become a pretty big deal.

A sea of banquet tables as people wander in at 7am

There were over 100 VCs at today's event, and over 600 attendees total.

The format of the event is interesting. Two or three VCs sit down at each table, along with a "table captain".

A partial list of attending VC firms

Two or three chairs around each table are covered white sheets (I'm surprised they weren't green). These are the "hot seats", reserved for the VCs. For 20-25 minutes, others seated at the table get to talk with the VCs. Then, music comes over the loudspeakers (the theme song from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), and the VCs get up and go to different tables and new VCs come and sit down.

Of course, while there were 100+ VCs there, and a total of 600+ people, that doesn't mean there were 500+ entrepreneurs attending to meet the VCs. Instead, I'd say there were maybe 250-300 entrepreneurs, and the rest were what I call service sharks --- headhunters, lawyers, bankers, financial consultants, and various hangers-on, also looking for money from the VCs.

The twenty-odd minute sessions with the VCs at the table were primarily spent with the "table captain" asking questions of the VCs --- questions about their firms, the kind of ventures they fund, etc. All stuff one can get from visiting their websites. Not the kind of thing one needs to go to one of these expensive, time-consuming breakfast banquets to learn.

But what one does learn is the word here, or the phrase there, or the name here, or the company there, that gets mentioned somewhere around the table. It also is a chance to actually see the VCs face-to-face. Find out who's really bright, high-bandwidth, passionate, probably more likely to hear about a seed-stage venture.

That's a sheet-covered "hot seat" at right

Before the sessions started, it was amusing to see the service sharks winding their way through the tables, searching for the right tables (they already seemed to know which VCs were assigned to which tables --- how'd they know that?). "Kleiner's at table 5. Let's sit here," one service shark said, pointing to a chair to the right of a white-sheeted chair, "and here," pointing to the chair to the left of the white-sheeted chair. Service velociraptors.

Then again, I sat down at Table 6 next to a white-sheeted chair too. :-)

The table captain for Table 6 wound up sitting to my left. Very nice guy. From Tech Coast Angels. I guess he hadn't read my writeup here in brianstorms about the "Meet the Angels" session I attended back on May 19th at TCA's San Diego headquarters (a writeup that wound up being included in the San Diego Reader article)... whew!

One thing I heard that was very interesting: from an old-time very respected San Diego VC: Asian colleges are now graduating more engineers than the U.S. "Hey, wake up, America!" he said, "You no longer own your own genius." He went on to say "Korea and Japan are so far ahead of us." He also said, regarding outsourcing to India, "it's the way it's going to be, guys, it's 1/10th the cost!" He believed there was no turning back. I also suspected he doubted America would ever regain its lead in high tech. A viewpoint I find I'm increasingly having: the 21st century is the Asian-Pacific Century. America's just another customer, take a number, and wait in line.

At the end of the session, all the VCs were shepherded up to the front stage of the ballroom, for a group photo.

The Group Photo (Blurry Version!)

I suspect the real value of the group photo is that it gives the rest of the attendees a chance to zero in on those select few VCs they really, really want to be sure to meet or say hello to before they all escape the room. At least, that's how I used the time, and sure enough, I tracked down someone I was hoping to say hello to. First thing he said was, "You really need to meet _____." I told him, "That's funny, a whole bunch of people have been telling me the same thing!" He said he'd make a personal intro. There you go.

Showing Up works.

Posted by brian at June 17, 2004 08:50 PM | TrackBack


What is venture capitalism? How does it work? What is the investment/intellectual-creativity balance? Are you just throwing money at other people's ideas?

Posted by: BRW at June 17, 2004 10:03 PM

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