tl;dr: Have you ever been told that you should only talk to partners at venture firms? That may not be the best advice.
A lot of founders these days are being coached to avoid meeting with associates. Articles like these encourage founders to only meet with general partners (GPs) or risk being a part of a “fishing expedition” at their own expense.
While I can understand a number of reasons to avoid putting an extra step between yourself and a check writer at a venture capital firm—extra time and work, the associate could wrongly ding you when the GP would actually love you and your company—there are also quite a number of reasons to go ahead and meet with an associate.
Even the most junior of junior, cold-emailing, non-check writing associates (or “principals,” “partners,” “investors,” etc.) can add some value. Here are ten reasons to take the meeting.
1. Associates do the diligence
Associates are often the ones analyzing the financial plans, adjusting assumptions, doing reference check calls, and so on. They also often write the investment memos, which are quite important in shaping the views of the GPs who weren’t on the deal team.
It is very easy when putting together these materials to focus on either the positive or the negative components of your business and team. If you’ve developed some rapport and a connection with the associate, they are more likely to see (and emphasize in their materials) the more flattering side of things.
2. They are motivated to get a deal done
Venture capitalists are made, not born, and they are made by doing deals. While your average GP may be up to his eyeballs in portfolio company woes, your average associate is chomping at the bit to get a deal done — stat — and brag all over the internet about it. That deal could be yours!
3. They don’t know their ABCs, and that’s a good thing
While a GP has seen a hundred ways for a company to fail, associates are still bright-eyed and hopeful. They haven’t been through the gut-wrenching experiences of a fire sale or filing for ABC.
4. They may be all you can have (at least at first)
At many firms, associates are the gatekeepers to the GPs. This isn’t done to be obnoxious or to enable the GPs to sit around at the country club counting their LP fee dollars. This is because GPs are *really* busy. They’re in long board meetings, on the phone with their portfolio CEOs, and dealing with whatever fire drill is happening at their most troubled company. One day your company may be that troubled company. And you will be extremely thankful that associates help your board advisor take your call.
5. Because today’s associate could be tomorrow’s GP
The GP who hired me, Dan Scholnick, sourced New Relic to Trinity Ventures as an associate. He championed the deal within Trinity, took a board seat, and a few years later he stood next to founder, Lew Cirne, as he rang the NASDAQ bell at their IPO.
Granted, this is not the typical scenario, but you don’t know what will happen. Today’s associate may be a GP at their firm (or another one) in a few years. You may be raising a new round of financing, or even starting a new company altogether, and find yourself appreciative of the relationship you developed early on.
6. They may have something helpful to offer
Associates are meeting with founders and other venture capitalists all day, every day. While you’ve been buried in your latest A/B test, they’ve likely met with a bunch of your competitors, or other founders and up-and-coming operators who could send valuable support your way. Ask the associate for something specific, such as an introduction, perspective on your space, or help recruiting. If they dig you and your company, they’ll do their best, and maybe even deliver!
7. You might make a new friend
As cheesy as this sounds, it’s true. Some of the founders, journalists, and seed investors I’ve met through work have become very close friends. One of the first founders I ever brought into Trinity is now dating a former roommate. Another founder I met through work just got engaged to one of my friends. The world is big and many venture capitalists are natural-born connectors. It might not be so bad to have a few of them in your rolodex (or Snapchat friends list ?).
8. Goodwill is the currency of Silicon Valley
A founder told me recently that he hits the spam button whenever he receives an email from an associate. That is really harsh! Associates are just trying to do their job, and if you blow us off, I promise you, we will remember and karma bites. Don’t take my word for it? Sarah Tavel, GP at Greylock Partners, can confirm.
9. It’s just a meeting, not a marriage proposal
If you are really that heads down, or crunched for time, how about having a quick phone call? If you have nothing to discuss, or the associate is truly unhelpful, you can wrap it up after 15–20 minutes with a promise to get in touch in the future “when you’re raising.” If said associate is actually so painful to meet with, you likely won’t have to do a second meeting anyway. You either had very bad founder/investor chemistry, or the investor may be struggling.
10. You might want to hire your associate
Lots of associates are working in venture to find their next gig. They’re typically intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working, and the right associate could make a great hire for your budding team!
So there you have it: ten reasons to go ahead and take that coffee or phone call. Best of luck in your fundraising (or non-fundraising). May your meetings be fruitful, short, and sweet!