The predictable criticism of my latest VentureBeat post

I've heard a few people criticize my advice when I wrote "How To Land Meetings with Anyone", although the response has overwhelmingly been very positive. It's one of the most-liked stories (by Facebook likes) on VentureBeat.

There are two major criticisms that I'd like to respond to. I wanted to first point out that trolls appear to running rampant on the post; I've only recently understood how to spot them and when to not respond. I'm talking about comments like this:

This has to be one of the lamest things I have ever read on hacker news. Hacking the system? Its called persistence. Yes, sometimes it can work, other times it can get you shitlisted. Is this the kind of crap they teach Urbana-Champaign? No wonder I rarely hire a recent college graduate.

There's a few things here. First, the person thought the advice is horrible. I can understand that. They also claim I'm misusing the term "hack", which has happened in the past before, so maybe I should actually explain that part.

Complaint #1: This isn't "a hack." And you're being greedy (according to Joel Spolsky, who completely missed the entire point of my advice)

If you read a comment from Joel Spolsky, he claims that his blog is the reason that he's been able to get meetings with anyone he wants. That's great, but I've already recommended that people write blogs before. Nothing new there, and it's a bit off topic if we're actually looking at what the article is about. This article is not called "The long term solution to getting recognized and meeting people." The reason I called this "hacking the system" is because it's literally that: a hack. It just works; it's a short-term solution; it gets the job done. It might not work on everyone, but hey, so far it has landed me 3 meetings with people I shouldn't have been able to meet with, and it got Evan an investor and mentor. Zero complaints, 100% success rate. You can criticize the tactic all you want, but it works. If done correctly, there's no reason why it wouldn't work if someone else tried it.

There's actually a legitimate complaint about the uniqueness of this advice, which I'll address, but as for the rest of this person's comment: I've realized lately that I just need to be able to know when someone is trolling and not respond to them. I used to respond to every single comment someone would write, but now I know better. As an example: whether you hire a college graduate or not has no relevance to anything the post has said. If you're using me as a way to determine what all college graduates are like, n=1 is a horrible sample size. Perhaps all the other companies out there aggressively trying to recruit grads are also doing it wrong, maybe they need to be educated. To imply this is "coming from Urbana-Champaign" just shows complete ignorance on the user's part. This tactic wasn't mine, I explicitly said it came from a guy who has recently started a company and came from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

I've predicted that there would be people who would write that the post was a bad idea. I even wrote that in the original post. But Joel Spolsky's comment borders on trolling. The first time I read the comment, I was under the impression that he tried all of the advice he listed out, and that led to him being successful. As it turns out, that was all just part of a rant where he quoted Dale Carnegie and made it seem as if what I was saying was some form of manipulation to get things from people. So you're saying that if you invest in my company, you don't get any benefit? I'm just sucking your time and energy from you like a leech? No, investments are mutually beneficial. I think investors need to at least have the decency to respond to the requests they get. I'm not saying you have to take every meeting. But give people a straight answer. This conversation about "how to get busy people's attention" wouldn't even be happening if they'd just give a straight answer in the first place. If you don't want to invest, say "Sorry, I'm not interested." If you want them to stop e-mailing, say "Sorry, this isn't a good fit right now. I'll contact you if that changes." It's kind of like when investors string entrepreneurs along saying "It sounds interesting, maybe we can chat in 2 weeks and see how things are going." YC gets thousands of applications twice a year, and they send every single team a response, whether they were accepted or not.

So what Joel is effectively saying is "if you want meetings with anyone, start blogging. Then you can meet with people in 2 years." That's really not what this article is about, although the irony is amusing. Going by Joel Spolsky's advice, I have tried to offer something for free to help other entrepreneurs out, and his response was "Ef you" along with a harsh criticism. You're just a hard man to please, Joelsky. You also broke rule #1 in Carnegie's book on How to Handle People: "Don't criticize, condemn, or complain."

Anyway, I could have easily written something like what was recommended about being charitable and offered the same Dale Carnegie advice, but there's already a book written on that--this is written for people who are being ignored, think there's a strong mutual fit, and need to give the busy person a nudge. Worse things could definitely happen. I had a friend who asked me if he should show up uninvited to YC interviews, and I told him that was a horrible idea. That's desperate, not persistent. Persistence in that case is applying during every batch, despite being rejected. I got rejected when I applied to a college, and I reapplied 3 times to one of the most competitive colleges in the university, and the highest-ranked college in the country. I didn't show up at the admissions office and say "You all made a mistake, I'm not leaving until you change your decision." Whether sending e-mails once a day is desperate is up for interpretation, but in my book it's fine as long as you've already been sending e-mails for a while and that isn't working. You obviously can't just start off by saying "I'm going to e-mail you every day for a month", I mentioned that in the original article.

So there are people who want to make this seem like a huge moral problem, when it's really not that at all. It's not about being greedy, it's about being persistent. In order for this to be greedy, I'd have to be screwing you over and benefiting at your expense. But that's clearly going against rule #3: have good reasons for meeting someone. You need to tell them why they'd benefit too. Conclusion: Spolsky trying to make this into an issue about greed is really off-topic and melodramatic at best.

The other criticism is definitely legitimate: (Complaint #2)

I'm sure that part of the success of this technique is that it's relatively unique.

That's true, and in that case it's time to adjust the strategy a bit. Just as web designers will take UI elements from Mac OS, retool and reuse them in web sites and applications, you should also tweak the general idea to fit your own purpose better. As a recreational interest, I read The Game by Neil Strauss, and that entire field of social dynamics comes with a huge disclaimer: you need to take the examples and adjust them. You can't repeat the same material used by other people because it doesn't work. Same thing going on here.

Right now, this tactic is probably only going to be used by a few people. Joel Spolsky makes it out as if everyone reading this advice will do it, but so far I've only heard from one person who has acted on it. And that's just how it goes with the stuff I write. It scares off most people and nobody really acts on it. But for the few who do, your chances of getting a meeting are pretty high. The one person who tried the tactic to land a meeting got an immediate e-mail and landed the meeting. So far, the success rate is still 100%.

But you should always be thinking about this and adjusting the execution slightly.

Finally, I thought this was brilliant:

Anyone else noticed lots of VC's and Angels tweet when they are flying somewhere? How about driving to the airport they are flying into and waiting for them to come through the arrivals gate holding a sign with their name on. A free ride to wherever they are going in return for hearing your pitch. Considered doing this, but my gut tells me this is just too stalker like to work. Think it would freak me out if someone did it to me.

Then someone chimed in with an awesome comment:

That is an awesome idea. As long as the person wasn't creepy and I didn't already have a ride, anybody trying to get my attention for a business proposition could get it this way. But I agree that it would be better if they emailed..."I see you're hitting LAX tomorrow. I know you've been busy. Can I give you a lift to wherever you're headed from the airport and get that 10 minutes I've been looking for?" Awesome.

This is just one awesome example. There are probably many tactics you could use to get a meeting, and this e-mail doesn't have to be "the one." The point of this article was to spark conversation around other methods. It's not evil, it's not greedy, it's just a method and the worst that happens is you'll get ignored. You may be labeled as annoying, but so far it hasn't happened--and that's the metric I use when I judge something. I want to know how it works in the real world, and so far, it has been flawless.

4 responses
Yep - this stuff happens. Unfortunate that even in places like HN and in general, in the tech industry (which succeeds based on creating and trying NEW things) there are some people who just want to tear others down. Keep trying things and sharing what you learn Jared, the rest of us do appreciate it.
Haha. That was my comment about being totally open to being picked up from the airport. I think it's a great idea. Frankly, I don't ignore emails. I will usually even respond to cold sales emails with a polite decline of interest. But if I did ignore one, and the person emailed a few times, I have never thought it rude. That's their job and they're doing it well. As long as they're respectful, not only is it someone I will eventually respond to, but it's someone I would want on my team.
@Jason thanks for the comments, appreciate the support and I'll continue sharing the tactics I learn from other founders on the SOS site (and on VB as long as they're willing to post them).

@Earbits That comment is pure gold! In general, it's pretty rare that someone will be so persistent that it becomes annoying (from my own interactions with salespeople). I think people are generally respectful of your time as long as you're giving them a straight answer and not leading them on. I like seeing the hustle in people who go out and make a concerted effort to get someone's attention.

Honestly, if a member of my team doesn't have persistence like this, they're not going to last long. ;)