A beginner’s guide to attending Office Hours

February 4, 2013

A beginner’s guide to attending Office Hours written by Steve Dinelli @stevedinelli

A special thanks of Built In Chicago for hosting the best office hours in the Chicago!

When I first decided to pursue my start up, I found out about “office hours” through a tweet from the Hyde Park Angels.  I signed up for a 20 minute meeting with a member of the Hyde Park Angels and started freaking out because I didn’t know what I got myself into. I only had a vague idea of what my start up was going to be and I didn’t have a clue what I was going to talk about. Long story short, I got to meet with the Hyde Park Angels managing director, Karin O'Conner. The meeting went great, O’Conner suggested ways to narrow down what I wanted to pursue and the best ways to get off the ground. A few months later, I had attended over 30 office hours sessions with various entrepreneurs, C-level executives and investors. Some went better than others, but I highly recommend office hours to every entrepreneur I meet.

Here are my top 10 tips on how to have a successful office hours session.

Check Often. Office hours fill up quickly, even faster if it’s with someone popular. It only takes a second to check www.ohours.org, it doesn’t hurt to check at least once a day. I remember a time I was at the gym and saw a tweet that LightBank office hours were going online shortly. I immediately got off the stationary bike and onto my regular bike to make it home in time to grab the last spot. Pro Tip, set e-mail alerts to let you know when a specific host becomes available.

Do your research. Most people who host office hours will have a lot of background information online. It’s in your best interest to Google them beforehand and learn a little more about who you’re meeting with.

Scheduling. Whenever possible, take the last spot. You’ll be last person your host hears from before they leave and if things go well, the meeting doesn’t have to end on time since nobody else is waiting to meet with the host.

Be early. This should be common sense, but I’ve noticed that other office hours attendees are sometimes late. Remember, someone awesome is making time for you, be respectful and do your part by being on time. Pro tip, Use the time to talk with other entrepreneurs who are also early, you never know who else you’re going to meet.

NDA. Don’t do it. I rarely hear about people asking office hours hosts to sign NDAs but it does happen. Pro tip, Don’t do it.

What to talk about. I always start by sincerely thanking the host for hosting office hours. I like to talk for a few minutes about everyday things to get the conversation moving. After a few minutes, I’ll shift the conversation to business. A high level over view is great, if your host has specific questions about technology or strategies, they’ll ask. Pro tip, Ask about their business too, odds are they like talking about theirs as much as you like talking about yours. This experience is not only great for the attendee, but the host as well.

Taking Notes - Courtesy. Office hours are a great time for great conversation. Great conversations do not include taking notes like a court reporter. If a host suggests you visit a specific website or a piece of contact information by all means write it down. I just believe it’s hard to have a productive conversation while one party is frantically scribbling down every word.

Business Cards. Odds are you’re going to be offered a business card. If not, it’s okay to ask for one. It’s also appropriate to offer one of your own to the host. This does not mean one you printed and cut out yourself. Get business cards. They’re inexpensive and will make you look that much better.

The follow up. Whether things went well or not, it’s polite to send a short thank you e-mail. This is also handy if you ever want to reach out to your host again, you can reply to your last e-mail and the host will remember how you are connected. Pro tip, this is a great time to send a Linkedin request.

DON’T PITCH. This is important. Don’t pitch. Office hours are a fantastic time to talk with business leaders and investors without having to worry about pitching. Investors get pitched EVERY DAY, you don’t want to be “that guy.” I’ve found that casually saying “I’m not looking for money at this time” really opens the host up to a full and honest conversation. If everything goes great, on your way out you just might hear “If you ever need money, you have my card.”