Today’s RVI meeting was held online via Zoom and, while we certainly missed the unstructured networking and other aspects of an in-person meeting, it worked and we can make them better. Some of the techniques we used and/or will use next time…

Prep

  1. Before the event, we ask everyone to log in with a device with a camera so we can see each other. They all have been invited to a google calendar event with the link embedded in it.
  2. Created Breakout Rooms (Networking, Startup, and Scheduling) from the get-go. I’ve used Zoom for over a year and hadn’t even realized it was built into the pro plan I was already paying for! If you haven’t used breakout rooms before check them out.

Troubleshooting & networking

  1. As our members logged in, once we are sure we can see & hear them and vice versa, our Manager will invite them to head into the Networking breakout room to socialize. This way people who are ready to go don’t have to listen to others getting tech support :).
  2. As the entrepreneurs login, we have them hop into the Startup breakout room where our assistant manager makes sure the entrepreneurs are ready to share their screen and has their questions answered.

Setup to best re-create in-person meeting

  1. Our manager messages everyone via zoom’s integrated chat, inviting them to rejoin the main room ASAP.
  2. With everyone present, we ask people to switch to Gallery mode, this shows a grid of as many people as can fit on one’s screen. It helps recreate (as close as we can) the feeling of all of us being around the same table.

Meeting start & entrepreneur presentation

  1. Invite members to send our Manager messages via Zoom’s chat feature during the presentation so we have a queue of questions ready to go.
  2. Go through our introductory agenda (quick intros, explain the process, etc).
  3. Manager mutes everyone (except the presenter) to minimize background noise.
  4. Presenter shares their screen (where they already have their presentation in full-screen mode, ready-to-go). This puts their slides in full-screen mode for everyone.
  5. We ask them to have a timer set for ten minutes. We set one up as well and if the company runs over time the Manager discreetly private-messages the entrepreneur. (If anyone has a tip for displaying a countdown timer to the entrepreneur/room, we’d love to hear it!)

Q&A

  1. With the presentation complete we ask the entrepreneur to stop screen-share so we can all see the grid of faces. The Manager uses the list of chat messages and looks for people to physically raise their hands on-camera, to know who to direct to ask the first questions. Manager tries to message people to let them know they are in the queue. Manager unmutes and says things like “Mary has our first question, and Jim is next in line.
  2. Members then unmute themselves, ask their question, the entrepreneur responds as normal, and we call on the next questioner.

Closed-Door Session

  1. When Q&A is complete the Manager asks the entrepreneurs to move to the Startup breakout room while the group deliberates next-steps.
  2. The closed-door session continues as normal. At RVI we follow a particular format with the discussion going in three parts… “Why might this be a great investment opportunity?”, “If you were on the due diligence team, what questions would you recommend they think through carefully?”, and “Who wants to be on the due diligence team?”
  3. Most of the group take a 5-minute break.
  4. If there is a due diligence team, they and the Assistant Manager head to the Startup Breakout room to schedule the next meeting. No point in losing momentum!
  5. If there is no due diligence team, our Manager heads to the Startup Breakout room and gives the bad news and a very brief summary of why we did not have the critical mass to proceed. We believe a fast, respectful no with an explanation is the only respectful and fair thing to do for an entrepreneur. We also offer to have a conversation after the meeting if they want more info. If they are a local company we sometimes invite them to rejoin the meeting at the end to get some targeted advice from the group.

The rest of the meeting

  1. Rinse-repeat for other presenters.
  2. Do end-of-meeting wrap-up.
  3. At the end of the meeting, invite people to use the breakout rooms if they would like to continue any conversations or otherwise take advantage of the fact a bunch of us are in one (virtual) place at the same time.

Using these steps, we’ve found we are able to replicate almost all of the benefits of our normal meetings. Of course, there’s no replacement for a handshake and sitting around the table, but when circumstances don’t allow for that, this system has proven to be a great alternative.