A few months ago, I stumbled across a virtual emerald: Ohours.org. Ohours is, “the open office hours scheduling platform,” where you can check availability and schedule time to meet with interesting people and subject area experts all over the world.
As I’ve written about before, I get occasional requests to act as a gateway into the New Orleans’ startup scene. My first thought when I saw Ohours was that I could set up an hour once a week so people could easily & independently request to meet with me offline. I set up one hour (split into three, twenty minute sessions) to repeat each Friday and let it sit.
Not long after, I got a request from someone outside of New Orleans to do a virtual session and figured I’d give it a shot. I ended up chatting over Skype with a developer in Romania named Tudor who was considering options to move his start-up to the States. It was an enlightening conversation, painless, and it quickly resulted in the formation of a new acquaintance.
After meeting Tudor I switched all of my sessions to Skype. I’ve met with two other startup founders through Ohours, and both calls ended up lasting much longer than the originally intended 20 minutes. Not because they had to but because I wasn’t in a huge rush and because there were interesting ideas to discuss.
Two weeks ago I met David Berkowitz, co-founder of Fetchly, a company taking aim at the traditional business card. [You can try it out now, no sign-up required, by texting “MollyO” to 83432 from any mobile phone.] David and I chatted about topics such as the company’s target markets, growth strategy, and revenue models. It was a good brainstorming exercise and it got me to try the product.
Last week I met Ryan Craft, co-founder of GroupTweet. GroupTweet is making it easier for multiple individuals to contribute to a single twitter account, such as one for a news organization, non-profit, or big event. It also works well for small businesses that want to be able to distinguish who is tweeting from the account.
Ryan and I talked about the different ways @SiliconBayou could potentially use GroupTweet and also about other twitter accounts I know that might benefit from the service. We also chatted about what types of add-ons and options are reasonable for free vs. premium accounts and a variety of other startup biz nuggets.
The real beauty of my conversation with Ryan is that I spent most of last Friday afternoon touring Boston’s North End on a mini-vacation. I dipped into a coffee shop when it was time for our chat and discovered that he was actually in the Midwest visiting family. Neither of us had to be in any particular place at any particular time to make a valuable new business connection.
I would never have met Ryan, David, or Tudor if it wasn’t for the magic that is Ohours.org. While the site itself is pretty close to a minimum viable product, I expect that seasoned co-founders Nathan Hurst, Nate Westheimer, and Vanessa Hurst, will be continually taking it to the next level.
Participating in Ohours
Whether you are hosting or attending Ohours, I’ve compiled a few quick tips to keep in mind if you try out the service:
- Do your research. There is no validation, ranking, or feedback system built in (yet). So you aren’t guaranteed to talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about. A quick Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter check will provide a baseline level of verifying someone is (1) Human and (2) Might have something valuable to say.
- Expect a pitch; give honest feedback. If you’re talking to a startup founder, they’re going to start by pitching their company to you. I got various levels of this in my three discussions. They were all selling at least a little, but also very open to constructive criticism and brainstorming around their ideas. If you ARE a startup founder, don’t sell the whole time, please! The whole point is to learn something, right? You can’t do that if you’re the only one talking. Even if your goal really is to just sell and not learn, let the other person think you want to learn. It’ll stroke their ego and leave a better taste in their mouth after the meeting.
- Don’t waste anyone’s time. Be prepared, on time, focused, and ready to talk. Give the other person your highest level of attention whether meeting in person, over Skype, or on the phone. Be courteous, or I’ll tell your mother.
- Don’t ask for free services. Ohours are currently free (I expect a pay for time option to be added eventually), so people are already doing free work by meeting with you. Don’t try to wiggle in anything extra by asking for free consulting work or free anything else.
- Focus on forming a good relationship. Sessions can range anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, but even an hour isn’t always a long enough time to get answers to your most pressing questions. If you are friendly, appreciative, and open to new ideas you’re more likely to form a lasting relationship. If you connect well with someone on Ohours, connect afterward with them via Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever your preferred network may be to stay in touch.
I look forward to seeing the evolution of Ohours and I encourage everyone – developers, founders, funders, designers, hangers-on, and everyone in between to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with the movers and shakers of Silicon Everywhere.
Blatant self-promo: Want to meet with little old me? Sign up now for my Ohours here.