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Broadening the On-ramp for Women-run Companies

How 75 Ski Days Made Me a Better Venture Capitalist

This year, I decided to do an experiment. To build our MergeLane investor and mentor network, I dedicated four months to exclusively focus on meetings that involved skiing. From December 15, 2017, to April 15, 2018, I skied 75 days and 1,193,578 vertical feet. Hands down, it was the best four months of my life. I have never been happier or in better physical shape. It was an obvious success from a personal wellness standpoint, but I had to ask myself one question: Would I have been more productive if I had stayed home (I live in Boulder) and stuck to business as usual?

Let’s look at the numbers. Of my 75 ski days, 61 of them can honestly be classified as meeting/work-related. Of those, 11 were totally unproductive, 26 created a moderately positive outcome, and 10 of them created a really positive outcome. While I could have fit in more meetings if the activity was coffee versus skiing, I doubt I could have achieved 36 wins over the course of 120 days with business as usual.

For this reason, I think my experiment was a massive success. This is great news for a future of merging business with my very favorite activity, but on further reflection, I realized I was left with a couple of questions that might be of interest to you:

Ski Famille - Family Ski Holidays by Robinseed is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

1) Why were my ski meetings such a success?

2) Can I apply those success factors to the 240 days a year that I can’t ski?

Here are the reasons I think my ski experiment was a win:

Authentic connections: I had the opportunity to spend the majority of the day with my connections. We rarely checked our phones and had little awareness of time or schedules. We had time to talk about personal and professional interests. We often connected on a deeper level than I typically achieve in a 30- to 60-minute coffee meeting.

Continuous connections: Because I mostly met with people who lived in the Vail Valley and skied frequently, I often had the chance to spontaneously reconnect with them multiple times over the course of the season.

Connection around a mutual personal passion: I was in my happy place and they were too.

A close-connected network: The Vail Valley is a small, close-knit community. Every meeting was an opportunity for a warm introduction. It was relatively easy to quickly build a network of credible people willing to share votes of confidence. Vail’s percentage of highly accomplished business leaders per capita certainly enhanced my success.

I was unique: Instead of being just one of a thousand venture capitalists, I was one of only a few. 

Room for spontaneous connections: To accommodate ski and weather conditions, chairlift malfunctions, and other daily variances, I kept my commitments to about one ski meeting per day. However, my meetings rarely lasted all day. This gave me the chance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. If the skiing was good, I would simply keep skiing. If it was terrible, I would sit at a coffee shop or in the locker room to catch up on email. Some of my most productive days were the result of random chairlift or locker room interactions.

Removal from the minutia: I was limited to about three hours of pre-skiing productive computer time per day. This forced me to stay hyper-focused on the most critical aspects of our business. As an Enneagram One who leans toward perfection, this was game-changing for me professionally and was perhaps the most critical component of the happiness I experienced over those four months.

I feel immeasurable gratitude for this experience and my personal circumstances that enabled it. A special thank you to my parents for graciously allowing me to live with them in Vail for four months, and to my husband for driving through snowstorms to see me on the weekends.

Since the conclusion of the ski season, I have incorporated my lessons learned into all of my meetings and work life. I have found that a similar combination of factors can be found in many other types of activities for which I and others share a passion. You likely have passions that may line these factors up well for you.

My new outlook on meetings and on life seems to be moving the needle. I hope this reflection can do the same for you.

Onward.

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