March 20, 2023

April 25, 2023

🧱#6: On Point Offsite

In January, we had a week-long team offsite across Virginia & Miami. While the primary draw was to see each other, reconnect, & align, we also got a ton of work done. Here's what we learned.

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How to run an on point offsite 🏕️

There’s lots of great content re how to plan and run a successful company wide offsite (see here for an oldie but goodie from HBR).

However, these are often written for large corporations and teams - not small venture firms.

At focal, we operate as a remote and distributed team. This makes periodical (and ideally impactful and productive) offsites an essential part of how we run our firm.

As we held a successful offsite in January (at least we thought so 😊), we wanted to share some of our learnings.

Our team offsite:

Caveat upfront: Your budget and team size obviously have a big impact on how to best organize your offsite. We won’t go into this in too much detail, but note that the below is written for a small full team offsite.

For the first part of our offsite, we chose a location that was 1) “new” to all of us and 2) far enough from anyone’s home for us to be able to fully remove ourselves from our day to day.

Thus, we ended up in Virginia, which was zen, off the grid (sometimes spookily off the grid 😳) and came with great winter season discounts at nice hotels 💸.

There's off the grid...
And then there's really off the grid...

Five pillars that made our offsite a great one

Here are five things that helped make our January offsite a great one:

1. 👌 Align on expectations upfront

We were all fully aligned on what we wanted to get out of our team offsite. Our two main goals were:

  • Enter prepared, exit energized and with clarity - via a shared vision, agreement on next steps, and a clear understanding of priorities and the team’s capacity to execute on those
  • Have fun and spend quality time as a team. For us, that included meals shared together, hikes, Barry’s classes, lively discussions by the fire and much more. This creates fun shared memories that we can think back to when we all work remotely again.

2. 🧐 Put in the time and effort to do (asynchronous prep) work upfront

Writing and asynch communication are an important part of how we operate as a firm. To make every offsite session super productive, we put in asynch prep time upfront. Here’s how:

  • Each session had a Notion page where we captured our thinking in written form upfront and one person in charge for the session
  • Importantly, we didn’t just step in the room leaving it at that. We went through at least two async iteration cycles before the offsite where everyone added their comments / thinking for each session. This was absolutely crucial to ensure very productive working sessions as it allowed us to:
  • Come to our own individual conclusions without resulting in, as Brene Brown puts it, the halo effect before stepping in the room.
  • Spend our time resolving differences in opinion / problem solving / and aligning on our go-forward strategy vs sharing our thinking and having to listen to each other “shoot from the hip”
“Halo effect is the person with the most influence, if they share first, will, without question, shape and change the answers of the people who share their opinions behind that person.”

We can highly recommend you do the same. It leads to much better outcomes vs one person presenting their thinking on a topic during the offsite followed by a team discussion.

3. 📝 Have a clear agenda that allows for flexibility

We created a rough “block” itinerary for our work time that helped focus on our main objectives and kept us on track, without holding us to a minute by minute agenda. This allowed us to work through what we wanted, while also leaving time for team meals, fun activities, and personal time for the team to decompress (intense and engaged team discussions can be quite tiring).

This was our agenda:

4. ⚡️Leave feeling energized, not overworked

While it’s hard to actively stop work talk during an offsite, we all actively tried to take a breather and just have fun catching up on life outside of our sessions.

This was a nice change in pace and made us feel energized when we switched back to focusing on work. It also helped that we, despite a packed agenda, all got time and space to relax too. Which meant:

  • Some went to the gym (👀 Pascal)
  • Some read (👀 Sydney)
  • Some called their family (👀 Daniel)

Plus we also did some decompressing together!

I mean come on!! How beautiful!!

5. ⏭️ Put processes in place to execute post offsite

Last but not least, make sure that all the work you did during the offsite doesn’t get lost in the theoretical “offsite ether”.

For us, this meant:

  • Taking detailed (shared) notes (incl. clear action items) throughout
  • At the end of the week, aligning on / distributing these action items
  • Putting a process in place to check-in on these topics going forward and hold each of us accountable. For us, that meant integrating them directly into our firm’s KPIs which we review on a regular basis (and will definitely review at our next offsite 🎬).

If this resonated and/or you want to talk shop on how you are thinking about offsites, shoot us a note ✉️.

🏗️ Reads

Useful nuggets on firm building / VC we came across.

1. Hustle Fund’s Tech Stack

Reading Time: ~8mins

I can’t stress enough HOW HELPFUL this piece is. A detailed look at the Tech Stack used by Hustle Fund, written in collaboration with Data-driven VC and Will Bricker, that goes into costs, alternatives and use cases. This article is #goals for how to share tangible insights.

2. Back in the 2000s

Reading Time: ~2mins

A good thread from fintechjunkie looking at the parallels of today’s environment vs. the dot-com collapse in 2000, particularly as you think through relationships with your founders, LPs, and co-investors.

3. Startup Decoupling & Reckoning

Reading Time: ~8mins

Another view from Elad Gil on market trends and what’s to come for startups in 2023-2024, along with the “3 types of outcomes” for companies today.

4. LPs and Emerging Managers

Reading Time: ~2mins

While the above has some draconian views, this thread from Samir Kaji outlines how to come out of it stronger.

5. Content Distribution

Reading Time: ~3mins

Warning: It is slightly overwhelming. However, it’s tested and proven so take it for what it is! Sohaib shares exactly how he creates / shares / and repurposes content to build his following.

Until next time 🧱,

Sydney & Pascal


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