Office Hours as an Acquisition Tool

One of my favorite ways to engage with a target audience is to host office hours. There are many use cases for them:

  • An accounting startup can offer office hours to businesses that need help with their taxes (good for customer acquisition)
  • A startup's renowned hardware team can offer mentorship sessions to local engineers that want feedback on their projects (good for recruiting)
  • A VC firm can offer feedback sessions to nascent startups (good for generating deal flow), or can offer career advice to young engineers (good for portfolio company recruiting). 

For all of these use cases, office hours offer a low-friction, low-commitment alternative to traditional interaction methods. A potential customer doesn't have to pay a hefty fee to start using a company's services. A potential investment's founder need not begin the tricky dance of attracting angel money. And a potential recruit doesn't have to formally declare that they are looking for a new job nor start the dreaded application process. They also don't have to cold-email a bunch of people or join a weekend-long hackathon just to get feedback on a project. 

It may seem that office hours don't scale well, but you would be surprised. Hired's NYC team recently hosted office hours where three of its Talent Advocates provided 15 minute career coaching sessions over a two hour period. That's 24 sessions in total, all of which were sold out. If they hosted such sessions every Friday for a month, they will have met with nearly 100 potential candidates for their startup recruiting platform. 

You may also think that you will only get low quality meetings by hosting office hours, but you would also be wrong. : ) First, not all high quality targets want to go through the high-friction, high-commitment traditional interaction methods that I listed above. And second, you can frame your office hours as a scarcity, and make getting slots a competitive process. Y Combinator recently did this by having an application process for startup feedback sessions they hosted in New York City and Waterloo. Assuming they got more applicants than slots available, they were able select who they met with. And it seems to have worked out for them.

Of course, office hours don't guarantee immediate results. But hosting them is a great way to build goodwill and to enable serendipitous outcomes. Brad Feld has been hosting office hours for over twenty years, and one of his meetings—with David Cohen—famously led to the creation of TechStars

So whether you're a startup, a VC, or simply a person capable of giving great advice, consider hosting office hours.