Editor’s note: Investor and entrepreneur David Gardner is the founder of Cofounders Capital in Cary and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. Startup Spotlight is a regular part of WRAL TechWire’s “Startup Monday” spotlight. 

CARY –  There is no denying that virtual business meetings are not only the new normal, they will probably continue to be the preferred modality for meetings long after the current pandemic has passed.

Ask anyone who has spent a lot of time in online meetings this year and they will more than likely tell you that they are amazed at how productive they are.

These efficiencies go way beyond the avoidance of travel time. I often stack my meetings in back-to-back thirty-minute slots, so when meeting in person, if someone arrives a few minutes late or spends ten minutes getting coffee, a big chunk of your productive meeting time is lost.

David Gardner

It also seems to me that people talk more efficiently in online meetings.  Who “has the floor” is obvious.   Participants take turns talking as one speaker at a time is the focus of attention.  For some reason this seems to lead to faster decision making, less grandstanding and probably a lot less small talk.   I feel like I’m able to fit more meetings in each day and that they are taking less time to conduct.

Just as forced immersion with a new language exponentially accelerates one’s learning curve, this forced 100% adoption of virtual meetings has forced us to rapidly learn that we really don’t need to meet in person to get business done.  A board member of a very large public company told me last month that his search committee recruited, vetted and hired a new CEO without ever meeting him in person.

Everyone seems to be jumping headlong into virtual as the new preferred modality for business.  Several of our portfolio companies have decided not to renew their office leases and remain 100% virtual even after the pandemic.  We are getting business plans now from teams with founders and staff working from all over the country.

Rethinking the basics

As most new recent startup teams are geographically diverse and plan to stay permanently virtual it is forcing us to rethink our fund’s thesis i.e. what is a NC startup?   To all of our surprise business has continued as usual for most knowledge workers and may have even become more efficient. While all of this seems great, I still have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that we are losing something in the process. Will there be a price to pay at some point in the future for all of our easily won efficiency?

Like a team of over rushed software developers dropping new releases at record pace but heaping up tons of design debt and future scalability problems, will there be consequences for sacrificing some of the more human elements of doing business together?

One may say that my business relationships all seem to be no worse for wear.   After all, I still virtually see my CEO’s, investors and startup community leaders regularly online.   We still make jokes about our beards or about who in the meeting might not be wearing appropriate paints.  Yet, I wonder if these meetings would be as productive and congenial if our working relationships had not been formed in person long before the pandemic forced us into a series of screen pixels.

The relationship challenge

What about new startup entrepreneurs who are just starting to develop their networks?

Now I’m really taken back because I can’t think of a single new strong business relationship that I have formed since March of this year.    That is unheard of for me. I’ve met a lot of people online over the last few months but I can’t say that any of these became business relationships that I’d rate as anywhere close to those I built in person prior to Covid.

The embracing of most new technologies and paradigm shifts typically come with great promise and price.  The mass adoption of virtual meeting technology may be very efficient and even effective at maintaining existing business relationships but I am very concerned about its ability to foster new ones.