If you're a busy startup founder, you're likely delegating the task of scheduling key meetings about things you want or need to your admin. This is a mistake.

That's because the dialogue you have in setting up the meeting is actually the first part of your meeting, not some clerical task. Treat it this way and you're much more likely to achieve the objective you're hoping to. Here's why.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a VC friend asking me to talk to a founder at one of his startups. The founder had sent him a note: "We'd love to partner with Steve on getting his frameworks and templates from his books -- The Four Steps and The Startup Owner's Manual -- onto our product. Can you connect us to him?"

I told the VC "of course," and sent an email to the founder suggesting a couple of dates.

In response, I got an email from him telling me how busy he was, but his admin would coordinate some dates for us ...

If this doesn't strike you as a red flag of a relationship that was broken before it started, and an opportunity wasted, let me point out what went wrong.

Who's Doing the Ask?

Outside of a company, there are two types of meetings: 1. When you want something from someone, and 2. When they need something from you. This meeting fell into the second category: A founder wanted something from me and wanted my time to convince me to give it to him. Turning the scheduling over to an admin might seem like an efficient move, but it isn't.

What Message Are You Sending?

A startup CEO handing me off to an admin sent a few signals.

First, that whatever his ask was really wasn't that urgent or important to him. Second, that he didn't think there was any value in forming a relationship before we met. And, finally, that he hadn't figured out that gathering data in a pre-meeting dialogue could help him achieve his objective.

Instead, skipping the one-on-one dialogue of personally setting up the meeting signaled to me that our meeting was simply going to be a transactional ask that wasn't worth any upfront investment of his time.

Why, then, would meeting be worth my time?

What Gets Missed

When I was in startup, I treated every pre-meeting email and phone call as an opportunity for customer discovery. If I wanted something from someone -- an order, financing, partnership, etc. -- I worked hard to do my homework and prepare for the meeting. And that preparation went beyond just finding mutually agreeable meeting times.

Early on in my career, I realized that I could learn lots of information from the pre-meeting dialogue. That initial email dialogue formed the basis of opening the conversation and establishing a minimum of social connectivity when we did meet.

I always managed to interject a casual set of questions when I was setting up a meeting. "What type of food do you like? Do you have a favorite restaurant/location?" If they were going be out of town for a while, I'd ask, are they traveling on vacation? If so, I'd ask where, and talk about the vacation. And, most important, it allowed me to confirm the agenda: "I'd like to talk about what our company is up to ... " and telegraph some or all of the ask: "and to see if I can get ... " Sometimes this back and forth allowed us to skip the meeting completely, and I got what I wanted with a simple email ask. Other times, it laid the foundation for an ongoing business relationship.

The key difference with this approach is in understanding that the dialogue in setting up the meeting is actually the first part of your meeting.

Of course, in a company with thousands of people, it's possible that the CEO is too busy to email or call someone whose time he wants for every meeting. However, CEOs of major corporations who are winners will get on the phone or send a personal email when there's something that they want to make happen.