Do your homework.
Don’t use the same pitch deck and the same talking points for every VC. This is a job interview for a role that could last 7, 8, 9 years or more. If you want investors to get to know who you are, do the courtesy of showing you’ve truly taken the effort to get to know them. Before meeting any investors, read their blog posts, contributed pieces and press interviews; review their social media feeds; and get to know their investment theses and priorities. Your best match investor will approach your sector with perspectives and insights consistent with your own.
Engage what network you have.
While it helps to have a referral from a well-known Stanford professor, serial entrepreneur or super-connected Seed Investor, it’s not a requirement. But you do need former classmates, partners or co-workers who think highly of your skills, potential and domain knowledge. Before pitching investors, let your network know what you’re up to so they’re not surprised if someone contacts them. Remember that a lot of VC diligence takes place through backchannels; VCs figure out who you know and ask them about you, whether or not you listed them as a contact. Be ready for that, and make sure your professional connections are as well.
Establish relationships early.
Don’t reach out for the first time just as you’re needing funding. Early-stage investors greatly prefer that you build relationships with them early, well before you’re ready to fundraise. The nice thing is that since so many VCs are taking meetings now, it’s a great time to build those relationships. Use that time to get to know the investors, to discuss what you’re working on, to show that you’ve done your research on them, and to explore whether you share similar perspectives.
If you live in a tech hub, leverage your proximity.
If you happen to live in a tech hub, leverage that to your advantage. Set up in-person, outdoor, socially distant walks and coffees with VCs. Most entrepreneurs aren’t doing this right now; doing so can provide differentiation and opportunities to build richer relationships.
Use your pitch time judiciously.
Before the pandemic, the first pitch meeting would have been with a principal or VP. Now, it’s likely with a general partner, too. Use the time carefully. These 30-minute meetings are stacked, so there’s no wiggle room. Your presentation should be a crisp 20 minutes (or less) to allow sufficient time for discussion.
Long stagnant, the rules for startup fundraising are being upended. Paradoxically, while the pandemic-induced changes are opening up pitch meetings to a broader, more diverse cohort of founders, the people actually getting funded are unfortunately by and large insiders. But with some ingenuity, perseverance, and of course a great idea, any promising founder—regardless of where they went to school and who they know—can earn a shot at funding their dream.
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