In June of 2012, my startup Love With Food -- which helps food companies build brand awareness online and off -- raised $650,000 following graduation from the 500 Startups accelerator program.
Related: 4 Insider Tips From VCs
Sounds great, right? But if you think fundraising was a piece of cake because we were a 500 alum, think again. In fact those three months were painful and filled with discouragement. They were physically exhausting. And along the way, I constantly had to battle my own thoughts that I was a failure. I had to defend myself against others' doubts that I couldn't succeed because I didn't have an Ivy League education or wasn't qualified in other ways to run a startup. I was at the brink of giving up countless times.
In the end, however, I pitched to 75 investors and raised more money than we even needed. I also learned some valuable lessons and tips that not only helped me with that first round three years ago, but have helped me raise additional funds since.
1. Get your company on to the Angel List.
Get on to the Angel List. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have your company profiled there. After we started to trend on the List, we had many inbound interests. In the end, three investors on the Angel List invested and one of them eventually became our lead. If it hadn't been for the list, I wouldn’t have met these contacts!
2. Be flexible.
Be ready to fly or drive to meetings at a moment’s notice. There are days where I’d have five meetings back to back, keeping me bouncing like a ping pong ball all over the Bay Area. Yes, it was a lot of driving and may have felt “out of the way,” but being flexible helped me get investor meetings at times that worked for them.
3. Reach out to your network.
I reached out to my network of entrepreneur friends and asked for intros to their investors. Everyone I reached out to was so generous. Leverage your own relationships!
4. Follow up with updates.
After every meeting, I wrote a thank-you email and in the following weeks continued to provide updates and progress to potential investors. This is of paramount importance in fundraising. It’s the only way to show persistence. For an early-stage startup, there’s really no good data to show. But you can show persistence. You want potential investors to see that!
5. Email potential investors once a week.
Investors get pitched all the time. You want to be on their radar constantly so that they won’t forget you. I kept a spreadsheet with their names and our dates of interaction: when we first met; the date of my first "progress-report" email; the date of my second "progress-report" email; and so on. If I don't hear back after sending three update emails, that’s usually a sign that the prospect is not interested. It’s also a great way to filter out those that are really interested vs. those that are mere maybes.
6. Get current investors to make introductions for you.
Warm introductions are the best introductions. Your current investors want to see you reach the finish line. Get them to connect you to their other investor friends.
7. Don’t be afraid to talk to the press.
I once basically kidnapped a TechCrunch reporter in the ladies room at Demo Day to get her to pick Love With Food as one of the Top 7 Startups at the event. She did that, and even mentioned our meeting in her article, which led two investors to reach out because they liked my tenacity!
8. Wear your company t-shirt.
Be proud of your brand. There’s no better way to show your passion to complete strangers. Showing people how passionate you are and how proud you are of your brand leaves a memorable impression.
There’s no cookie cutter formula to fundraising, but I believe that the common denominator in fundraising is perseverance. Prove your naysayers wrong!