Q: What is the best way to approach investors and get funding?
A: One of the most challenging parts of the fundraising process, particularly for first-time founders, is putting yourself in a position to get pitch meetings with the right investors. Many investors are constantly inundated with emails from entrepreneurs promising “the next best thing,” and as a result, cold outreach can go unnoticed.
While there’s no one “best” way to approach investors, here are a few tips to make your outreach as effective as possible:
Try to meet investors before it’s time to raise money
I see too many entrepreneurs wait to approach investors until they have an urgent need to raise. Even if you don’t think you’ll be ready to start actively looking for investors for 6-12 months, begin researching the investors in your general geographic area who fund startups in your industry. From there, put yourself in a position to meet these investors at networking events.
A quick look at a VC's website, or a calendar of startup events in your area will likely show you which events investors will be speaking at or attending. Go to these events with the goal of simply introducing yourself to the investors, and telling them what you’re working on. If you make this initial contact early, and see the same investors occasionally at other networking events, you’ll start to get to know them. This will make the ask for a pitch meeting much more natural and effective when the time comes.
I also recommend asking to meet these investors for coffee to get advice. Don’t position it as a pitch meeting, but rather a chance for them to share their expertise. Investors are often willing to meet with first time entrepreneurs who are looking for feedback on their idea. Many of them also do office hours at various startup programs and events, which is another way to make an introduction without the pressure of a pitch meeting.
Ask your network for introductions, even if you don’t think they’re connected with investors.
Just because no one in your LinkedIn network is connected to an investor doesn’t mean your contacts can’t be helpful. Remember, you never know who knows who.
As you’re beginning the fundraising process, send personal notes to your friends, family and professional contacts to tell them that you’re starting the fundraising process. Ideally, the people you’re reaching out to are ones you’ve been keeping up-to-date on your startup, and will be excited to hear that you’re planning to grow the business. You could be very pleasantly surprised by the introductions people in your network can make.
Make your pitch personal, not transactional
Whether it’s in person at a networking event or via phone or email, you’ll have to convince investors that you’re worth their time before you even get to the pitch meeting. There’s no silver bullet for doing this, but at a basic level, you’ll want to make a brief and persuasive pitch that comes off as personal, and not transactional. While you won’t go into the full-blown pitch, you can say what your company does, who’s on your team, and why you reached out to this investor specifically.
Whatever you do, don’t ask for money in your pitch for the meeting. Instead, you can say that you’re looking to work with investors who understand your industry, and ask if they have time for a meeting where you can tell them more about your team and what you’re working on. Keep in mind that at this early stage of development, the investor will likely be more interested in you and your team than the idea.
Avoid over-relying on online investor marketplaces
Particularly for early-stage investments, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for marketplaces like AngelList. While I’d recommend posting your startup’s profile on this site, and even sending notes to relevant angels in your industry, don’t depend on cold online outreach for funding.
From the hundreds of startups I’ve advised, this type outreach doesn’t often result in getting a meeting with an investor. I’d encourage you to spend more time and effort in finding ways to get personal introductions, or meet investors in person at networking events.
For women and minorities, don’t get discouraged by the stats
As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this, we live in an age where every study shows that startups led by white men receive the vast majority of funding. As a female who’s worked as a VC and entrepreneur, I often get asked by women and minorities what they can do to increase their chances of beating the odds.
This, of course, is a loaded question, and one with no definitive answer. Still, for women and minorities, I tell them to use these statistics as motivation to push themselves to beat the odds, and change these statistics by getting funded. From there, I give them the same advice I’d give anyone.
In the end, investors want to invest in great teams and ideas. When you do get to your pitch meetings, be bold and confident. If you effectively articulate your vision and how you are going to get there, the funding will follow.