Yes, You Can Raise Money if You're Not in Silicon Valley
BY Mark Suster
Staying local means being flexible and accessible, advises Mark Suster.
I travel the country a lot. And I am often approached by entrepreneurs in cities which don’t have a vibrant VC community. They often ask whether they have to move to SF, NY or LA to get financed.
I have the same response always, "Where do you want to live? Where do you want to build your community, your relationships, your family?" I'm trying to get a feel for their commitment to local community versus being in a place where financing is easiest.
If their commitment to staying local is weak I normally say, "Well, it certainly would be easier on you to be in a larger community. It would be easier in terms of getting access to angels, VCs, the media, whatever. So if you’re really indifferent you might consider it." On the other hand, if they have a strong preference to staying local I usually tell them that I believe you can build a business anywhere these days.
You can build a meaningful company just about wherever these days. Just ask the people of Portland, Seattle, Boulder, Iowa, Princeton, Dallas or countless other cities that don’t have enough venture capital.
Ask SuperCell. Or Rovio. Or UrbanAirship. NewToy, Dwolla, Pollenware or Wonga.
If you don't live in a major VC zone, I have some tips for how to make it easier to raise Venture Capital.
Before I explain, let me give you some backgrounds why it's harder to raise money if you live outside "the zone."
Let's start with "oversight." Most VCs view it as their responsibility to mentor, debate, cajole and generally assist with investments they make. They also view it as a responsibility of the money they manage on behalf of others to provide oversight of these companies. And it is significantly easier to help when you are local.
Take me for example. This afternoon (Saturday) I have a coffee meeting with a portfolio company founder. Tomorrow I’m meeting with a senior exec who is considering joining a company in which we’ve invested. He would be a very senior hire for us and filling an urgent gap. I know local talent. I know who is perceived as good and who has a fancy resume but others think didn't perform. That’s what local allows. I know the whole ecosystem: VCs, CEOs, tech teams, founders, angels -- and I know people who have worked together for 15-plus years.
Local knowledge runs deep. Thus, a desire to invest more locally where I think I have a competitive advantage. Otherwise I'm just money.
But I do invest outside of LA. Examples include DataSift (San Fran and London), MyTime (SF) and awe.sm (SF).
Every year I'm in the SF Bay Area 12 to 14 times. I'm in NY six to eight times. And then there are smatterings (Dallas two times, D.C. three times, Philly three times, Austin, Boulder, Seattle not to mention San Diego eight times, Santa Barbara eitht times -- where I invested in RingRevenue).
This isn't a complaint. It's a goal to help you understand the life of a VC. And I no longer control my calendar. When DataSift sets up a board meeting (next one in London, last was in NYC) we have investors from NYC (IA Ventures), SF (Scale Ventures) and the founding team plus chairman in London. So when dates and locations are set -- they're set.
Am I looking to add eight trips a year to [name your location not already on my annual itinerary]? Not easily. Of course, if it's a company on fire, I would travel to any two-hop city from LA.
So how do you overcome that given that all VCs must have a similar pattern to me other than super-human VCs like Brad Feld or Dave McClure who have insane travel schedules but an unbelievable ability to put in the air miles and be whenever, whenever?
Here's what I would do if I were you (I'll pick a mythical company in Kansas City):
For starters, I'd try to raise my initial capital locally.
Next, I'd research every VC in the country and find people who grew up in or near KC. Why? Because you know they must already come back one to two times a year anyways. Plus, they know the local market better and therefore don't have the uninformed biases of those that don't. If these people work for reputable firms and have the right industry knowledge they ought to be on your pitch list.
Importantly … I would pitch investors in SF, NY, Boston, LA, etc. and say the following:
"I live and work in Kansas City. I have the tremendous advantage of access to a hard-working, loyal and technical talent pool. So I want to stay here and build my business.
That said, I want the best VCs in the industry and for that I know I need to be in a major VC hub.
So here's the deal. I will commit to traveling to NYC seven times per year for board meetings. I'll make your life easier because I know you travel all the time anyways and KC isn't exactly on your normal path.
Heck. I need to be in NYC a lot anyways. All I would ask is that you hold one to two board meetings a year in KC.
You're going to want to do that anyways to always kick the tires of the local team. Plus, we have some rocking bbq to make it worth your time."
I know some people will cringe at this idea, "if the VC really wanted me they would come to ME."
Maybe. But until you've achieved the kind of success you know you're capable of, it's a harder ask. And with my strategy, you take their biggest objection off the table. By the way, no VC will ever tell you, "I don't want to come to KC eight times a year," because it would sound bad.
MARK SUSTER is a two-time entrepreneur who has gone to "the dark side" of venture capital. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a general partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies. You can find him on Twitter @msuster.