Silicon Valley venture capitalists don’t have enough time. They review about 1,000 business plans a year and invest in, maybe, a few companies. Each meeting with an entrepreneur consumes about an hour.
But one prominent Silicon Valley VC says he can tell in the first three minutes whether the meeting is a waste of time or not.
Peter Bell was CEO of StorageNetworks and took it public in July 2000, yielding a peak first-day valuation of more than $9 billion when the company's shares jumped from $27 to $102. After teaching at Boston College and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Bell became a VC at Highland Capital Partners.
As he told me in an interview, Bell invests in one to three start-ups a year. But to get to that small number of companies in which he invests, Bell meets roughly 10 entrepreneurs a week--or around 500 a year. These meetings usually come from people he knows or those he searches for because they are working on a technology that interests him.
But within the first three minutes of meeting an entrepreneur, he decides whether “the next 57 minutes are going to be excruciating” or he will “want to spend four more hours” with the person.
If you were meeting with Bell--who shares the values of many of his peers--here are five tests he’d use to knock you out of investment contention in the first three minutes:
1. Poor communication.
Bell has spent decades in the technology business, so he knows his stuff. Therefore, if you could not get across a clear description of what you’re doing, Bell would be turned off. So make sure that when you meet a VC, you have a short, clear, market-tests statement of what your venture wants to do and why it’s unique.
2. Not a winner.
Bell bets on people who he believes have the potential to become CEO. In order to do that, however, he needs to see that the person has a track record of winning. If you did not know what it feels like to win, Bell would lose interest. So share your passion for competition, and show off your trophies--otherwise, a VC will not see you as a good place to park capital.
3. Poor team builder.
One key skill of winning start-up CEOs is the ability to attract and motivate an excellent team. If your venture had a poor start-up team, Bell would seriously question your judgment and would quickly turn off to the rest of your pitch. So if you are not comfortable hiring a great team and motivating it to perform, hire a CEO who is--before you meet with a VC.
4. Asks for too much money before a market exists.
Bell believes that founders should take a rigorous approach to analyzing the markets into which they are selling. That means before you ask him for an investment of, say, $10 million, you should be able to demonstrate the market is big enough to generate a return on such a big initial investment. If you had not done the homework to prove that, Bell would pass. So make sure your venture targets a big market--and you can prove it--before meeting with a VC.
5. Business potential too small.
To make it worthwhile for a venture-size investment, a founder must present a credible plan that the start-up has the potential to become a market-leading company in a billion-dollar market. If Bell were convinced that your start-up could not become that big, he’d advise you to seek other sources of funding. So if your venture can’t get big, save the hour you would have spent meeting with the VC.