As an entrepreneur, I was once in the middle of pitching to an investor when he asked me the question: “What do you want to get out of this?” I started to repeat the financial figures that I had prepared, but he interrupted me and clarified his question. “No, what do you personally want to get out of this?”
I was shocked to find out that I actually didn’t have a good answer for him. I thought about his question for days. What did I really want? While I thought of a variety of reasons, one theme definitely emerged. I wanted to prove I was CEO material and control my own destiny, without spending my life in the politics of career advancement.
Whatever I said to the investor worked. He cut me a check and walked away. But I now ask entrepreneurs the same question. Personal motivation helps fuel a deeper drive to keep going despite all the obstacles you will inevitably encounter.
Since that pitch, I’ve sold a company, run several others and now sit on the other side of the table. I’ve seen a lot of great presentations as well as plenty with room for improvement. The fundraising stage is so important for any entrepreneur. I hope that by sharing these tips on raising money for your startup, you’ll be better positioned for success.
1. Know your audience.
Be as familiar with your VC audience as you are with prospective customers. It is important to know what potential investors are looking for in terms of investment size, stage, and how big your company can become.
In one example, we were initially interested in a great startup with a dynamic founder (he had driven over seven hours for the meeting). It was a terrific presentation until he talked about future growth. His growth projections were way too low. They would never possibly match what VCs look for. You can’t come to a pitch meeting seeking millions in investment with a 10 percent annual growth rate. While that may be fine for a business loan, it doesn’t work for VCs. If this describes your business, I encourage you to think bigger and prepare to defend your growth figures.
2. Follow Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule.
A pitch should have ten slides lasting no longer than twenty minutes in a thirty-point font. We have seen presentations with 45 slides on product alone… for an hour-long meeting. This leaves us with virtually no time to get to know the company, review financials, ask questions, etc. Everyone’s time is valuable, and we meet with hundreds of companies. Be concise in showing your product differentiation, and be sure to cover the basics.
3. Get a realistic valuation from the beginning.
Startups frequently both overvalue and undervalue themselves. While you should always strive to get the most out of your startup, a valuation that is too high can be viewed as contentious when you come to a VC later with numbers that aren’t based on fundamentals. In addition, avoid striving to maximize your valuation at your earliest of stages as it may significantly inhibit your ability to raise larger rounds down the road. Look at comparables, financial forecasts, and get an outside valuation at the beginning.
4. Ask for help along the way.
I wish I had taken the time to reach out to people and ask them questions when I was first starting out. I always thought of mentorship as such a formal relationship. Anyone can be a mentor, and they may not even know it. Asking someone a question over the phone or in a short coffee meeting can make them an impromptu advisor.
5. Stay in touch. No, really, we mean it.
Keeping a relationship with potential investors can always hold the possibility of leading to something else in the future. We’ve met with numerous companies that weren’t far enough along yet at the time of our meeting, but they have stayed in touch with us since then. We may consider a possible investment once they have progressed, so ongoing communication is important.
6. If you’re rejected, take the opportunity to ask for feedback.
While you may be reeling from the rejection, challenge yourself to learn something. Be specific and immediate and, of course, professional. Find out if anything went wrong, and use it as a chance to improve. Learning from mistakes makes us all smarter and better, especially as an entrepreneur where things often do not go as planned.
And, the question that stumped me years ago...
7. Know what you personally want to get out of this.
Or as Simon Sinek would say, Know your Why. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Understanding why it’s for you will keep you focused and committed.
Throughout the process of becoming an entrepreneur, I learned what it took to become my own CEO. As a venture capitalist, I strive to pass that on to others, and to look for the same drive in them.