If you're looking for capital to take your business to the next level, it helps to remember that everyone has biases, including startup investors. Namely, venture capital firms commonly avoid unknown categories, favor Silicon Valley startups, or won't invest in a founder who doesn't have the right background. That's according to Paul Martino, general partner of early-stage fund Bullpen Capital, who leverages these tendencies to find promising startups that fly under the radar. Here's his advice on how to get noticed by VCs if your company doesn't fit the profile investors are typically looking for.
1. Have confidence that your geography doesn't matter.
Some of Bullpen's most successful companies are nowhere near its Menlo Park, California, office. Since launching in 2011, parking reservation service SpotHero, based in Chicago, has helped more than 3 million people prepay for parking spots in more than 2,500 lots around the country. "It was a company that was overlooked because all the sexy on-demand companies like Uber and these valet companies Luxe and Zirx were all formed by Silicon Valley founding teams out in San Francisco," he says.
2. Your background doesn't need to matter, either.
Consider New York-based HR, payroll and benefits platform Namely. The company has raised more than $107 million from a pile of investors, in spite of the fact that its founder, Matt Straz, was an ad-tech executive whose first customers were other ad-tech execs. "There aren't many enterprise software companies in New York and they sure aren't run by former ad-tech execs," he says.
3. You can succeed in an unknown category.
It's not every day you hear about hot startups launching in the sports space, for example. Yet, FanDuel--which originally was birthed by a husband-wife team out of Edinburgh, Scotland--now has more than a million active paying users and has raised more than $363 million in funding.
4. It's not about traction, at first.
An early-stage company needs to demonstrate its founder has big vision and boasts an impressive alma mater. You also need to prove the size of your category. "While you're making your first couple hundred thousand bucks or you've got your first customer or two, it's about whether the founder has the chops to do it and if the market is big enough," he says. "The later stage investors are all about traction."
5. You need to outperform expectations.
If you're from a non-traditional background, in a different geography, or in a category nobody's paying attention to, you need to achieve milestones so investors take you seriously. Find a mentor in your backyard who has been successfully funded and can teach you how to play the game. And whatever you do, do it cheaply. "Instead of two or three customers, you need eight or ten. Instead of having $100,000 in revenue, you need your first $500,000," he says. "You really want to punch above your weight."