So you have an idea for a company. You've been playing around with it for months. You've lost sleep because you can't stop thinking about it and you're too excited to go to bed. You've told a few friends you trust and they love it almost as much as you do. You've done the deep soul searching and now it's time to take the plunge and go all in on turning your idea into a company.
You know the obvious things to do: pick a name, incorporate the company, map out your business plan etc. But then you start to think about the capital you're going to have to raise and your mind goes blank. The challenge of raising a seed round can seem insurmountable to first-time entrepreneurs. The process is full of mystery and the worst part is you probably have no idea where to even begin.
In reality, however, the process is pretty simple if you follow the right steps from day one. Raising a seed round isn't a black box of mystery and it certainly isn't just being rude to top VCs in the Bay Area as the HBO show "Silicon Valley" portrays. Following these simple steps from day one will demystify the process of raising a seed round and will set you up for success.
Track Everyone and Everything
The biggest mistake first-time entrepreneurs make that hurts them in the fundraising process is they don't track their meetings from day one. Raising your seed round starts months, or even a year, before you actually decide it's time to raise money.
You will meet with hundreds of people about your company in the early days before you decide to raise money, and it is likely that your first investors will be people from that time period. Tracking every meeting and every point of contact with potential future investors will give you a database of people to reach out to when it comes time to focus on your seed round.
Stay Connected Before You Need Money
Investors like to invest in lines, not dots. Simply put, it's unlikely that someone is going to invest after one meeting in which they only get to see a snapshot of what you've done. Instead, they want to see you perform over time by seeing a series of dots (update emails, meetings, calls) that they can connect to create a line to paint a clearer picture of your team and company.
If you've followed point 1, it isn't hard to send regular updates to potential investors about your performance in the time before you need to actually raise money. If you do this correctly, potential investors will feel like they already know you when it's time to ask for the check.
Ask for Feedback Early
No matter how amazing you or your company are, you're going to get more no's than yeses from investors. The most important thing you can do early on is understand what the primary hesitations are that you're going to face when you start the process of raising money. If you know the primary hesitations you're going to face before you start to raise money, you can best position yourself to address them proactively and increase your chances of getting yeses.
When you meet with potential investors in a non-fundraising meeting, ask them for feedback on your company. Good founders are able to tease out hesitations before they go to raise money so they can best position themselves when it's time.
Tell a Compelling Story
Early on, it's very unlikely that your investors will commit to you because of revenue, or user growth or any one metric. It's more likely that they will invest because they believe in you and your company and are willing to take the risk to be a part of your story. Too often I see founders pitching their companies like robots, not realizing that they are as important to their story as their companies are.
Tell your story (not just your company's story) and let your passion and drive come through. Every early stage investor knows that most successful companies will change over time, so they are investing as much in you as the founder as they are in your company.
Make Sure Your Pitch Deck Supports Your Story
There are a lot of articles about good pitch decks. I personally like a modified version of the Sequoia Pitch Deck Template. The key concept to remember when creating a pitch deck is that it must tell a story. Similar to how you personally pitch your company, remember that your pitch deck is not about getting the most information across to a potential investor.
It's simply about getting the potential investor excited enough to put their money on the line to be a part of the story with you. Use your deck to help show your team's strengths and why you're taking on this particular challenge. If flipping through your deck wouldn't get you excited to get up every morning and work as hard as you can, it's unlikely to get a potential investor excited about financing that work.