Getting the right introduction to a customer, business partner, venture capitalist, or anyone else for that matter often influences the outcome. Everyone is busy with meetings, in-bound emails, preparation, analysis, etc. As such, when meeting someone for the first time, it's important to understand how you initially got connected. Was the person introduced from a trusted source: an adviser, investor, existing customer, or partner? Was it made through a personal acquaintance with no professional affiliation? Or, did you become connected from someone with a meaningful connection?
So let's get on with the list. I've ordered it from WORST to BEST intros. Please keep in mind that these are general guidelines and there are exceptions to every rule.
6. Cold Call/Cold Email
As a former VC, I never responded to entrepreneurs who cold-called or cold-emailed me. While it may be perceived as rude, like many VCs, I was inundated with requests. I barely had time to respond to qualified leads. If an entrepreneur failed to the exhibit basic resourcefulness to get at least a lukewarm intro, my assumption was that the entrepreneur was probably not resourceful enough to get to a potential customer or business partner. It's not that hard to use LinkedIn or other means to get some form of an introduction.
I think it's fair to say that cold calls or emails should be avoided at all costs.
5. Intro from an investor who has passed
Years ago, I was meeting with a VC friend of mine who offered to help make introductions. I remember him saying, "We don't invest in companies in your space, but I'm happy to make introductions."
We both hesitated for a minute and thought the same thing. Imagine making an intro to a fellow VC with this opener: "We're not interested in the company, but maybe you are...?" I had a flashback from high school when I was dissuaded from asking a girl that I liked to the prom because a knuckleheaded buddy of mine responded to my inquiry about her by saying, "Yeah, I'm not really interested in her, but she's probably good enough for you." Pass.
I might also suggest that these types of intros should generally be avoided, but I have been surprised in the past that even these intros have yielded positive meetings.
4. Intro from an existing investor or adviser of the company
These generally are pretty good introductions. They are from someone who knows the company well and often has good relationships with senior management. Moreover, there has already been some level of due diligence or screening involved that led to the investment or adviser engagement.
From the perspective of the VC agreeing to the introduction, the one downside is that the introducer knows MORE about the company. Because these investors or advisers are already involved, there may be something that they aren't sharing. Is this boat already sinking? Are there founder issues? In other words, the introduction does not come from a truly unbiased and disinterested party and that may give a new investor pause. Like in poker, if you don't know who the sucker is at the table, it's you.
3. Intro from a trusted entrepreneur in the portfolio who is a true disinterested party
One of the best pieces of advice that I got from a VC buddy of mine is to try to make connections with entrepreneurs in the VC portfolio; don't just focus on networking with potential VCs. This can be useful for a few reasons. First, fellow entrepreneurs can provide a lot of advice as to how they raised capital from the targeted VC or just in general. Second, they can also provide information about how it has been to work with the VC. What sort of business issues was that VC particularly interested in? Finally, an entrepreneur who has been funded probably has several connections with other VCs with whom they spoke when they went through their financing.
2. Intro from a trusted entrepreneur in the portfolio who has made the VC money
This is really a repeat of the point in #3. However, I can speak from personal experience that when an entrepreneur with a successful recent exit made an intro to a series of VCs for me, the average response time from those intros was less than five minutes. One VC responded so fast that I don't think he even had time to finish reading the introductory paragraph! VCs are looking for qualified leads and feel that entrepreneurs have a good sense for others that have similar characteristics. VCs often think that proven entrepreneurs have an even better sense as to what it takes to be successful... perhaps that's why many successful entrepreneurs become investors themselves.
And the best intro:
1. When a VC chases you because he/she is hearing about how well you are doing from customers, partners, and the press
Reverse inquiry is the best. I have heard several successful entrepreneurs say, "Wait for the VCs to chase you! Don't call them!" But it's not always the case that startups have buzz and momentum for a prolonged period of time.
Hopefully this list has provided a few ideas. So go out and get some introductions!