Investors are insanely busy and bombarded with appeals from startups, so just about every VC anyone has ever asked agrees: If you want to get an investor's attention through all that noise, a personal introduction is essential.
That all-important referral might come from another founder you know who the investor has already done business with or from fellow VCs. But as Hunter Walk, a partner at Homebrew VC, recently pointed out on his blog, actually getting an investor to pass your name on to a colleague can be a pretty tricky business. VCs have to think about their own professional reputations in recommending you, after all, and they're more aware than anybody of how swamped fellow investors are likely to be.
Most entrepreneurs who approach him for introductions are rapidly consigned to the email archive, Walk confesses, but he adds: "[Homebrew partner] Satya and I have made introductions on deals we looked deeply at but passed--in at least two cases these intros resulted in funding. And in many other cases, we've pinged investors who I thought might be interested even though I didn't look closely at the deal (usually because it was outside of our themes)."
"What set these entrepreneurs apart from the ones where I just hit 'archive'? A lot," he says before running through a list of five major differences between those who manage to wrangle an intro and those that don't. If you're in this situation, the complete post is definitely worth a read in full, but to give you a flavor of Walk's advice, here are his essential points in brief.
- Do your homework. "It's never been easier to get a sense of what industries and stages are preferred by various investor segments. Do some work up front and then ask for confirmation, rather than just open-ended asking a VC who they recommend for your company," Walk advises entrepreneurs.
- Don't use an investor's name without permission. Everyone will check up on an introduction and then think less of you if you've exaggerated your connection, he warns.
- Write your own (targeted) pitch emails. "When I agree to make the intro, send me a new fresh email for each one you want me to forward. Roy Bahat at Bloomberg Beta gives a nice outline of what an intro email should look like," Walk says.
- Follow up. Not keeping an investor in the loop on what came of an introduction is both rude and a wasted relationship-building opportunity.
- Keep your VC connection updated. Got news? Do share. No one likes to feel that they're just being used for an introduction and then forgotten. "Even if all you eventually want from me are funding introductions, you shouldn't go quiet in between these requests. Putting me on your 'friends of' email update is a great way to keep me passively in the loop," Walk notes.
Looking for more advice along these lines? Walk isn't the only who has spoken out about how he likes to be asked for an introduction. Techstars founder David Cohen has offered advice on the proper etiquette for asking someone to pass on your name as well.