Outside investment is a major stepping stone for entrepreneurs, whether they are just starting out or have yet to launch. Wanting that startup funding and actually receiving it are two very different things, though. There are many other business owners out there competing for the same financial assistance to grow or sustain their company.
The 2016 ECGI Working Paper--"How Do Venture Capitalists Make Decisions?"--surveyed 889 institutional investors from 681 firms.
Here are some of the more helpful startup funding strategies they mentioned that can help you stand out from the crowd.
Be fiscally healthy and literate.
Venture capitalists consider hundreds, sometimes thousands, of potential deals. Beyond your business life, they want to see you can make smart financial decisions in your personal life. Those decisions are present in metrics like credit score, debt load, and liquid assets. If you don't demonstrate this strong money mindset, investors may assume you won't handle their funding appropriately.
Make sure investors realize they'll get a return on their investment by demonstrating how responsibly you run your business and other financial aspects of your life. You may want to consider raising your financial literacy through online courses, books, or by hiring an adviser. Many investors say founders should pay down debt and improve their personal credit score before asking for startup funding.
Prepare your story and journey.
Treat your meeting with a prospective venture capitalist like a job interview. You aren't just sharing why you need small-business funding. You want to express how you developed your business idea and how you got to this point. A strong story helps VCs feel engaged with your business idea and execution. This includes knowing how your story will end (think potential exit strategies).
Develop an online conversation with venture capitalists.
Many VCs enjoy social media. They're often looking for investments, so it's worth taking the time to follow them, learn more about them, and introduce yourself virtually. These online conversations create awareness, build greater interest in your startup, and increase your chances for funding.
First, take the time to read existing interactions to see what the investors respond to, and what type of topics you can raise with them. Find out who is following them, including other startups. Join in on the discussions. This is key to differentiating yourself from your competition. Even if they're not interested, online conversations may lead venture capitalists to recommend you to an investor that would be a better match.
Conduct extensive research.
To find an investor who wants to fund your startup, you need to find the right partner--namely, someone who understands your business segment. Often, only a certain type of venture capitalist is interested specifically in what you are doing.
Consider identifying VCs who are geographically close. While it's not a requirement, it can offer more face-to-face interaction or operational assistance. Identify investors interested in your development stage that offer the desired average funding amount.
Don't just think of startup funding as a one-stop shop. Develop a long-lasting relationship with a VC who can create many more transactions. This person may be your primary source someday for top-notch hires or other investors. Taking the time to do research up front helps you find an investor who's aligned on your values, interests, and benefits.
Have a product or solution ready to share.
Most investors want to see a more evolved startup rather than just hear about an idea. While some investors specialize in "seed" investments, where there's minimal traction, most want to see a tangible product or a tested solution.
The product or solution doesn't have to be ready for market. But create a prototype or provide user testing results to illustrate its value and show the investor a stronger probability of return.
Highlight the management team and talent.
To investors, a startup is only as good as its team. There must be a capable management team and depth of talent with a proven track record.
In the aforementioned survey of institutional VCs, this factor was the most important. This means you'll need to build a solid team with talented members who have experience taking a startup to market. For VCs, seeing a strong team helps them determine whether or not they'll get their desired return.
Be patient, but persistent.
It may take time to find the investor who understands and believes in what you are doing. Pitch after pitch may fail. VCs recommend that entrepreneurs should keep reaching out to other investors. Also, don't forget about seeking alternative startup funding sources to further develop the startup. The more evolved the startup is in structure, management, talent, and revenue capability, the more likely an investor will get on board.