About a decade ago, when I was trying to raise funding for my former company, I pitched hundreds of VC firms.
I was shot down at every turn.
I secured a whopping $0.
Fast forward to today and I'm trying to secure millions in VC funding for my new startup company.
One of the big lessons I've learned so far this time is that when you're looking to secure a check for millions of dollars, you may need more than one investor.
That means syndicating your deal. You'll need a lead investor and follower investors.
Here are six things you need to know about VC syndication deals.
1. Lead Investor
The lead investor usually writes the biggest check.
Lead investors also usually take a seat on your company's board of directors as part of the deal.
There are other elements to work out, such as determining how much shares are valued at as well as other rights and privileges of the investment (e.g., can they force the sale of your company).
If you're only raising around $2 million and $3 million, you might not need a co-investor. However, a bigger check size makes it more likely that you'll need to do a syndicated round.
A lead investor can introduce you to these follower investors.
2. Supporting or Follower Investor
A follower investor won't give you the full amount of money you're seeking, or even the majority, but still wants to contribute to your funding round.
For example, if you raise $7 million from a lead investor, you could then try to find three follower investors willing to contribute $1 million a piece (or some other combination that gets you to full amount) as part of a syndicated deal to raise $10 million.
Follower investors have less work to do than the lead. Essentially, they just cut a check. The lead investor oversees the company via their board responsibilities, so followers don't have to show up at board meetings.
One issue you may run into is that followers have a preference to invest with companies where they've worked with the lead investor in the past. Obviously, this doesn't hold true 100 percent of the time as every pre-existing business relationship had to start from somewhere.
Followers don't have much leverage beyond their relationship with the lead investor. So follower investors want to make sure the lead will be a good steward of any money that is invested.
3. Followers Can Take the Lead in Your Next Funding Round
Another advantage of follower investors is that they'll get to know your business on the cheap. In addition to getting information rights to your company performance data, they'll also get to know you as a person, which can be helpful in later funding rounds.
A lot of big companies like to diversify to mitigate their risk. With any company in the early days, it's hard for investors to know how much traction a product will gain.
So they might cut 10 smaller checks and wait to see which 2-3 are doing the best.
If things are going well for your startup, they might be easily convinced to take a greater interest and double down on those investments in your next funding round.
Who knows. They might even lead your next round, or step up their participation.
4. Follower Investors Can Lead You to Your Lead Investor
While your lead investor can introduce you to follower investors, this can also work in the opposite direction. Follower investors can introduce you to companies they've worked with in the past that might be willing to take the lead.
If these two companies have worked together and made money together in the past, this is one of the strongest recommendations you can get!
Getting follower investors can also be tremendously helpful when pitching or having conversations with other potential investors. It creates a sense of urgency that you won't be on the market six months from now - so get in now or lose out.
Follower investors are useful in that herd mentality sort of way. Someone who hears that you're working with a big name investor might suddenly want to follow and potentially lead the next round.
The first term sheet is so hard to get. Once you have your first, suddenly it gets a lot easier.
5. Don't Overdo Syndication Deals
If you add too many people to your syndication deal (for example, you have 7 VCs doing $1 million each), then you have a party round. It's called a party round because everybody's there.
Maybe you do it because you want some big name VC to be there (because you're hoping they'll lead your next round). Or maybe it's because a certain investor can help you access other types of VC fund investors later on.
Think about the optics, though. On your press release, you'll have to announce that you've been funded by XYZ Ventures, ABC Ventures, QWERTY Ventures, etc.
When everyone's invested, no one's invested. Which investor from this big party would be really responsible for ensuring the success of the business? When this happens, they're all equally uninvested.
Don't overdo it with deal syndications.
6. You Need a Hot Idea
You need to have a really hot idea. You must be the unicorn in a sea of donkeys.
If you're having trouble finding lead or follower investors for your syndication deal, it might be you.
When you can't convince VCs to back you, the market is telling you that your idea is boring or bad. Don't be a donkey. Be a unicorn!