There's an old saying in fundraising: "If you want advice, ask for money; if you want money, ask for advice." 

It's wrong. 

The outcome of this advice: many startups think that buying an investor coffee is a prerequisite for investment. In my job at Village Capital, here's an example of the most common email I get:

"Hey Ross,

I learned about Village Capital and I would love to pick your brain on the new startup I'm working on. I would love to take you to coffee and get your advice. When can we chat?

Best, 

Connor Sullivan"

In this email, Connor, our hypothetical entrepreneur, misses four important things that would lead me to take a meeting. Matt Williamson, CEO of Durham startup  Windsor Circle, calls them "GVAP", and they should be a prerequisite for every email you send in fundraising (or sales -- really anytime you are asking anyone for an exchange of value).

Here's what GVAP stands for:

Goal

What is the goal of the meeting? What is a successful outcome? Here the entrepreneur asks to "pick my brain."

What does Connor really want? Is he fundraising? Does he want advice on the industry or a particular customer? Does he even know if I can help him?

Value

Even though he doesn't explicitly state this, I've been doing this long enough to understand why this meeting is valuable for him (he wants advice and ideally money.) 

If my days are packed, though, what is the value to me as the investor?

Our website clearly what we invest in-- in this email, he doesn't show that he understands why I might think his company is a mutual fit.

Agenda

If you have never met the person you are contacting, you should never, never, never, never request a call or meeting without an agenda. (Even if you know the person you're meeting, an agenda is a nice bonus). If I'm seeing this email, I don't know what specifically Connor wants to talk about, and why.

Permission to proceed

The email ends with "When can we chat?". This puts me in an tough position. I might want to ask for more information before committing time, or I might want to put Connor in touch with another team member who is better suited to talk with him (and knows more about his industry.)

This email comes off as presumptuous. Instead, Connor should ask if I'm the right person to speak with him from my team and ask for permission to explore a relationship.

Here's what a better email looks like:

The GVAP framework sets clear expectations and a mutual exchange of value, and ensures that your fundraising meeting will go well. Here's what a GVAP email could look like:

Ross,

I was looking at Village Capital's website and saw that agriculture is one of the sectors you invest in. We are an early-stage company from Des Moines that is trying to reduce the amount of water used to irrigate corn. 

(HERE'S THE GOAL) We're seeing great growth-- positive month on month revenue increases-- and I am starting to think that perhaps we should raise some money. I've been having a hard time finding investors who like ag-tech and 'd love to have a conversation to understand what the fundraising landscape is like for an ag-tech company-- who invests, how much, and at what valuation? 

(HERE'S THE VALUE TO ME) I would hope that in this conversation you could get to know my company better; from your website, we have a similar mission to your portfolio companies Spensa and Infinite Composites, and I hope you would find us a valuable investment worth considering. 

(HERE'S THE AGENDA) I would love to specifically ask you about three things: (1) If you were me how much money would you raise (if at all)? (2) What would you want to see from us to be interesting to Village Capital? (3) I've been having a hard time finding people who invest in startups in Des Moines; do you know people I should be talking to? 

(HERE'S THE PERMISSION TO PROCEED) I would love to have a brief call with you-- or the right team member-- at your convenience, though if you're swamped right now, I completely understand  (NOTE: HOW HE GIVES ME AN OUT-- CLASSY MOVE).

Let me know how you'd like to explore a relationship.

Best,

Connor

I guarantee I would be about 10,000 percent more likely to respond to this second email swiftly-- and if not personally set up a call with Connor, set him up with my colleague Whitney, who runs our agriculture work (and can actually be more helpful).

Every email you send in fundraising should have GVAP.

If you include these four things, I think you will notice an amazing increase in fundraising success.

Published on: Aug 9, 2016