By Nav Athwal, Founder of RealtyShares.
Taking a startup from an idea to a scalable business requires determination and a crystal-clear vision. But there's an equally important third element: capital. Without sufficient funding, your product or service may never have an opportunity to reach the marketplace.
As the founder of an online marketplace for real estate investing, I learn every day how to prioritize, make decisions and lead. But some of the biggest lessons came from navigating the fundraising process. Thankfully, we learned from each round including most recently our Series C in September.
For founders looking to raise funding for the first time, here are three ways to maximize the odds of success.
Be Bold With Your Pitch Deck
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and your pitch deck can have a significant impact on how investors view both you and your company. The pitch deck is your opportunity to tell your startup's story in a concise yet impactful way and convince investors that your company is a worthy investment.
Founders often assume that a single pitch deck is sufficient to create a broad company overview. But in my experience, I've found that having two versions of the same pitch can be advantageous when you're ready to reach out to investors. Crafting a teaser version allows you to outline your vision before you get in front of investors and pique their interest. Once you're meeting face-to-face, you can present the full pitch deck that addresses the most pertinent metrics investors are sure to ask about.
One thing your pitch deck shouldn't be, however, is boring. In raising our seed round, we built upon an existing pitch we'd completed as a demo during our incubator experience at 500 Startups. In order to stand out, we painted a broader vision that went beyond our growth projections and designed the deck to ensure the visuals were impactful, both of which worked in our favor. Fundraising is a noisy world and you have to make sure you're being heard. Having a unique pitch deck with a killer design can help you cut through the noise.
Listen to Feedback and Iterate the Pitch
Pitching your startup isn't a one-and-done proposition. You'll more likely be attending multiple meetings with investors, who may want to offer constructive criticism on the quality of your presentation. That feedback can be a valuable tool for honing and improving your pitch.
Outside perspectives can help you see weak spots you may have missed, whether it's a poor design or missing data. Address those shortcomings before presenting your pitch to the next group of investors. How well you're able to absorb that feedback and use it to make adjustments to your pitch can make the difference between getting funded or getting passed over by investors.
And if you have existing investors on your cap table, use them for a dry run as they'll often help you identify these shortcomings before you go out to new investors and burn cycles.
Leverage Your Network
Networking with other founders affords an opportunity to share ideas and trade perspectives on starting a new company, but it also has the potential to be a launching pad for fundraising. If other founders you're acquainted with have already successfully secured a seed or Series A round, they may be willing to refer you to investors.
Having a referral from a founder who's actively scaling their business lends your startup credibility when approaching angel investors or VCs. It sends the message that your company is being taken seriously by other founders in your industry and that investors should follow suit. Investors that have funded a referring founder give a lot of weight to that referral given they've already chosen to fund him or her.
Remain Steadfast and Authentic
Fundraising can be a long and challenging process. It could take many months of meetings, pitching and rejection before you find the right partner. If your first few pitches don't go as planned, don't give up. Some of the most notable startups were rejected at some point. If you believe in your idea, let your energy and determination shine. Remember, most of the time you only need one investor to fund you.
You should also stay true to your vision throughout the process. Through the ups and downs, often investors back the founder as much as they back your idea. This funding provides the resources and the runway to achieve your vision and scale your business. But if you lose your authenticity through the process, you're giving up your best strategic advantage.
Nav Athwal is the Founder of RealtyShares, an online curated marketplace for real estate investing.