Hacks for Networking, Fundraising & Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World
While networking online I’ve talked with some founders that stated that some diversity-focused funds weren’t getting back about their pitch decks. Diversity-focused or not, VCs get a lot of emails and requests for meetings, and calls, and have a long to-do list for their jobs like everyone.
So, the real question is as an entrepreneur, how do you become a top priority for them? Or at least on their email?
During my time in Silicon Valley, I got advice that forever changed how I approached investors, and how I approached people.
A female founder I admire told me: “I really never asked for money, while everyone was out there pitching and asking for $$$. I was getting them curious, telling my advancement, doing my thing, you know, pique the interest.” Pure human behavior — learn to create FOMO on investors.
So here are my recommendations to make exactly that:
- Be smart, be the nerd, and do your homework. If you do not understand how investment funds work, start by googling it. How does a venture fund work? How do investors make money? Google away.
- Then, make a list of the funds in your industry, check their investment thesis, and make sure your startup could fit. Review their previous investment, research the size of the fund, the year of the fund was raised, if they lead investments in the past. Get this info from CrunchBase, Angel List, Pitchbook, CB Insights. Then make a criterion to rank them for partners, experience, connections in your industry, accessibility to get connected. And then divide this list by dream partners, moderate and safe bets. Just as if you were picking a business school. Startups are the new business school by the way.
- Be specific and target your ideal partners. You might not know all the funds, you might know no one, but we all started somewhere. And it’s your job to target who are the ones you would want in your company. If they asked you for a board seat, who would you want there? You want someone you cultivated a relationship with, someone who believes in you. Not just someone who gave you money and to the first thing that happens will give you their back or even fire you. When I mean to be specific, is why them? Find value in investors beyond the money that they can give you, If you can only see the value of an investor for their money, then it’s probably the wrong investor for your company.
- Network, network, network. Ok, this is not: be annoying. This is professional networking, and yes, some online stalking is required. You want them to be talking about you, plant a seed of inception in their brains. Let them see you, your brand, so many times they tell you, you look familiar. Here is a hack, one founder even did target ads to the investor he was targeting on Linkedin with the title he was looking for. Funny and a little stalky, but it got him his first investment and a story to tell.
- Cultivate your personal brand, and if you don’t think you have one, you do. The comments on a Facebook group, complaining about VCs are not getting back to you, people see that and that becomes your personal brand. Be honest to yourself is it them or your approach could have room for improvement too. If you are not good at this, if you are an introvert or you are not getting the results, work on it. No shame. Books that helped me: The Charisma Myth and lots of psychology books.
- Warm referrals. Get a true champion for you and your startup with a close connection to a fund, investor, accelerator, and get them to recommend you. The key for here is trust, investors already trust this person, and this person trusts you. They have seen the work of years from this person and now they associate you with them. Good warm intros can come from:
1. Entrepreneurs that the investors have backed and made money with, have backed and have a good relationship with them or is currently backing (in that order).
2. Investors he has co-invested and made money with wants to co-invest with or is currently co-investing with (in that order).
- Don’t ask for weak intros. Don’t be that person asking for connections when we just met. No, don’t. This breaks any chances for you to have a real connection and not to make it feel transactional. Even if funds were targeting diverse founders now more than ever. It’s better to cold approach the investor than to ask for a weak introduction that could do more harm than good.
- Try to get to know people first and that doesn’t mean hello, can you connect me with so and so? Think about it, why would we? Everything is based on trust and if I don’t know you, I don’t trust you yet.
- And then even if I introduce you I’d put on the email: I don’t know them but they want to meet you. But honestly, if anyone intro you like that it can make more harm than good. Also, don’t ask for investors that haven’t invest in your startup for intros. This will only raise questions of why do the startup sucks that you didn’t invest in them. Unless they are a bigger fund and they don’t invest in your stage and they are very excited.
- Another hint, investors will never say they are not interested in a startup. So if someone doesn’t tell you no, doesn’t mean is a yes. Until the money is in the bank you cannot call someone your investor.
- Follow-up. I cannot stress this enough if VCs would reply to every single email they get, they would probably have to allocate a big chunk of time. So what to do if they don’t reply? Just follow up! Keep bumping your email to the top so it won’t get buried with the tons of emails. I use Boomerang created by an amazing female founder, and get the email when someone didn’t reply. Do it after 7 days, and again and again until they reply. And do it in an educated manner. I don’t think any investor measures the success of their fund by being the most responsive or amount of emails replied even if they are using the new email app Superhuman.
- They have their own agenda, their own KPIs, and their own goals for success. They have to allocate their time fundraising, working along their own founders, LPs, reach to startups they are chasing, and on the bottom there is you.
- Cold Email: When cold emailing always ask for advice first. Ask for advice and you might end up getting money says the saying. Investors and human beings want to feel important and that you value them for their knowledge more than their money. And in the end, this is a long-term partnership.
- Be positive. Maybe our generation was given this mountain to show it can be moved. When you see a sister that is carrying baggage that you carry for years. Now you are stronger. Like girl, I can help you carry that load because I know what it feels like to unpack that bag. But not only that happen to me but I walk through it and I’ve been on the other side.
So why is so hard to reach out to VCs? Now I could say here something very cliche like “if it was easy everyone would do it”. But, honestly, sometimes is also a test. As a CEO, founder of a startup you have to be resourceful, hustler, connector, being able to open paths wherever you are. If you cannot get an intro if you cannot get your deck in front of them then what would happen when you need to make a partnership with a big client when you need to sell your product or service. You need to develop these skills and is better to start now.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. This is entirely from my experience, my mistakes, and my learnings. You can absolutely learn anything including how to fundraise.