So you’ve got a start-up? Congrats. But unless you’ve also got a trust fund or an unusually strong revenue stream from the get-go, you’re probably considering raising money to keep your business going, and growing. There’s no right or wrong way to go about this, but I hope that some of my own mistakes and successes can help steer you in the right direction. Best of luck, and go get ‘em, girls.
Pitch Yourself Not Your Deck
I cringe when I think of my first presentation. I arrived with my pitch deck on an iPad and proceeded to read it to the investor. The whole thing. Slide by slide. She must have known immediately that this was my first meeting, but she patiently let me go through my very stilted talk, and then she switched her attention from the slides to a simple conversation. Don’t be a dummy like me. Your pitch deck should be sent separately as a way for the investor to get a general overview of what you do, but your presentation is a verbal explanation of your industry, your business and your future plans. You should come prepared to discuss anything in your deck, but don’t present the deck itself unless there’s a specific request to do so.
Use the Buddy System
I took the first few meetings on my own, not wanting to drag everyone along for the fundraising rollercoaster. But our first investor quickly jumped in and suggested that we’d have a more powerful presentation with two people, and my head of product became my go-to gal. She’s more technical than I and could more eloquently discuss product roadmaps and upcoming developments, while I was the industry person who knew the backbone of our travel business. It’s crazy to say, but I think we actually had some fun along the way. We helped each other practice (yes, talking to yourself is totally acceptable when you’re preparing for these meetings), and it was so nice to have a support system when walking into, or out of, a stressful meeting. I couldn’t have survived without her!
Listen to Feedback
It’s tough to take criticism when you’re in the “dream big” phase, but remember: if you’re lucky enough to get a meeting with the prominent angel investors or venture capitalists, you’re also talking to some pretty smart people. You may know your industry and the intricacies of your business better than they do. But they understand markets and have underwritten more than a few successes, so take note of negative as well as positive feedback they share. It could help make your start-up stronger, and you’ll know which touch-points to address in future meetings.
Don’t Waste Time
Your time, and that of investors, is valuable and limited. For every moment you’re out pitching, you’re not running your business. Before you request meetings, look into the investor’s sweet spots. A quick search on Crunchbase can tell you where they’ve put money before, so if you see them only funding high-tech space-age stuff and you’ve got a low-tech retail business, there’s probably not a fit there. Find people who get what you do and target them. Everyone (including your business partners who are trying to run things without you while you’re fundraising) will appreciate it. Oh yeah: and don’t take meetings outside of office hours. If someone’s too busy to fit you into their weekday calendar, they’re unlikely to fit you into their portfolio. Saturday drinks? That’s something different, not a pitch.
Fact: most companies are ultimately not venture-backed businesses, and part of what you may find while prepping for your pitches is that yours isn’t. If that’s the case, don’t despair. And even if you’re successful, you’ll have some passes along the way. We made it through to the final rounds with one very important, and very cool, venture fund. They seemed to like us, and we were thrilled at the opportunity to work with them and their kick-ass portfolio of companies. When they decided they weren’t ready to make an investment, we were devastated. But the next morning, I met with one of our other investors, and she gave me a much-needed pep talk. If it’s not a fit, better to know now than to take money from them and then risk that your view of the business is different than theirs. I walked away knowing she was right, and that I was very lucky to have backers like her who could provide the business advice I needed, as well as the occasionally pick-me-up to get through the down moments.
So strap in and get ready for a seriously intense rollercoaster ride. If you forget to exercise and have a few too many consolatory cocktails over the next few months, that’s okay. Just don’t lose sight of the reason you started this business in the first place—to create something special. Good luck!