My good friend Will Price and I share two things in common – we both love to fly-fish and we both have been a startup CEO and a venture capitalist on Sand Hill Rd. When I was with Will the other day, he said “you should write a few blog posts with tips for entrepreneurs raising money, now that you’re on the other side of the table.” While I believe there are hundreds if not thousands of blog posts from VC’s on these subjects, I’ll do it anyhow, with my own personal touch. I’m not suggesting if you follow these tips you’ll automatically get funded, but you will greatly increase your chances of having the meeting go well, which is a good start. I’m also not suggesting that this will guarantee the VC on the other side of the table won’t be an @$$ (which does happen). So…here goes.
Managing the Meeting
This topic is particularly important to me, because I see so many entrepreneurs miss their chance to shine – not because of their own skills as an entrepreneur or CEO, and not because of their business plan or market opportunity – but because they simply don’t take charge and run the meeting they’ve worked so hard to set with a potential investor. A few basics:
1) Show up 5-10 minutes early. Assume the person you are meeting with has back to back meetings throughout the day (pretty common). Thus, if you’ve got an hour, you’ve got an hour. Most EA’s are vigilant about keeping the schedule tight, so they’ll interrupt when time is up.
2) Take your watch off and put it next to your laptop, iPad, etc. – or put a clock visibly on the screen so you can manage the time. I recently met with the CFO of a company raising $150M at a billion dollar valuation, and the first thing he did when he sat down was position his watch next to his laptop and confirm with our team “We’ve got an hour, correct?”
3) Do some homework on the people you are meeting with. Read their bios on the firm’s web site, see if they have a blog, Twitter feed, etc. Always good to have some informal dialogue to start the meeting, and every human being likes to talk about things they are passionate about (which can usually be found in a bio / Twitter feed / blog, etc.). This is especially helpful if there are companies the firm has invested in that are relevant to what you are doing, people who have been executives at those companies who might know you/be an informal reference, etc.
4) As you do introductions, ask a few questions about the firm (ideally based a bit on some of the research you’ve done). This will help you learn a bit about what the VC team thinks are its strengths, things that are topical/of interest at that moment, etc. It also shows you care about who you raise money from and the quality of the people/team around your board room (veteran entrepreneurs and CEOs do).
5) Take charge of the meeting. If you’ve got 8 slides (I’ll do a more complete post on the topic of presentations, but I recommend keeping it under 10 slides), make sure you allocate time to get through them. Ironically, the better the meeting goes, the less likely you are to get to all of your slides (you’re excited and passionate about the subject, the VC is engaged and asking questions, etc.) – which is fine! I personally believe PowerPoint has too much of a role in these conversations (which is what it should be – “conversation” vs “presentation”), so don’t worry about reading line for line or skipping slides that may be redundant to your audience. Read your audience, read the conversation. Focus on the slides that are most important. If you have a demo, allocate plenty of time for the demo. In many ways, this is a showcase for how you run your business – your staff meetings, your board meetings, etc. Be flexible, but be in charge of the meeting.
6) Don’t be afraid to ask a few questions of your own along the way – try to make it a two-way dialogue. For example, “How does this compare to what you saw with <> at a similar stage?” If the firm has an investment in a company that could be a strategic partner to your company, perhaps “We thought this might line up well for a partnership with <> – would love to hear your thoughts.”
7) Leave time at the end of the discussion to talk about next steps. Typically, if you’ve hit it out of the park and the VC is interested, you’ll know. Regardless, ask what the firm’s process looks like, then confirm a timeframe for follow-up. It’s typical for a VC to want to take a few days to digest the meeting, discuss it with his/her partners, etc. We try to make decisions quickly – having been a CEO I appreciate clarity – and let an entrepreneur/CEO know quickly whether we want to try to move it forward. If there were introductions or help offered in the meeting, take the VC up on it. Again, in my experience, if it’s a good fit, you’ll know.
Again, these tips won’t guarantee you funding. They will, however, help you run a solid first meeting with a VC. As you can see, a lot of these are intangibles tied to basic human behavior – not rocket science. But – I wouldn’t have written the post if I didn’t see a high percentage of entrepreneurs & CEOs making pitches without incorporating some of these basic concepts 🙂