Investors don’t want to meet you. They wanted to be introduced to you.

2013-11-13 by Jason Freedman
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I remember when I first started fundraising for my first company, my investor network was pretty weak.  Not only did I not know many investors, I also didn’t really know how to pitch them.

I‘d basically take any meeting I could with any investor at any time.   I went to conferences, meet-ups, pitch competitions.  Every investor was an opportunity for an elevator pitch.  I was doing whatever I could, trying everything to succeed.  I figured this it what it took.  This was hustle.

It was also stupid.

***

 

One day, I met a prominent VC at a conference.  I started my elevator pitch.  But in a rare moment of candidness, he told me that he doesn’t go to conferences to meet new startups.  He told me, “By the time they get here, they’re already picked over.”

Here I had thought this man with deep pockets of other people’s money was evaluating me and my pitch. But empirically he knew that he wasn’t going to find his next investment that way.  He was there to build relationships with the most successful founders so that they would introduce them to startups they liked.  I’d been wasting my time.

 

Investors don’t want to meet you.  They wanted to be introduced to you.

 

It’s a huge difference.  Another top tier VC once told me that out of the thousands of business pitches he receives in his office every year, his firm has never funded one that came in completely cold.  In other words, the only way to get their investment was through an introduction.

It makes sense.  The job of a venture capitalist is finding a needle in the haystack.  And it’s just not functionally possible to do that by evaluating every single one.  So investors rely on their network to do the first round of vetting.

This little insight should dramatically change how you raise money.  Instead of trying to build a network of investors, you should be building a network of introducers.  And not all introducers are created equal.  Here’s a guide to help you.

 

 

How to Get Warms Introductions

 

Get Intros to Your Friends’ Investors

If you’re working in any startup hub, you almost certainly have friends that are working on their own startups.  Ask them to help you. The first question should be, “Am I ready to fundraise?”  You need to ask this not only for the answer, but also to see just how warm your friend’s introduction will be.  If they like you, but they don’t believe in your startup yet, then it will be impossible for them to hide that perspective from their own investors.  But once you get the go-ahead, you should absolutely ask them for introductions. And not to get too bogged down in logistics, but here’s how you should do it:

Send them a fresh email requesting an introduction to a specific investor with enough information that it can be forwarded by your friend without further editing and short enough that the investor can read it on their mobile phone.  Assume that no attachments will be opened and that no links will be clicked.

 

Get Introductions from Entrepreneurs That Are Not Yet Your Friends

If you are not yet friends with everyone in the PayPal mafia or the YC alumni crew, you’re friend’s list may not reach as far as you need to go.  That’s not a problem because most founders are willing to help out other founders when approached in the right way.  I regularly introduce other startups to my own investors, and it’s a win win for both sides.

When you are approaching another entrepreneur for an intro, you need to actually sell them on your startup because an entrepreneur will only make an introduction to her investors if they believe there is high likelihood that that introduction will result in an investment; it affects their own credibility when it doesn’t.   And secondly, they want to spend very little time getting involved because their job is their startup – not helping you raise money.

But with that said, it’s much easier to get a meeting with another founder than it is to get a meeting with a prominent venture capitalist.  The trick is you have to ask first for fund-raising advice, and not for introductions.  When you go to another founder for advice, especially if you approach a non-famous founder who doesn’t get this request too often, they’ll love playing the role of teacher and giving you helpful feedback.  And if they get excited about what you’re doing, they will offer to make that introduction for you.

 

Get Intros from Your Early Investors

The second that wire comes through, you need to turn your early investors into evangelists.  They are now your best source of warm introductions.  But you have to help them be helpful. They don’t know who you’ve already talked to and where you need help.

When I was seed-stage fundraising, I liked to keep an investor wish-list on a Google doc.  It was a list of twenty investors I wanted to meet in order of general priority.  Whenever I would get a new Angel on board, I would show them that list and they would respond back with who it is they knew.  Immediately I would send them a fresh email for each new intro. BOOM! Three to five more investors in the pipeline.

 

Stay organized

You need a well organized investor pipeline.  This is where you keep track of each investor that you’ve approached as well as those that you would like to approach. A good fundraising process will involve 40 to 60 meetings, so it’s impossible to do this just in email.  This document should not only keep track of your status with each one, but also who you have in common with each person.  I like to go through this list methodically checking each investor name on both LinkedIn and Facebook to see what possible introduction I have available to me.  I then try to balance each potential introducer out so that the people who can provide the best introductions are evenly distributed.  Asking for three introductions is  totally fine, and five is probably pushing it, unless she is either close friend or already an investor.

 

 

Your goal by the end is to have 40 to 60 introductions.  Our travel startup took about 60 meetings, as did our office space startup.   If you raise your round in the first 10 meetings, then kudos to you.  And when you do get your round done, be generous with your time and pay it forward to other entrepreneurs.

And, if I personally can be helpful to you.  Ping me on Twitter.  I’ll do whatever I can.

 

 

Discuss on Hacker News.

 

About Jason Freedman

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder at 42Floors, Co-Founder at FlightCaster, YC-alum, and a Tuck MBA

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  • http://www.referralcandy.com/ Visakan @ ReferralCandy

    I like to think of this as “Don’t try to impress them, because they get overwhelmed all the time. Impress the people they listen to.”

  • David Yasnoff

    Helpful! Thank you!

  • Marty McDonough

    Useful information. Thanks

  • http://www.taskmessenger.com/ Alan Meaney

    This reminds me of Mark Suster’s advice from his talk at the Dublin Web Summit last month. Instead of chasing VC’s for meetings arrange 40 coffee meetings with other start-up founders.

  • VentureLynx

    I had exactly the same experience in helping launch an angel group: when you post the deals online everyone assumes they’re ‘picked over'; when the group coordinator contacts people directly they’re exciting.

    I also found it takes a lot of organization to structure a round (I’ve had up to 200 in mine).

    We built a fundraising CRM module on our platform (VentureLynx.com) – which may interest you – because we found most CEOs were using Excel to track their leads, even if they had Salesforce for the sales team. It’s pretty easy to build a software package that kicks Excel’s butt for lead tracking/coordination/ management!

  • John Temple

    Nice post. Nice offer at the end as well. Very cool.

  • http://jaydengvc.tumblr.com/ Jay Jay Deng

    I completely disagree with this post. If you aren’t good at cold approaching VC’s in person, it just means you lack the social skills to successfully pull it off. Approaching VC’s is not really any different from approaching women at the bar – it all boils down to social dynamics.

    If you developed the right social skills, you can pitch and impress any VC you meet. Your problem is that you are going into this with the wrong mindset. Don’t talk to VC’s with the intention of pitching and raising funds but instead, use it as an opportunity to be friendly and engaging. As a VC myself, I hate it when entrepreneurs use a car salesmen approach on me. I am a human being first so treat me like one.

    This is the problem with so many founders – they are tech guys who have under developed social skills.

    Stop selling your startup and start selling YOU.

    I encourage you to read this article I wrote a few weeks back, it will definitely get you thinking about all this in a completely different light.

    http://jaydengvc.tumblr.com/post/65195527192/how-to-approach-vcs-in-person-like-a-pickup-artist

    • Dan Swerdlin

      I like the spirit of the article you link, Jay Jay, but I don’t see a true dichotomy b/w Jason’s insights and your advice.

      A warm intro is undoubtedly more valuable, and entrepreneurs should be doing everything they can to facilitate that warmth. Jason is on-point here: he explains why it matters, and he offers tips on how to accrue these kinds of intros.

      At the same time, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be totally frozen by the cold intro. You are correct that entrepreneurs should be able to make an elevator pitch without warding-off a gag reflex, and I appreciate the practical suggestions.

      Thanks to both of you for sharing your thoughts.

      • http://jaydengvc.tumblr.com/ Jay Jay Deng

        No intro is valuable if you still lack the social skills to sell yourself – that’s my point. If you are selling houses and a friend refers a client to you, you still have to establish value in order to close the sale.

        Even with warm intros, the VC knows very little about you or how you are as a business person and human being. Having the right set of social skills can be the difference between getting funding or rejection.

        This is coming from experience too – I’ve had associates introduce me to all kinds of entrepreneurs but I turn down at least 98 percent of them because I just don’t see the value in them or their ideas. I’ve only met a handful of entrepreneurs who had high social value. I could care less if you came to me cold or warm, you still have to PERFORM.

        This article makes it seem like there are effective ways to build a network of introducers but that is unrealistic. Almost all first time founders will never build such a network because its too difficult. Cold approaching is inevitable and necessary which means learning how to build value is crucial especially when entrepreneurs have the belief that VC’s hold all the power and that we must bow down to them.

        The real reason why investors don’t want to meet you is because they have no reason to do so. Its your responsibility to GIVE them a reason. Anyone of high value will always attract investors. You just have to learn how the game is played.

        • Knotwilg

          Are you seriously going to pay more attention to someone’s startup after they have asked you about your favorite basketball team in the elevator? I’m afraid you may have been missing out on many interesting investments just because the founder was missing the social skills you’re looking for. Maybe you are in the wrong business as an investor.

          An investor should be able to look beyond the social trivialities and look into the idea, the execution and the robustness of the founders. That may include some clumsy, introvert or pedantic founders, as long as their track record seems to justify an investment.

          The post by Jason is valuable for people lacking the social skills precisely because their friends, who may be better at smalltalk, or who are already successful, can convince you that they may look unworthy of your attention, but they really are worth another look, and by the way, wasn’t Kobe Bryant’s dunk just fantastic last night?

          • http://jaydengvc.tumblr.com/ Jay Jay Deng

            Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it. But the mere fact that you think this is about “small talk” proves why I am right.

            An investor should never overlook the founder and how they conduct themselves. What you see as “social trivialities”, I see as value. If a founder is shy, socially awkward, lacks confidence and has poor body language, I don’t care if he was introduced to me by a friend, its still a poor reflection on the founder. Even if I invest in him, what happens when it comes time to raise more funding? He has to approach dozens of VC’s again, some of whom might not be so forgiving.

            I fear that building a network of introducers just serves to mask inadequate social skills and other issues. There is nothing in this world that can make up for those missing things.

            This has nothing to do with small talk or being able to have a friendly conversation. It has to do with social psychology, body language, social proofing, give and take, fight or flight response, storytelling and much, much more.

            Those are all concepts that seem foreign to most entrepreneurs and that’s why they are bad at pitching. I highly recommend everyone read Oren Klaff’s book “Pitch Anything”. He uses the concepts he learned as a pickup artist and applies them to pitching with great success.

          • http://twitter.com/lauraglu lauraglu

            Of course, building a network is a great way to practice and refine the social skills you require.

          • Knotwilg

            Thanks for giving a thorough reply to what in retrospect was not a very nice comment of mine.
            I’m still not convinced that a good founder should be a good salesman in the first place. If he already understood that selling is not his forte and send a sociable friend to work on his behalf, doesn’t that already show good management skills? Progressively the founder can retreat to the backend of his product and move his favorite pitcher into partnership.
            I doubt if Jobs would have succeeded without Wozniak. Does it make a difference if Jobs was one of the founders or started out as a proxy of Wozniak?

    • John Tao

      Venture capitalists need to get off their high horses too and treat socially underdeveloped tech guys with the same decorum. I have been through it all. I have met people who represented big VC companies and the worst thing is they think as if they owned the funds. They criticise you and they think they know best and you are just one of those run of the mill trying to get that 2 cents worth. They ask questions like “what makes you think you can make it” and then they will make comments alluding to you having just had the best pot in town.

      I remember one big VC doing that to me many moons ago. He criticised me to the hilt, to the effect that I will never make it. And he said that he will never invest in anything less than $20 million. Then why bother to come and waste my time? I eventually got fed up and nicely showed him the door.

      A few years later, a huge conglomerate had a substantial stake in my company and hit the headlines. And when it did, he came back with his thing between his legs and pretended he didn’t meet me before. Such a sly ass. No scruples and no shame, totally lacking in professionalism.

      Anyway, many of them behave the same. Who needs to be introduced to these type of people! Be more down to earth man. We are all humans. As if VCs are the only people who need to be treated “like humans”.

      I totally disagree with both Jay and Jason. Hear the other side my friends. Have some decorum with some of these young guys. Give advise and befriend them instead. Mentor them to be better and see if these guys improve. If not move on. They need to learn too.

      Anyway, I am not young anymore and I have not been working for the last few years. Let’s just say, I am in semi retirement. So, I have gone through this with countless VCs over the years – big, small and opportunists. None except two seem to know what they were talking about. Both became my good friends. The irony is, one wanted to invest in me but I complained it was too little, which was actually not with the benefit of hindsight! The other one invested in another venture of mine. I was a serial entrepreneur.

      Thinking of one final swan song. Just applied for a patent. Sorry, I am especially arrogant to VCs. Please send me pm if you are interested to know what I am doing next, a product which will change the world. Otherwise, you can move on, so can I.

  • tagMap

    Nice article Jason! Trying to connect to you on LinkedIn. :)

  • Patrick Lui

    Good advice Jason! Thanks!

  • brendangbaker

    Never raised myself, but have watched/helped many founders do this (and been a target many times on investor side).

    I agree emphatically with Jason’s thoughts here. Other founders who are a step or two down the funding path are often the best first targets. They:
    – receive many fewer requests
    – enjoy giving advice
    – are likely have a little more empathy with you
    – (…but) are more likely to give candid feedback on your pitch than investors (who try not to offend)
    – have strong networks, and investors will listen to them

    I call this finding your ‘team’, which is the 15-25 people you can access and turn into advocates in connecting you to the investor network. It’s a phase of the process, before pitching investors. You can use many things here: non-competitive entrepreneurs in the same space, fellow school alumni, origin networks (if you’re British, other British founders), or friends.

    Another solid post, Jason.

  • http://disqus.com Peter Mullen

    Jason, are you free to meet for coffee? Just kidding…nice post.

    • http://www.stylesage.co/ Jade Huang

      This made me chuckle

  • http://nextchapterbk.com/ Janine Holsinger

    Fantastic post Jason. I’m in fundraising mode now and using many of these tactics. I am about 30 meetings in so far and I find that although I pitch everyone I meet, I get the best feedback from founders who were once in my shoes. It’s huge to have a network of introducers!

  • http://prostart.me/ Dinesh Agarwal

    This is seriously good advice Jason. Thank you.

  • Anna is Clear

    Nice blog article!

  • http://www.stylesage.co/ Jade Huang

    Great post, thank you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have helpful friends and fellow entrepreneurs introduce me to VCs. And it’s true — it’s so much more effective than cold calls.

  • Juan Manuel Ramallo

    Ehy! Now i´m in the START UP WEEKEND in cordoba, and i belive than de spech is key.
    But one minute is to shoort time,

  • http://dataddict.wordpress.com/ Marcos Ortiz

    Like always, fantastic post, Jason.

  • Deb

    Hi Jason,
    Great article. Recently I was asked to assist in locating investors for a new business project located in California. It has been an exciting project with construction to be completed December 2014. We have already raised $3.5m and are now looking for investors to finish this project with an additional investment of $100k up to $300k by this months end. Some of our investors have also decided to continue and invest in our future projects ranging up to $5m as we expand to other cities and states.

  • http://losshealhouse.org Yvonne Dueno

    I am probably going to get crucified for this but, in my humble opinion, how you look physically helps…

  • T.O Moore

    I wish I had seen this a year ago

  • manga

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