If you can’t get an intro to a VC, hang up your cleats now. You’re done, game over.” -Mark Suster
Choosing an investor is like getting married — except without any of the good parts. There is no reception with your friends from college. No exotic honeymoon. And, once you’ve chosen, you can’t ever get divorced. So it’s critical you are able to seek out the right partners.
But how do you meet them in the first place? In my book The Secret of Raising Money, I talk about the subject at length, but below are a handful of the most important channels every entrepreneur should know.
Get a Warm Introduction
Undoubtedly the best outreach method is the warm introduction, i.e. an introduction from a mutual friend or acquaintance. An investor is significantly more likely to give up his time to talk to you if you come vetted and approved by somebody he knows.
In fact, warm introductions are the default channel through which venture capitalists (VCs) meet new companies. Investors receive far more pitches every year than they could ever evaluate (e.g. Sequoia receives over 3,000 annually). Hence, they need filters. This is the reason why there is often no obvious email address published on VC websites to which entrepreneurs can send pitches.
As a result, it’s crucial you spend your time and energy focused on searching out and making requests of well-connected folks, rather than reaching out cold.
But not all warm introductions are created equally. If the investor does not really know, like or respect the individual connecting the two of you, your chances of a meeting may be more hindered than improved. The investor will naturally project onto you whatever qualities he associates with the introducing party.
Create an AngelList Profile
AngelList is a matchmaking service for early stage investors and entrepreneurs. It is the most powerful online tool available for meeting investors. It allows you to search a huge database, filter as you please and reach out. AngelList’s popularity has grown so significantly that your startup’s AngelList profile is frequently the first place an investor or candidate will look when trying to learn about your business.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from Fred Wilson: “If you’re working in tech and you’re trying to raise an angel round, you have to be on AngelList. You just have to be there.”
Connect With Them on Their Blogs
Many investors write blogs. Some notable examples are Fred Wilson, Mark Suster and Brad Feld. Bloggers, no matter how big, love getting comments. Some investors even discover deals through their comments. One way to take advantage of this is to build up a relationship over time via commenting. Soon after a post is released, write a response that is thoughtful and of reasonable length (around 6-7 sentences). Do this enough and you will get noticed.
If you are looking to raise money immediately, this is not the best approach to take, but it may be fruitful if you have some lead time.
Five Tips for the Worst Method: The Cold Email
Out of all the methods of outreach, cold emails are one of the poorest uses of your time. They can work, but asking for introductions to investors is the highest ROI networking activity in which you can engage. That said, if you have to write one, here are five tips for ensuring your email is answered:
- Make it short and very direct. Introduce yourself and explicitly state the ask in the first couple of sentences. The first question the investor will be trying to answer is: Who is this person and what does he want?
- Do your research on the person to whom you’re sending the message, and customize the email as much as possible. For example, compliment the recipient on some recent achievement (e.g. a funding round, product launch etc.). Never, ever, send mass cold emails with multiple people on BCC.
- Ensure the subject line is very specific and stands out (e.g. “My startup,” “Investment” or “Introduction” are all poor subject lines). This helps to avoid an email getting lost in an inbox.
- Avoid sending on Mondays. VCs typically hold day-long partner meetings, and hence accumulate a lot of email over the course of the day. Don’t send after 12 p.m. on Friday either — if the investor doesn’t get to it before the weekend, it may be lost forever.
Offer specific meeting times and follow-up actions. For example: “I am in San Francisco January 5th-7th, and could meet between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on any of those days.” Offering specific options removes friction and increases the likelihood of a response.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.