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07/12/2007

10 Pragmatic Steps To Raising Venture Capital

As a former VC I am often asked by entrepreneurs “I am having trouble raising money, can you please give me some advice on how to improve my chances?”  Beyond having a start-up that is obviously the next Google, there is no easy way to raise VC money, especially if you are a first time entrepreneur with few, if any, VC contacts.  The harsh reality is that you face an uphill battle to get a meeting, let alone a term sheet, but the good news is that by taking a pragmatic approach to getting your foot in the door you can greatly improve your chances.

All too often I run into entrepreneurs whose fundraising strategy amounts to “I sent a form letter to the 15 VCs I saw mentioned in Tech Crunch yesterday, but none of them got back to me.”  Rather than randomly spamming VCs, you are much better off taking a very pragmatic and methodical approach to fundraising.  This method should force you to identify those VCs that are most likely to not only be interested in your start-up idea, but also to have the cash, capacity and inclination necessary to pursue it.

To that end I offer this 10 step method for getting your foot in the door of a high probability VC.  Once you get in the door, the rest is up to you:

  1. Prepare a 10-15 page power point presentation and a 1-2 page executive summary.  That’s it.  Don’t bother with a 100 page business plan, no VC is going to read it.  Make sure the documents cover: stage, location, team, market, market size, business, business model, capital structure, and capital required.
  2. Get a list of VC funds.  This list from the NVCA is good place to start.  The NVCA also puts out a member directory that shows which funds are interested in specific sectors, but for some reason they don’t make that accessible, but almost any VC will have a copy.
  3. Go through the raw list and identify those VC firms that make investments in your sector, stage, and city.   You can do this by going to each firm’s website and reviewing their high level firm description and noting their location.  As a general rule, it’s pointless pitching an early stage company to a Silicon Valley VC if you are in Alabama.
  4. Go through this initial subset of firms and identify specific partners at each firm that focuses on making investments in your specific sector and stage of development.  You can do this by going to the websites at venture firms and reviewing the portfolio’s of the individual partners.  Don’t send your software company pitch to the partner with 10 semi-conductor deals, it’s a waste of time.
  5. After you identify a list of specific partners at specific firms investing in your specific stage and sector, then try to indentify how many boards each of those partners are currently on.  You can usually do this by just reading their bio or just looking at the firm’s portfolio company list. Sort the list by fewest board seats first.
  6. Try to identify when each partner’s VC company raised its last fund.  You can usually figure this out by looking at the firm’s press releases.  The more recent a new fund has been raised the better.
  7. Priority rank the partner list with the goal of having the partners with the strongest sector focus, the least number of board seats at the firms with the newest funds at the top.  It also helps to rank this list by age, because younger partners are less likely to have significant “recycled” deal flow and therefore more open to newcomers.
  8. Figure out if you know someone who knows that partner.  For example, go to LinkedIn and try to figure out if you know someone within 1 or 2 degrees that knows the partner.  If you do and you are pretty sure you can get a warm intro, call in that favor ASAP.
  9. If you strike out on a warm intro, do a Google Search and try to figure out if the partner A) has a blog or B) has recently said something mildly intelligent in some other public forum.  Then send that partner a personalized e-mail indicating deep respect and appreciation for whatever they said that was mildly intelligent. Mention that you noticed they invested in Companies  X&Y (boards they are currently on) and you thought they might be interested in taking a look at your company because it’s in the same sector they are focused on and has a very promising approach to the market.  Attach your 2 page summary to the e-mail.
  10. If they respond, follow up ASAP on whatever they ask you to do (usually to talk with their Associate or someone else at their firm). Congrats, you are in!  Don’t screw it up.  If they don’t respond, don’t bother re-sending your  e-mail 4 times, it’s a “no” and you should move on.   There are plenty of VCs in the sea.

These 10 steps do not guarantee getting a meeting, but if properly executed they will significantly improve your chances.  If you can’t get a meeting after going through all of this, then chances are you need to do some serious work on your idea/company.

July 12, 2007 in Venture Capital | Permalink

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The thoughts and opinions on this blog are mine and mine alone and not affiliated in any way with Inductive Capital LP, San Andreas Capital LLC, or any other company I am involved with. Nothing written in this blog should be considered investment, tax, legal,financial or any other kind of advice. These writings, misinformed as they may be, are just my personal opinions.