Tech startups and venture capitalists are inseparably linked. Industry giants such as Facebook, Twitter, or virtually any other now-giant tech company that you can think of, likely would never have been able to get off the ground without first securing venture capital support.
Venture capital firms provide the financial fuel that energizes promising tech firms. Yet finding and obtaining venture capital can be a daunting quest, particularly for novice entrepreneurs. Where do you start? How do you begin?
Will Lin, managing director of cybersecurity-focused venture capital firm Forgepoint Capital, advises patience. “While entrepreneurs may have a timeline in mind to achieve a funding goal, fundraising is a people-driven process where relationships can take time to develop,” he explains. Venture capital firms need to make quick decisions, but only after conducting thorough research. “To do that, we depend on both our own experience as well as the experience and connections of key people in our networks,” Lin notes.
As in most business activities, relationships play a major role in the venture capital arena. “Raising funding for your startup is all about building trust with investors who invest in companies like yours, at the stage that you’ve reached, as you work to solve problems that they’re interested in,” says Rob Lalka, executive director of the Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Tulane University’s A. B. Freeman School of Business. “In the same way you need to find a product-market fit with your customers, you’ll need to do your homework to figure out which early-stage investors are looking for companies like yours.”
Investing is like a marriage: both sides come to the relationship with their own knowledge and experiences and will be partnered long term, Lin says. “A first meeting is like a first date — it’s an opportunity to assess fit.”
First Steps in Making an Appeal
A solid business plan is essential for attracting potential venture capital investors. “This document should outline your company’s goals, how you intend to achieve them, and why you believe your team is the right one for the job,” says Oran Yehiel, founder of StartupGeek, a website that offers advice and support for beginning entrepreneurs.
The business plan should also include financial projections that show potential investors how your company intends to grow and generate revenue. “If you don’t have a solid business plan, it will be very difficult to convince investors to give your startup the funding it needs,” Yehiel says.
Entrepreneurs frequently take a “spray and pray” approach to finding a venture capital partner. “In other words, they send out their fundraising [proposal] to every investor they can reach, through email lists they either build or buy,” Lalka says. “By shooting in the dark, you might get lucky, but the best entrepreneurs don’t just rely on luck to determine their success.”
A more professional and successful approach is producing a well-researched, compelling, and personalized pitch. “That always gets better results than blasting out e-mails to investors,” Lalka says. At its heart, the document should help the venture capital firm understand why they should be interested in your business. If the organization responds positively, follow up the pitch with your business plan.
Common Mistakes by Startups
The most common mistake startup founders make is failing to do their homework. “Before approaching potential investors, it’s important to research the firms you’re interested in working with, and to make sure that your company is a good fit for their investment portfolio,” Yehiel says. “You should also be prepared to answer any questions they might have about your business model, your competitors, and your future plans.”
Another potential pitfall is over reliance on outside funding. “It’s important to remember that you should only raise as much money as you need to get your business off the ground, and you should always have a plan B in case your fundraising efforts fall through,” Yehiel advises.
Building trust takes time. Trust is also a two-way street. “Often, entrepreneurs set themselves up for failure when they rush to raise money and don’t realize that they’re going to be wed to that new investor over the long-term,” Lalka warns.
Support Resources for Entrepreneurs
Lalka advises startup entrepreneurs to investigate their local entrepreneurial ecosystem and seek out entrepreneur support organizations within their community. “That’s where you can meet mentors, advisors, and investors who will give you honest feedback at the start of your journey,” he says.
On a wider scale, Yehiel recommends contacting the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). which offers free counseling and training to startup leaders. “You can also check out websites like TechCrunch or PitchBook, which offer resources and advice specifically for startup founders,” he adds.